Can Enlisting the Community Improve Your Patient Engagement Efforts?
For hospitals and other health care providers, engaged patients are an elusive — yet necessary — part of the equation for meeting goals to reduce readmissions, improve patient outcomes and address population health. Recognizing that a one-size-fits-all approach to patient engagement is failing to generate the hoped-for results, organizations are searching for new ways to connect with health care consumers — from partnering with community organizations to leveraging psychographic segmentation to derive greater insights into what motivates individuals.
Taking Engagement Beyond Hospital Walls
While making one-to-one connections with patients is important, health care providers recognize that engaging on a broader scale can positively impact health. In fact, the American Hospital Association notes that “non-medical, non-emergent needs are often intricately tied to personal health and wellbeing.” The Commonwealth Fund concurs.
In a Quality Matters report, the organization noted that, “to address the social and economic factors that affect health, quality improvement initiatives must reach beyond the traditional boundaries of the health care system. One promising approach is the use of community-based partnerships that bring a wide range of stakeholders — health care providers, educators, business leaders, social service providers, community organizations, and clergy — together to promote healthy behavior, improve access to primary and preventive care, and reduce health disparities.”
Such collaborative efforts are making a difference.
In just one year, Memphis, Tennessee’s Methodist South Hospital saw its readmission rate among heart failure patients drop by 5 percent, according to a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation case study.
The hospital, which serves a large minority population of cardiac patients, decided to include a community engagement campaign focused on heart failure care among its various interventions. After sponsoring a well-publicized kick-off event that included individuals from local health organizations, congregational leaders and other community members, the hospital held a series of free “Lunch and Learn” events for the public focusing on meaningful topics for patients with heart conditions, including nutrition and exercise.
In addition to using local media outlets to publicize these informal education sessions, the hospital used less traditional channels, such as the Congregational Health Network, to get the message out. This was combined with its other initiatives, like using the teach-back method at discharge and hiring an advanced nurse practitioner to provide on-going support to chronic heart failure patients and their families.
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center Looks Upstream
Acknowledging that living conditions — like housing, nutrition and poverty — have a significant impact on children’s health, pediatricians with Cincinnati Children’s in Ohio used a grant from the National Institutes for Health to map where children with asthma live.
By using this “geocoding” and partnering with the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati, they were able to identify a trend: sixteen children with asthma lived in housing owned by a single developer who had let the properties deteriorate. Legal Aid stepped in, helping the tenants organize to demand repairs, which resulted in healthier living conditions for everyone — including the children with asthma.
A New Era of Patient Engagement
As one health care provider noted in the Quality Matters report, “The era of inpatient growth is over. Hospitals have to get into the prevention business: everyone benefits when we work towards keeping people healthy.”
Just as hospitals have had to change their workflows to accommodate new health IT like EHRs, they must change their patient engagement — and retention — strategies to accommodate health care consumers who shop for coverage, compare prices and quality ratings from myriad sources and expect personalized experiences similar to the ones they have with retailers like Amazon.
A group of patients sharing a common chronic condition like diabetes will not respond identically to one engagement approach. By classifying consumers using psychographic segmentation, to understand their attitudes and motivations, in conjunction with other demographic and behavioral data, health care providers can identify the best approach — which may include drawing on various community organizations — to help drive patient engagement.
Community efforts at the macro level, combined with a deep understanding of patient motivations at the micro level, can be powerful engagement tools to drive patient activation.