5 Areas Where Greater Patient Engagement is a Game-Changer

Physicians have long understood the value of engaging patients in their health, their care, and their recovery.

The technologies available for fostering this engagement, however, have traditionally been quite limited: think informational print-outs and a telephone call or two. The advent of the web-based patient portal boded well for increasing patient engagement. But even this tool now feels dated due to its passivity. A portal is inert until accessed; it requires patient engagement, but does not necessarily encourage it.

New tools that take advantage of simple but effective communication methods with daily check-ins and notifications are finally fulfilling some of the long-held hopes around greater patient engagement. This article discusses the five areas where greater patient engagement is proving to be a game-changer, and provides examples about the concrete and measurable strides being made in these areas today.

1. Patient Satisfaction

Many investigations of the factors influencing patient satisfaction conclude that it boils down to one simple wish: Patients want to feel like they matter to their physician and care team. A 2015 Johns Hopkins study analyzed the ways hospitals and physicians could reinforce that feeling, and found that providing a high level of attention and “commitment” had significant impact. Because physicians face countless demands on their attention, though, the only way to increase the attention given to their patients is to a) place fewer demands on their time or b) to provide tools that help extend contact with patients—without adding another item to the physician’s to-do list. Automated messaging technology such as daily notifications (a text or email triggering the patient to “check-in online”) tailored to the patient’s condition or status (recovery after surgery or successful management of a chronic illness) is an example of this second approach.

Daily notifications that include important health information can be sent automatically from the physician’s address to the patient. This form of communication means that patients receive information in a digestible, appropriately timed manner—rather than as an (often unread) stack of instructions or in a rush as the patient is discharged. The regularity of these messages gives patients the sense of a true, ongoing partnership. Information also flows the other way: in responses to automated questions or messages, patients give their providers a glimpse into the barriers they face, or into other unexpected factors shaping their illness or recovery. This information helps physicians better understand their patients and meet each individual’s specific needs, which further increases trust and a sense of partnership. For instance, physicians at the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles found that patients’ satisfaction was significantly increased with the use of automated messaging technology (compared to those who didn’t receive that communication). Researchers noticed a significant increase in Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems Outpatient and Ambulatory Surgery survey scores—the “HCAPHS for ASCs”—as well.1

2. Treatment Effectiveness

Noting that approximately 50% of patients do not take their medications as prescribed, a Mayo Clinic Proceedings article observed that “The more empowered patients feel, the more likely they are to be motivated to manage their disease and adhere to their medications.”2 Messaging technology can deliver information about how medications should be taken or when they reach milestone during the post-operative phase, but it can also be used in real-time as a reminder to take medications.

Patient adherence to pre-operative preparation guidelines, medicine and treatment protocols, and post-operative instructions can make an enormous difference to their health outcomes. This direct impact makes patient compliance the area where patient engagement may be discerned most easily. For instance, a study done by the MD Anderson Cancer Center in collaboration with HealthLoop found that only 21% of patients who had received printed materials correctly identified what ionizing radiation was, while 66% of patients who used the digital patient engagement platform did.

3. Reduction of Readmissions

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) estimates that the health care system spends over $26 billion per year on avoidable readmissions for seniors, as nearly one in five Medicare patients discharged from a hospital are readmitted within 30 days.3 The penalties introduced by the Hospital Readmission Reduction Program (HRRP) have helped prompt a modest decrease in these rates of readmission, but there is still ample room for improvement.

Read the full article on Becker's Hospital Review.