As defined by HIMSS, Patient Engagement is, simply put, a process by which Medical Providers and patients work together to improve healthy outcomes. It almost sounds like a utopian environment where medical providers give all the care, time and professional advice as needed, and the patient willingly adopts everything as gospel. We all know this is not the case, but why? One problem may be the fact that the changing healthcare landscape is forcing everyone to evaluate the true cost of care a bit more closely. Another may be the shift that medical providers are increasingly being evaluated by metrics typically reserved for the board room, or found in an MBA program. One thing is clear; the conflicting financial incentives for healthy outcomes make it difficult for everyone to fully “buy-in” to a successful patient engagement strategy. But for the medical professional, it is critical that a successful strategy be implemented which can be widely adopted by their patients. Their financial success depends on it.
Patient Engagement, but from who’s perspective?
One could argue that the definition of Patient Engagement is different if asked from the perspective of the Healthcare Professional or the patient. Both have the common objectives to improve the overall health of the patient, but stark differences appear when evaluating the financial motivations, incentives and costs for achieving those goals.
Most Medical Professionals enter the field of medicine for the purpose of helping others, and the added benefit of earning an above average income in trade for the early sacrifices of attending medical school. But the financial picture is changing and more medical professionals are finding themselves spending more of their time evaluating traditional business practices to help resolve significant problems within their practice. Topics not covered in Medical School, such as time and personnel management, evaluation of vendors for healthcare IT (HIT) solutions, and solving the problems around an increasing amount of uncollectable expenses, are consuming greater amounts of time for each medical professional.
From a patients perspective, there is a growing demand to be engaged in the overall healthcare decision making process since it not only affects their overall health, but is increasingly having an effect on their finances. Patients only see the cost of healthcare rising as a percentage of their overall income, and the most common and easiest culprit is the medical professional sending the bill.
The necessary evil
Since Healthcare is not a luxury, patients will always seek medical professionals when in need of healthcare services. Plus, we all know that the greater engagement a patient has with the medical professional, the better chances for healthy outcomes. Lastly, it is ultimately in the best interest of the medical professional to have engaged, happy and healthy patients. Better outcomes means higher reimbursements for care, both from the insurance companies, and individuals alike. We are all willing to pay for services we’ve enjoyed and benefited from, but loath to pay for anything we connect with bad experiences. Healthcare is no different.
So, what does a strong Patient Engagement strategy look like, and how can it be implemented? There is no single, specific solution that could possibly address each of the concerns from either the Medical professional or the patients’ perspective, but rather a suite of services.
To further define Patient Engagement, and to apply it across all specialties, I’d like to suggest expanding the definition as follows:
Patient Engagement is process by which the medical provider equips their specific patient population with the tools to communicate with, and engage with your practice in the format that is most convenient for the patient.
Rather than giving the patient the tools the medical provider thinks are best, enable patients to define the method and tools they will actually use.
Variables such as demographics, specialties and technical abilities will help shape any specific practices own implementation of their patient engagement strategy, but there are several key functions that will remain constant.
Mobile Patient Engagement
We already know that 80% of Internet users also have a smartphone, and searches on Mobile devices now outnumber desktop searches. With the proliferation of smartphones, aging generations are discovering the ease of this platform and are increasingly using this technology for everything in their daily lives. We already know that younger generations manage their entire lives via smartphones. If you practice is not leveraging all the tools the mobile device can deliver, you are missing a significant opportunity to connect with your patient population.
Following are components of a Mobile patient engagement strategy:
Mobile Optimized Websites
Remember Mobilegeddon? One of the most significant features that Google uses when evaluating your website is whether or not it is optimized for mobile. If not, Google considers you are not actively managing your business, and simply does not want to display it in results. Let’s face it, Google is in the business of displaying the most relevant search results, and will not make itself look bad by offering a site with limited mapping or click to call capabilities, or the screen resolution is simply bad.
With a whopping 98% open rate, sms text messages are the quickest and most reliable method for delivering important information. Make sure you are using a HIPAA compliant secure messaging platform to automate all of your urgent communication with your patients, like appointment reminders, payment notifications and follow up to procedures.
Mobile Patient Collections
With the growing patient responsibility, enabling patients to pay their bills from their smartphone, the device they have closest to them at all times, will increase collections.
Patient registration forms
With the proliferation of smartphones, why do so many practices still hand out the clipboard at the office, or require patients to download lengthy forms from a website and have them filled in at home and bring them into the office? Electronically submitted forms provide so many invaluable benefits, like streamlined office procedures, elimination of a paper trail and reducing wait time at the office, it’s hard to imagine why any practice would still use traditional paper forms.
Electronic Health Record
Enabling patients’ access to their medical records in the form that is most readily available to them, their mobile device, guarantees that the patient will actually review them for accuracy, and inform you of any changes that will affect their overall health.
Not everyone is willing and/or able to go into the office for every visit with his or her doctor. Moreover, not every appointment with a physician requires a physical visit. Worse yet, when patients are sick, going into the office for a visit is not only painful, but compounds the problem by introducing the illness to more people. TeleMedicine, when combined with other technologies and devices, has the potential to completely disrupt the entire patient-provider relationship, and enables your patients with more choices for care.
One fact is clear, a more engaged patient population will result in better outcomes, and healthier patients generate higher collection rates. If you are not leveraging a mobile patient engagement strategy to streamline patient communications and engagement, your practice is at risk of becoming obsolete in the new Healthcare economy.