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Fully leveraging the patient engagement tool box

Dr. Sarah Corley, Chief Medical Officer, NextGen Healthcare

In the not-so-distant past, if a patient and healthcare provider needed to communicate outside of an office visit, the primary methods were via phone or mail. Remember the frustrations of calling to speak with a physician, being placed on hold during busy office hours, eventually leaving a message and then waiting hours or days for a return call? At the same time, providers were often challenged to find an open spot in their days to attend to the concerns and questions of patients who did not have an appointment. These situations were certainly not conducive to high-level patient engagement and frequently deterred patients and providers from collaborating outside of the office environment.

Today, there are innovative patient engagement tools that foster patient responsibility and encourage participation in care. When organizations incorporate these tools into a larger patient engagement strategy, they can better address critical health issues, such as chronic disease management and prevention.

Setting the stage for value-based care

When used effectively, patient engagement tools support performance improvement that aligns with the industry’s transition to value-based care. As providers increasingly seek out strategies to improve patient outcomes and the bottom line, this technology can deliver substantial benefits:

  • Greater patient involvement

Patient portals give people access to their medical records, care plans, financial information and educational resources all in one place. By acting as an individualized data repository, these frameworks promote active participation in care. For instance, patients can check test results on-demand and then immediately query providers electronically while concerns are still fresh. In the same way, providers can choose expedient times during their day to efficiently respond to patients and point them to resources about their conditions and treatment paths.

Patients welcome the convenience that patient portals provide. In fact, many providers find that patients are more likely to use a portal when there is depth to the functionality. While secure electronic communication is a great start, newer solutions also provide capabilities for making appointments, paying bills and refilling prescriptions. These offerings help ease healthcare tasks for patients and also provide key information for providers who are proactively monitoring patient care.

Consistently using the technology throughout an entire practice boosts patient satisfaction by allowing them to make electronic appointments with general practitioners and specialists alike.

  • More secure information exchange

While email opened the door to efficient communication outside the care visit, electronic health records (EHRs) and patient portals are allowing for this type of communication in the clinical setting. To do this, developers had to address the need for secure protected health information exchange. With the right security framework in place, providers and patients can now access the individual’s health and financial data and communicate openly, with reduced fear that information will be accessed and disclosed by a third-party.

  • Cost efficiencies

Although electronic patient communication provides cost benefits through regulatory incentive programs like the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS), the opportunity to impact the bottom line is much broader. For instance, electronic communication channels reduce the number of calls coming into a practice. Since most business line contracts include a per-call charge, fewer calls equates to less expense. Plus, physician and office staff can use their time more efficiently, improving workflow performance and resource use.

Unfortunately, physicians often hesitate to fully implement and capitalize on patient engagement tools due to faulty perceptions. Many fear that electronic communication will open the door to a flood of unnecessary or unwanted interactions. In truth, the experience of those already engaging with this technology is much different. Although the number of communications between visits may go up slightly, the value of those interactions means that providers can become more proactive, catching issues early and delivering more cost-effective interventions.

  • Population health

Providers are increasingly engaging in analytics and data mining efforts to identify at-risk patients and proactively circumvent adverse events. As they identify individuals in need of preventive services and more intense interventions, they can use patient engagement tools for timely outreach. For instance, providers can send communications to certain patients to remind them to check their blood sugar, refill medications, set up preventive maintenance tests and follow through with care plan specifics, such as diet and exercise.

  • Medication adherence

Patient portals can also smooth the process for prescription refills and medication reconciliation. Providers can track prescribed medications and the status of refills to ensure patients remain up-to-date. Also, new e-prescribing tools are emerging that notify physicians when patients fill and refill medications, enabling providers to follow-up when medications are not being taken as directed.

Putting patient engagement tools to work

Notable opportunities exist to advance patient engagement strategies in today’s healthcare climate. Evolving value-based care strategies will continue to push providers to adopt patient engagement tools and technology, which in turn, will elevate provider-patient partnerships, improve outcomes and reduce costs.