Optimizing patient engagement is one of the biggest opportunities in healthcare today.
The best health outcomes occur when patients are engaged in their care throughout the entire healthcare journey. This means providing continuity in the patient’s relationship with their clinician and healthcare team, and the effective management of information sharing and care planning.
It is increasingly recognized that patient engagement isn’t as effective when it is confined to isolated activities. A focus on arrivals can create a great first impression, but a patient’s commitment and enthusiasm can easily be lost once they are in the system, especially if the rest of the care visit doesn’t match up.
Fragmented engagement strategies create gaps in the care journey, which can be discouraging or bewildering to patients and lead to confusion or a lack of compliance. In some cases, when engagement strategies fall off a cliff edge, patients can even drop out of care altogether. Poor engagement is both detrimental to provider revenue and bad for patients’ health.
So how can providers ensure engagement continuity throughout the patient journey to deliver the best possible outcomes for all?
Here are 5 important steps.
1. Understand the segments of your patient population
Not all engagement strategies will work for an entire patient population. The first step to improving outcomes is to understand the unique care needs of different patient segments.
In healthcare, patients are often segmented according to healthcare needs and risks. There’s little doubt that this helps to identify patients for targeted action. But research shows that products or services are often customized, and marketing strategies are designed, to reach the most profitable customers.
A discussion paper on patient segmentation presents an alternative approach, in which patient needs are matched with the medical knowledge required to manage the health problem, and the patient’s willingness and ability to self-manage. In short, this model describes effective care plan management and optimal patient engagement.
The patient segments identified in the discussion paper are:
- healthy persons
- persons with incidental needs
- persons with chronic conditions
- persons with multiple health problems and illnesses (often elderly)
- persons needing precise elective interventions
- persons needing qualified accident and emergency services
- tertiary care patients
It was found that resources are used more efficiently by differentiating health problems and choosing services to meet patients’ needs as derived from medical knowledge, and, in addition, utilizing patients’ abilities to self-manage. This approach has shown more favorable medical outcomes, higher service quality, fewer complications, and improved patient safety.
2. Personalize communications
Once the different segments of a patient population are identified and fully understood, the next step is to develop a deep understanding of how each of these segment populations prefers to interact with their healthcare provider.
Communication preferences may also differ for various touchpoints during the patient journey and may vary for different sets of patients. For example, for oncology patients, communicating diagnostic results may involve bad news. This is best-delivered face to face. But for other less serious health diagnostics, such as routine blood tests, it may be acceptable to deliver these results via text.
A personalized experience is now more important than ever to healthcare consumers. It is critical to know how each of the different groups of consumers prefers to communicate. How do they best receive information? There will be different situations that warrant communication via text, email, face-to-face chat, video call or by phone. The easiest way to stay ahead of the curve on communication preferences is by regularly surveying patients.
Easy ways to personalize the patient journey include text messaging (appointment reminders, medication reminders, information sharing), enabling patients to schedule their own appointments online, and making timely recommendations to meet health goals via preferred channels – this can be face-to-face at appointments or by bite-sized snippets delivered via email or text. Such personalized communications help patients to follow treatment protocols and keep them engaged in their care plans.
Above all, personalizing communications with patients helps to educate, empower, and build trust.
3. Optimize and automate communications
Communication in healthcare isn’t just about the how – it also matters about when. A provider’s medical communication strategy is paramount. Information overload and fragmented messaging are all too common. The good news is that these are the most easily solvable causes of poor communication.
The current staffing shortage is also posing a further challenge, but digital tools can help. With the right tools, messaging can be automated and optimized to ensure the right information is delivered to the right people, at the right time. This includes automated appointment reminders, medication reminders and surveys. By automating some of the everyday communications with patients, it will also free up staff time.
4. Improve patient awareness of services
In a global survey of 12,000 patients across six countries, (Brazil, France, Germany, Japan, the UK, USA), eighty per cent rated the services they used as valuable or extremely valuable. However, the research also showed that very few are aware of all the services available. The report concluded that:
- The signal is getting lost
- Surround sound is needed to amplify the message
- Patients are ready to receive information and care via new channels
Key recommendations included the following:
- Create surround sound with clear and consistent messaging across relevant channels
- Use modern modes of communication (i.e. telehealth and text broadcasting) to capitalize on the digital shift
- Take advantage of the increased openness and interest in the use of digital technology in healthcare to deliver digitally-enabled patient services
This applies to engagement throughout the patient journey. For example, if a client is unaware that they can view wait times on your website, an opportunity to improve their arrivals experience is lost. If surveys are sent via email days after a visit, instead of via text soon after a patient leaves the facility, the response rate can wildly differ.
Another example is digital intake forms, which create a less stressful arrivals experience for patients and reduce the workload for arrivals staff. Messaging offering information and guidance on digital intake forms will help to improve uptake and implementation success.
5. Supercharge digital healthcare
The digital revolution is transforming healthcare. Telemedicine, predictive diagnostics, wearable sensors, and a whole gamut of new apps are changing how people manage their health.
A research paper on patient engagement and the design of digital health reports:
“Digital health may … help patients self-monitor; encourage behavior change; improve comprehension of diagnoses and discharge plans; and permit dynamic interchanges between patients, their healthcare data, and clinicians. Digital health tools have been hailed as easily disseminated, low-resource solutions to help patients take ownership of their healthcare journey.”
However, the research also confirms that patients aren’t using the tools available as much as they could, which brings us back to the previous point about improving awareness of patient services.
Patient engagement and patient flow platforms are an important part of the digital revolution and can help to automate and optimize patient communications for optimal engagement. Such digital tools enable healthcare providers to communicate medical information, track and manage flow, promote health and well-being, and give patients more control over how and when they access care.
PatientTrak: helping today’s healthcare providers deliver the healthcare goals of tomorrow
We are experts in patient engagement, and we fully understand the problems you are trying to solve. For more than 15 years now we’ve encountered every patient engagement problem under the sun and developed our software to help resolve them.
We know where the roadblocks are and what holds healthcare organizations back. Speak to one of our experts now, and we’ll support you every step of the way to get your patient engagement on track.