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Solving the patient engagement predicament under Meaningful Use

Nina Keller, Digital Marketing Executive, CureMD
Nina Keller, Digital Marketing Executive, CureMD

One of the biggest Meaningful Use (MU) challenges for physicians across the country is getting at least 5 percent (The proposed amendment hasn’t been finalized yet) of their patients to view, download, or transmit (VDT) their electronic health information. And yet, to be compliant with the mandate, all providers will have to figure out ways to engage their patients and encourage them to participate.

Many physicians have expressed their frustration and dissatisfaction with the idea that they can and will lose incentive revenue for a requirement that is completely dependent on other people’s actions and not just their own. Those who jumped on the MU bandwagon have seen worse-than-expected numbers on their report when it came to the patient engagement measure and are now wondering whether they will even bother to move on with the other stages.

But all is not lost. There are several strategies physicians can use to increase patient engagement:

Understand how the technology actually benefits your patients

You can’t expect someone to drive off a car lot in a brand new Kia if the salesperson can’t speak to the features and benefits of that car and answer some basic questions. And yet many physicians expect their patients to adopt technology that they themselves know nothing about.

The first step to convincing patients to engage with technology is to understand that technology yourself. Patients will be far more likely to log on to your patient portal if you can talk to them about it and genuinely recommend doing so. Once patients know and believe the benefits they will experience – adoption will be a no-brainer for a good portion of them.

For instance, patients are now often asked at check-in for their email address. Most instantly don’t want to give their email address and they’re not interested in being a part of the portal because they feel like they don’t need one more “to-do” on their to-do list. In this moment it’s up to staff to educate the patient and give them a quick summary of how the portal can help them, i.e. you can set appointments through it, send messages to your doctor, and access all of your health records. It’s amazing how many “nos” turn to “yeses” once patients understand they will benefit from the technology.

You may not even need to ask for their email

There are still those patients who, even after hearing about all of the benefits, will not want to hand over their email address because of the fear of being spammed. In this day and age, our email address feels more like our social security number, and a lot of us don’t hand it over so easily. This is understandable.

Speak with your EHR vendor to see whether an email address is even needed. Many vendors are now changing the workflow so that patients do not have to provide this information to access the portal. They can simply be given a username and password to log on. Getting past this initial hurdle is a big first step toward becoming MU smart.

Establish governance

Establishing governance around any project is essential to that project’s success, and MU is no different. It’s a good idea to form an MU workgroup who will oversee the IT aspects of compliance to ensure that the resources are used responsibly, risks are managed appropriately and policies and procedures are implemented and maintained. Once patients have a sense that all steps have been taken to ensure the safety of their records as well as the safety of their devices they use to log on to the portal, they will be more apt to engage.

Send a message

The new MU3 rules bring a bit of good news and that is providers don’t have to hope and pray that patients engage all on their own to be compliant. The truth is, they can meet the percentage threshold if a patient even responds to a message their doctor sends, as long as that message contains relevant health information specific to the patient.

So how can you send a message that your patients will actually respond to? The key is to create communication that is conversational and personalized. Patients will be far more likely to respond to a message that makes them feel you genuinely care. It could be as simple as following up after an initial visit to see how he or she is feeling. Ask them to take just a moment to respond and let you know. Also, remind them that you are available to answer any questions they may have, and then sign with your own name instead of the name of a member of your staff.

Your EHR may be able to automate this process and send emails on your behalf after the initial visit. Just make sure the emails sent feel like they are coming from you personally and are not a robotic piece of communication. This is one of the easiest and best ways to get your patients to engage.

Provide community education and outreach

Some providers are having success by calling up patients and inviting them to a one-day seminar where they then teach them the functionality and benefits of the portal. This shows patients their physician cares and is willing to take the time to educate and inform.

If you want to continue with Meaningful Use, or perhaps even start, so you can collect those incentive payments, there’s no time like the present to employ these strategies and get your patients to adopt this technology.