Industry Voices—5 ways to encourage greater patient engagement

Changes in the healthcare ecosystem, such as the move from fee-for-service to a value-based payment system and a rising tide of healthcare consumerism, is upping the ante for providers. Healthcare consumers want greater control over the quality and cost of their care, so they're demanding a better experience overall. For providers, the best way to meet consumer demand is to increase patient engagement.

Consumers are calling on medical providers to make customer experience enhancements. A recent Black Book Market Research survey indicated that 92% of healthcare consumers—up from just 71% last year—said providers should make enriching the patient experience a top strategic priority this year.

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A new healthcare paradigm

The number of people covered by health savings accounts or high-deductible health plans has grown roughly 15% annually the last few years. Because they are assuming more financial responsibility for their own health, patients are demanding more engagement in the services they consume. But what’s the right formula?

Zachary Blunt
Zachary Blunt (Greenway Health)

Below are five actions that will redefine patient engagement for the next generation:

1. Create a patient-centric strategy.

Identify what outcomes you would like from increased patient engagement and what resources are required to achieve them. Defining what quality care delivery means to you and your practice, then restructuring your system, will ensure you can meet your patients’ needs first. This will be necessary before implementing any major changes. It could be something as simple as writing a mission statement to ensure everyone in your practice works toward the same goals.

RELATED: Cleveland Clinic's path to a better patient experience began with a focus on empathy

2. Implement a patient portal.

Practices are already adopting revenue cycle management and electronic health records solutions. Now is the time to take the next step to leverage health IT to its fullest. Patients want convenient access to their own health information across multiple devices—from the desktop to the smartphone or tablet—because it enables them to be more proactive in managing their health. Online patient portals build trust between patients and providers, giving them a place where they can access discharge summaries, lab results, prescription refills, appointment scheduling and more. In a recent survey done by my company, 44% of patients said they are more likely to schedule preventative care appointments if their provider offers an online patient portal and 71% expect to have after-hours access to electronic medical records.

3. Communicate outside office visits to foster strong doctor-patient relationships.

Maintaining active, open communication helps providers ensure patients adhere to their care plans. The Greenway survey also found that 54% of patients would prefer to communicate by text or instant messaging or through an online patient portal, rather than a telephone call. Once a message is sent, 82% of patients say they expect to hear back within 24 hours. Creating resources to educate and involve patients has been proven to improve outcomes. Online portals, as well as text and audio messages, are valuable ways to push out educational information and reminders, particularly for patients who suffer from chronic conditions.

4. Identify potential barriers that may prevent patients from engaging with you.

Patients can face limitations that keep them from totally engaging with their physicians. Some may be located geographically far away and are unable to meet in person as often as they’d like. For others, English may not be their primary language, creating communication barriers. These limits can be addressed through different communication channels, such as telemedicine services or secured email messaging, which can keep patients engaged with their plan of treatment between office visits. Also, you can offer interpreter services and create informational resources in different languages to help patients become more comfortable in understanding their conditions and how to self-manage their care.

RELATED: Use a checklist to improve communication in patient visits

5. Empower patients to take control of their own health.

A one-size-fits-all approach to care is no longer appropriate, as every patient seeks different solutions to the same problem and has different motivations. Patient-driven goals need to be incorporated into care plans to improve adherence, and often focus on achieving major life events such as “walking my daughter down the aisle” in parallel with health goals such as “reducing my Hemoglobin A1c levels.” Involving patients in their own health decisions will help them achieve their long-term goals. Regardless of the available options, encouraging patients to participate in the decision-making process allows them to take ownership of their own health outcomes.

Taking these actions to increase patient engagement can lead to real results. For physician practices, these tips will assist in meeting value-based care requirements, reducing time and lost revenue from appointment no-shows and lowering staff burnout. But more importantly, the actions will set the foundation for greater patient satisfaction, assisting in helping them get—and remain—in optimal health.

Zachary Blunt is the manager of product management, population health, at Greenway Health, a health information technology and services provider. At Greenway, he focuses on the company’s population health and patient engagement tools and has a passion for improving patient behavior toward their overall health goals.