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Top Trends in Patient Engagement Solutions

September 20, 2019

Health care behaviors have adopted consumerism realities from other industries—and for good reason. Patients now understand the role they play in their own health management. They can find and write reviews on a provider as they do so for a restaurant, job interview process, or vacation activity. They expect their health care provider to utilize similar technology as other customer service-oriented business (e.g., mobile health applications and telemedicine).

As a result, care delivery has evolved. Recent regulation and legislation has patients’ best interest in mind. It’s no longer acceptable to prioritize patients with the biggest ROI. Patients are no longer solely dependent on their provider. Technology is woven in patients’ everyday lives, naturally they expect it in their interactions with health care institutions.

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The evolution of patient engagement solutions acknowledges that health care is not one-size-fits-all. Proactive patient to provider communication happens when patients are equipped with tools that allow them to explore different methods of communication and health management. 

What is patient engagement?

Patient engagement facilitates communication between patients and providers. It empowers patients to keep track of their own health, medication, procedures, appointments, and medical expenses. Overall, it improves interaction between medical professionals and patients. 

Patient engagement solutions provide patients the necessary tools to engage in their own health management. Patient engagement tools’ adoption and successful deployment in an organization has a direct impact on patient satisfaction and overall experience.  

Patient experience, patient engagement, or patient satisfaction?

All of these terms sound so similar. And while they all play a part in a patient’s journey, there are important distinctions to make.

Patient satisfaction, experiences, and engagement are all highly personal parts of their journey as patient

  • Patient satisfaction is a subjective measure of the care encounter. Satisfaction is intrinsically linked to a patient’s expectation of how their medical appointment would go. How a person feels about the level of care they received depends wholly on that preconceived expectation.
  • Patient experience includes all interactions a patient has across the health care system. Patients weigh the range of interactions when determining the positive or negative experience of their care encounter. Patient experience goes beyond satisfaction, and accounts for the importance of specific aspects of their continuum of care. 
  • Patient engagement consists of the methods and actions individuals take to play an active role in their own health. Patient engagement is made up of tools, technologies, and resources that facilitate interaction and communication. 

The idea of patient engagement is not new, and neither are the software applications for it. However, streamlining the way patient engagement tools communicate across systems is a new concept. They can work in conjunction with other health care operations solutions and take human behavior into account when optimizing these tools. Deploying patient engagement tools to create personalized health care experiences is a new, in-demand concept. Patients want and expect a seamless health care experience. At the end of the day, patient engagement strategies must encourage engagement. They must not sacrifice usability for any short-term technological innovation that doesn’t support scalability or sustainability.

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The simpler it is for a patient to engage with their health care provider, the more likely they are to stay informed. If properly implemented, patient engagement tools have far-reaching impacts. Patients are more likely to stay with and refer their providers to others. From the provider’s perspective, patient engagement tools result in better health outcomes, lower incurred costs, and reduced readmission rates.

Ideally, patient engagement tools can be used at any point of the patient journey. This is crucial, since “engagement” does not begin and end with a single appointment. Throughout their lifetime, patients enter different touchpoints and care encounters. This is the patient journey, a zigzagging roadmap of patient care; optimizing the patient journey affects both patient and provider. 

Current state of patient engagement

When providers leverage “apps and online portals [to] promote ongoing conversations between patient and care provider, [they] garner engagement rates of 60% and higher,” according to digital health publication MobiHealthNews. Patient engagement solutions are part of the digital health technology revolution that promise to reduce costs and the burden (and burnout) on nurses, physicians, doctors, and other medical professionals.

Patient engagement rates improve by 60% or more when physicians provide patients with tools to manage their healthcare experiences directly

Unfortunately, while this explains the increase in patient engagement solutions, there is a disconnect between intention and actual practice. 

GE Healthcare partnered with consulting agency Prophet to publish a report about the current state of patient engagement. In it, they discovered that “while 63% of health care organizations believe they are delivering on patient care, only 43% of patients actually agree.”

Part of that disconnect is explained by current patient engagement solutions. Medical practitioners, hospitals, physician offices, and clinics understand they need patient engagement tools, even if only to reduce no-shows or maximize today’s rampant review economy best practices. Health care software vendors offer a slew of engagement solutions including appointment reminders, patient portals, and secure text messaging services. Health care providers have their pick of the lot.

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However, the variety of these offerings means that they aren’t always designed to integrate with each other, often lacking the necessary interoperability that makes the lives of medical staff easier. Many medical professionals are overwhelmed with tedious manual data management and additional administration activities. Any potential patient benefits that don’t translate to the provider side, can often results in patients repeatedly filling out the same information.    

Patient engagement trends from 2017 to 2019

Before we muse on future patient engagement trends, let’s take a quick look at medtech trends from the past few years.

  • Shift to wellness — Statistically, mobile health apps aren’t used the most by those who need to watch their health. However, they still represent the industry mindset changing from “illness” to “wellness.” Health care providers are making sure their patients feel heard and taken care of to proactively reduce readmissions instead of managing expensive procedures and chronic care.
  • Adoption of virtual care — The immediate benefits of virtual care and telemedicine are cost savings. Other long-lasting benefits include providing patients with care outside normal working hours, sharing educational resources with patients, and offering patients in rural settings opportunities to connect with qualified practitioners.  
  • Greater focus on population health — Population health statistics and analysis is crucial to improving the way researchers and scientists tackle ongoing medical issues. New care delivery models (e.g., value-based care reimbursements) result in the need to create better patient care plans, track patient outcomes more effectively, and analyze current coordination and care efforts.  
  • Adaptation to changing needs and expectations — When providers take advantage of digital technologies, they are better equipped to meet the patients where they are. They are also better equipped to secure sensitive patient information without sacrificing convenience. Providers who quickly adapt to patient needs and expectations are more desirable than providers who refuse to let go of legacy solutions and processes. 
  • Digital innovationAI in health care to improve remote patient monitoring, blockchain to increase patient data security, and virtual or augmented realities to improve surgical procedures are all examples of digital technology positively impacting health care. At its most basic level, digital innovation translates into optimizing medical professionals’ skills and productivity, directly improving the overall patient experience.
  • Personalization in health care — Health care is not a one-size-fits-all plan. Even email marketing campaigns and targeted advertisements consider the user’s habits; that level of tailored personalization is de rigueur at this point, and it reflects poorly on organizations and businesses when they do not participate. Medical practices and any kind of health care business must leverage aggregated patient data for their patient engagement endeavors to make the most impact. 

Significant trends in patient engagement data collected via patient feedback

Patient engagement trends for 2020

Trends for 2020 pick up where trends left off in prior years. Patient engagement takes many forms and providers must understand what aspects of their practice they need to amplify or improve.

  • Streamlined access — The most undesirable aspect of any website or mobile app experience is difficult access. Consumers in any industry will be put off by a disorganized and unpolished digital experience, whether due to too many buttons or no mobile optimization. Vendors and providers must ensure patients have an intuitive engagement experience so they are willing to repeat that experience. 
  • Advances in remote patient monitoring — Telemedicine and virtual care has done wonders for the remote patient monitoring aspect of care delivery. No longer will a medical professional visit their far-flung patients for non-emergencies when they can conduct virtual appointments or install sensors or devices that collect and analyze everyday data. These advances increase the availability and accuracy of patient health data, impacting population health analytics and services. 
  • Patient education — Health literacy is of utmost importance when it comes to reducing readmissions and improving voluntary communication between patient and provider. Free or affordable educational resources and tools are also key to the adoption of patient engagement solutions.  
  • Interoperability — Medical professionals are always burnt out. Endless documentation, long working hours, and staff turnover all contribute to that burn out. Unfortunately, some digital technology and software that was designed to make their lives easier oftentimes require lots of time and effort to update. When systems can communicate well with each other, promote streamlined data sharing between disparate systems, and facilitate efficiency of care, the potential for burn out reduces.

What's next for patient engagement tools?

To providers: What kind of patient engagement tools have you deployed? What kind of impact have the tools had on your facility and organization?

To patients: What kind of patient engagement tools have you used? Do you have a preference between online portals or mobile apps? Are you actually empowered to keep track of your own health and communicate freely with your provider because of those tools?

Only time will tell how patient engagement tools will continue to evolve. New ones crop up every day, and more and more health care vendors are realizing the benefits of providing easy integration with existing health care solutions. On the flip side, to compete in this crowded space, vendors are offering patient engagement tools that go beyond the standard communication portal. In an effort to engender loyalty to a provider, a few are even incorporating reputation management or referral management functionalities to their platform. 

Properly deployed patient engagement tools and strategies can result in profound benefits to the health care industry. Patient satisfaction can be finicky and prey to bias, but they are important markers of the effort a health care organization puts into making sure they are listening and advocating on behalf of patients. Easy-to-use, high-quality, and secure patient engagement solutions can do wonders convincing patients to stay with their current provider or empowering them to move on to a provider that understands their concerns.

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