What Is Patient Engagement?
Patient engagement focuses on making sure that patients and providers work together to improve the patient’s health. In order to create patient engagement strategies that allow patients to become actively engaged in gathering information and making decisions about their symptoms, illnesses, and treatment options, providers need to empower the patient to have a voice in their healthcare experience.
Patients who become involved with their care and play an active role in their treatment and recovery are considered engaged patients. They can decide to be more or less invested in their wellness, but the extent of patient engagement is ultimately up to each patient.
Why Is Patient Engagement Important in Healthcare?
Effective patient engagement is essential in healthcare. It lessens the stress and burden on healthcare providers while improving the patient’s overall health. Here are some of the benefits that engagement can provide:
Improved customer satisfaction and retention - Patients who have a voice in their treatment feel respected and heard. This leads to them being more engaged with their treatment, happier with the service they receive, and more likely to stay loyal to a healthcare provider.
Improves patient’s long-term health and well-being - When a patient is engaged in their health, they make better long-term choices when managing their health and well-being. They are more likely to catch symptoms of illness and disease in their earliest stages and will seek treatment before it becomes an issue.
Reduces waste - Unengaged patients do not read flyers, pamphlets, or aftercare instructions. While you may provide them with medical supplies and materials to help with their treatment, there is a high chance of them ignoring instructions or not using the materials provided. The same information provided to engaged patients is used as intended and not wasted.
Reduces Potentially Preventable Readmissions (PPR) - Unengaged patients do not follow aftercare instructions, and, as a result, they are at a higher risk of being readmitted within 30 days of being discharged.
Reduces overall costs - Patient care takes extra time to manage, but it’s worth the investment. Without technology automation, engaging with patients could reduce the daily volume of patients but shows notable development in the long term. Engaged patients decrease the no-show rate, require fewer visits, and actively schedule follow-ups. Unengaged patients are twice as likely to delay care and three times more likely to have unmet medical needs.
9 Best Strategies to Improve Patient Engagement
Here are nine patient engagement strategies in healthcare that can help improve health outcomes.
1. Automate Patient Engagement
Active and meaningful patient engagement for even a single patient is very time-intensive. Rather than managing every engagement manually, leverage technology to automate engagement with patients.
Not only does automation help improve patient satisfaction and help you stay connected, but it also benefits your staff. With automated patient engagement in healthcare, your staff is no longer burdened with the task, which can help fight against burnout and staff shortages.
The most common concern of using automated engagement strategies is losing the “human touch.” But, there are times when automation is the best option. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic has magnified the need for automated and online patient engagement options.
2. Segment Patient Populations
The best patient engagement programs treat each patient as an individual. What may work as a great engagement opportunity for one patient could fall flat with another. To ensure you get the right form of engagement to the right patient population, segment your patients by demographics, psychographics, and/or social determinants of health (SDOH).
Patient demographics are broad categories that can help you create better patient engagement strategies. The most common demographics include:
- Biological sex
Some healthcare providers also choose to include additional demographic options. These can include:
- Insurance information
- Medical history
- Level of education
A healthcare provider can create customized engagement strategies and messages that speak directly to each demographic by using basic demographic categories. This helps the message be more meaningful to the patient and can help improve engagement rates. A limitation of demographic segmentation, however, is that people sharing certain physical or situational characteristics do not all think and act alike. If they are motivated by different things, a “one size fits all” engagement strategy targeting Millennials, for instance, will not elicit maximum results.
Psychographic segmentation is similar to demographics because it helps organize a large population into separate categories. However, psychographics create categories based on psychological criteria instead of basing those categories on concrete physical traits and attributes.
Psychographics can include:
Psychographic segments are defined by these shared characteristics, which determine their core motivations and communication preferences. Harnessing these motivations enables providers to activate positive health behaviors.
Social Determinants of Health (SDOH)
The environment in which a person lives, works, and plays can directly affect their health and view of healthcare. By segmenting patients by their social determinants of health (SDOH), healthcare providers can better tailor engagement to their patients’ world experience.
Even within the same city, people can experience very different SODH. A patient who lives in an urban food desert or a more rundown or impoverished part of town has a different experience managing and maintaining their health than a similar patient from a more affluent part of town.
Addressing and enhancing the quality of life based on SODH can significantly influence population health outcomes because it changes the narrative of healthcare. Rather than good health being a privilege of the wealthy, it becomes necessary for all.
3. Start Engagement Before a Patient Visits
If the first time your practice or facility thinks about a patient is when they first check in, you are already behind schedule with patient engagement. Before a patient meets with a doctor, you can start to build patient engagement.
Simple pre-visit procedures like intake forms, clinical reminders, and appointment reminders start patient engagement. Sharing this information well before the patient ever arrives benefits both the doctor and the patient.
Because the patient is not rushed to fill out intake forms in a waiting room and can fill out the necessary information in the safety of their own home, they can be more accurate and open about their medical history. Additionally, resolving paperwork before the appointment makes their intake significantly less stressful and streamlined, which improves patient satisfaction.
For healthcare providers, early information allows them to be prepared for any questions or concerns from the patient. They have a full medical history to work with, which allows them to start addressing their current needs, rather than focusing the first 10 minutes on getting to know the patient’s history.
4. Engage Throughout the Visit
When a car isn’t working, the mechanic diagnoses what is wrong and then fixes it. Unfortunately, this same mentality has been adopted by many clinicians. They believe it is their job to diagnose patients, provide a treatment plan, and then move on to the next patient.
While this is certainly an efficient approach to healthcare, it perpetuates the stigmas around medicine being cold and distant and serves as a roadblock to high-quality healthcare.
Patients receive better care and are more transparent about their health with someone they know and trust. When patients connect with their doctors, they are more likely to follow prescribed treatment plans, be prompt with their medication schedules, and modify their long-term behaviors.
Even small moments of engagement and interaction between a patient and clinician throughout their visit can modify the clinical paradigm and lead to meaningful and lasting results.
5. Practice Shared-Decision Making
Shared-decision making goes against the standard practices of healthcare, but it provides more patient engagement and can help reduce hospital admissions and achieve greater patient outcomes.
Traditionally, patients go to a hospital or clinic to have the healthcare professionals use their knowledge, training, and experience to determine what is wrong and how to fix it. It’s assumed that patients are uneducated and aren’t qualified to talk about their illness.
Shared-decision making changes that narrative by democratizing healthcare. Rather than the dictatorship where a clinician makes all of the decisions, shared-decision making puts the patient on equal ground with the clinician. They work together to make decisions about necessary tests, treatment options, and the final care plan for the patient.
Shared decision-making requires more time because it involves a significant investment in patient education. However, inviting the patient to participate in their own healthcare improves patient engagement and significantly improves patient satisfaction.
6. Stay Engaged Throughout Aftercare
Just because a patient is discharged does not mean they are healed. Aftercare is an essential part of any patient’s treatment plan, but unfortunately, there are times when more than 40% of patients misunderstand, ignore, or choose not to follow aftercare instructions. When aftercare instructions are complex or require major lifestyle changes, nonadherence can be as high as 70%.
Nonadherence to aftercare instructions can lead to poor health outcomes, readmittance, and even death. It’s estimated that as many as 125,000 deaths a year are due to complications due to nonadherence.
Patient engagement during aftercare improves adherence to aftercare instructions. Also, it helps establish a relationship of trust and understanding because it shows that you care about them even when they are not admitted and under your care.
Aftercare engagement can include following up on:
- Medication adherence
- Conditions and symptoms to watch for
- Payment reminders
7. Provide Continuous Care
Patients need your help the most when they visit your office. But patient care doesn’t stop once they are healthy. Patient engagement should happen throughout the year.
Engaging with your patients at least once a month is an invaluable tool in establishing trust. When patients hear from their healthcare providers when they are not in an emergency, they start to trust them more and are more likely to come to you when they need help.
Continuous care is also a great way to help patients with preventative care measures. While this is an essential part of patient care for high-risk patients living with chronic conditions, continuous care can significantly reduce health complications and medical costs for all patients.
8. Use Preferred Channels
It doesn’t matter how personal, relevant, or moving your engagement strategies are if your patient never sees them. A major part of improving patient engagement is to meet them where they are and reach out to them using their preferred channel of communication.
Each patient has a preferred channel of communication. Some potential channels that can be used for patient communication and engagement include:
- Patient portals
- Social media
- Video conferencing
- Online messaging platforms and applications like WhatsApp
- Written mail
With our digital world, it’s tempting to lean entirely on technological solutions. Still, it’s important to diversify and offer digital-free solutions like app-less interfaces and interactive voice response (IVR) calls. By offering a wide range of options, you can make engagement accessible for every patient no matter who they are.
Using every channel for every patient is not recommended; instead, as part of your patient onboarding paperwork, include the option to opt-in for announcements and communication through various channels. This is an easy route to making the patients feel overwhelmed or pestered.
9. Track the Right Metrics
A key part of improving your patient engagement strategies is understanding what is and isn’t crucial to measure. By tracking the wrong metrics, you won’t get accurate insights into your existing strategies' success or failure.
To get the most from your patient engagement strategy, consider tracking these metrics:
Patient satisfaction - Patient satisfaction is one of the most common indicators for measuring healthcare quality. The major reason for this is that all aspects of their experience can influence patient satisfaction, so it serves as a broad net to catch any issues.
The difficult part of only focusing on patient satisfaction is it does not always relate directly to your engagement strategies. A patient can be upset, frustrated, or even angry with the service they received but have no issue with the level of engagement that they experienced.
If you do choose to use patient satisfaction as a key metric, realize that it will require additional time and research to understand each review and determine if it is associated (good or bad) with patient engagement.
Engagement response rates - Patient engagement is the first step in a relationship between healthcare providers and patients. However, just because you make the first step to establish a professional relationship with your patient doesn’t always mean that they will or want to reciprocate. By measuring how many patients respond, you can determine how effective your engagement strategy is proceeding.
The average response rate for patients is around 70% to 72%. For postal surveys, it’s 65%, and online surveys bring an average of 46% for web-based surveys and 51% for email surveys.
The strength of this metric is that it gives you a way to measure the effectiveness of your engagement campaigns. However, it’s essential to have a large sample size, including a diverse sample of various demographics, to get a complete idea of how the campaign is doing. This requires more time, but with more data points, you’re able to assess the status of your strategies accurately.
Patient Activation Measure (PAM scores) - The PAM score is a 100-point scale that determines patient engagement. It provides an in-depth review of 22 items in four assessment categories within our performance levels. So, while it is one of the most accurate ways to show patient activation, it comes at the cost of taking a lot of time for each patient to complete, which lowers the average completion rate.
A short-form option reduces the survey to only 13 items to make the entire process less burdensome and costly. But, it comes at the cost of only having 92% accuracy compared to the original long-form version.
By tracking the health outcomes of patients before and after new patient engagement strategies, it is possible to track the impact of your new strategies.
Potentially Preventable Readmissions (PPR) - PPR measures readmission rates within 30 days for reasons that are considered unplanned and potentially preventable. Like other metrics, it is impossible to draw a direct correlation between PPR and engagement rates because many additional factors can affect PPR rates. In broad terms, lower PPR rates are generally associated with higher engagement rates.
The Patient Health Engagement (PHE) scale - The PHE scale measures patient engagement while being grounded in conceptualization and psychometric methods. The PHE model addresses all factors of patient engagement, including patient-related factors, health professional-related factors, organization-related factors, and social and community-related factors.
The biggest benefit of using the PHE model in your metrics is that it focuses more on the patient's psychological needs that keep them from engaging with their health. Rather than showing you where your strategy lacks, PHE explains why customers are struggling with adopting the strategy.
Improve Your Patient Engagement Strategies with PatientBond
PatientBond provides a digital platform that utilizes psychographic segmentation and machine learning with dynamic communication workflows to drive patient engagement and behavior. Schedule your demo today to see how you can deliver unmatched results in marketing strategies and patient engagement.