As more and more people become accustomed to (and comfortable with) using technology to manage their health, the quality and design of technology systems become crucial elements of delivering a great experience.
But technology on its own is not enough to improve patient engagement. It’s up to both patients and care providers to use those tools in a way that makes a meaningful and measurable improvement in patients’ lives.
Before a technology decision can be made, it’s important for a healthcare provider to define the goals it wants to achieve.
What Is Patient Engagement?
The term patient engagement has evolved to be a catch-all term for any tools that enable and encourage patients to be more active in managing their health.
Broadly speaking, a patient engagement strategy should aim to:
- Drive better health and outcomes
- Empower patients and loved ones to be active in their own care
- Reduce costs
Those goals will mean different things to different providers. More important however, the ultimate goals of increasing patient engagement are to improve the patient experience.
Patient Engagement vs Patient Experience
Many providers fall into the trap of equating increased engagement with a better experience. Creating a patient portal and forcing people to use it does increase engagement, but is it really improving the patient experience? Maybe. Maybe not.
Think about every automated customer service phone system you’ve had to use in the last year.
Some of them were probably pretty good. They answered your questions, and if they couldn’t, they quickly got you to a live person who could.
Most of them, however, were probably frustrating. They didn’t recognize your voice commands, didn’t address the problem you had, and eventually just spiraled downward into an automated phone-tree abyss from which there was no return.
In both of those situations, there was a high level of engagement. But only in the first one was there a good experience. Good patient engagement technology, when implemented correctly and used efficiently, will improve your patient’s healthcare experience.
Tools For Improving Patient Engagement
There is a wide array of different options for implementing a patient engagement strategy. Some of the most common solutions include:
Patient Portals: Patient portals are typically secure online websites that give patients convenient, 24-hour access to personal health information. From any computer or mobile device patients can view health information such as:
- Recent visits
- Lab results
In addition, patient portals allow patients to securely communicate with their care team, schedule appointments, request prescription refills, pay bills and take care of other common tasks.
Many healthcare providers integrate their patient portals with patient database solutions, like Salesforce Health Cloud, to further improve efficiency and reduce costs.
Telehealth: Telehealth refers to using technology to support and promote long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration.
Telehealth provides a number of benefits to increase patient engagement, including:
- More timely interactions
- Higher quality services
- Reduced costs for the organization providing the services
- Greater staff efficiency
- No need for the person being coached or counseled to travel
Telehealth is rapidly becoming the go-to patient engagement solution for providing certain healthcare services to rural and remote populations that otherwise would have minimal or no access to health services.
Social Media: There is a common perception that social media platforms are focused primarily on popular culture and current events. But in healthcare, these platforms have become a powerful tool for improving patient engagement.
Social media allows providers to quickly and effectively disseminate critical information to the public about local health crises. It also enables rapid response to patient inquiries.
The drawback to social media is that it often requires dedicated personnel to maintain and engage with patients regularly.
Creating An Engagement Strategy
Remember: the ultimate goal of increased patient engagement is a meaningful improvement in patient experience.
Creating an engagement strategy means first evaluating functional areas where patient experience needs improvement. Once that’s sorted, choosing the right technology to enact change will (if correctly implemented) simultaneously improve engagement and experience.