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Stick to It: How 2019 Resolutions Can Help Your Patients and Your Practice

Michael Morgan, Chief Executive Officer, Updox

From weight loss to quitting smoking to exercising more, many use the new year as an opportunity to make positive changes in their lives. As patients strive to maintain their resolutions for 2019, it’s also a great time for healthcare providers to think about their role within this era of value-based care.

Healthcare providers can help patients work towards their goals by increasing engagement on health-related activities. In the process, providers can achieve their own goals and enable greater efficiencies in their business by improving health outcomes and reducing costs.

Providers Help Themselves by Helping Patients

An Insider survey of more than 1,000 consumers found most wanted to make some kind of health-related change in the new year. Nearly half said their resolution was to eat healthier or diet, while 40 percent said they wanted to exercise and be more active.

Yet few people stick with their resolutions. Psychology Today reports that 80 percent of people forget about their resolutions after only six weeks due to unclear goals, discouragement and a lack of accountability. By mid-February, crowds at the gym have disappeared, cookies are back in the cabinet, and the excitement about improved health has often faded.

Healthcare providers can help patients stay on track through effective engagement. Regular communication with physicians and becoming an advocate for one’s own health will help keep them accountable.

As the healthcare industry moves to value-based care models, this sort of engagement can also benefit providers. Studies indicate that the more engaged patients are in their care, the more they will take a more active role in their health – becoming more likely to exercise, eat better and come in for regular checkups. As a result, they tend to have fewer health problems and are usually less expensive and easier to treat.

Clarify Goals and Leverage New Tools

Just as consumers struggle with their resolutions, providers also struggle to foster effective patient engagement. Thankfully, technology is making it easier to actively interest patients in their own health, and 2019 will prove pivotal in making patient engagement better through mobile and digital initiatives.

Half of consumers are already comfortable interacting with their physicians digitally, and approximately two-thirds of physicians say new digital health technologies will help reduce costs in the system, according to a report by EY.

To champion patients and help them meet their goals, here are three ways providers can boost engagement in the new year:

I. Set Achievable Goals – And Don’t Forget the Business Case for Doing So  

Many people fail in their resolutions because they lack clarity. For example, a person who has a vague resolution of “losing weight” is unlikely to succeed. But a person who sets a clear weekly diet and exercise plan, a reduction goal of 20 pounds, and a final deadline of March 31 has a greater chance of success.

Likewise, healthcare providers should lay out in detail the outcomes they hope to achieve – tied to both health and business outcomes – with regular activities and deadlines to stay on track toward clearly defined goals. For example, if a practice’s goal is to increase follow-up visits, they might set a plan to send a series of email or text reminders at regular intervals after the initial visit.

Providers should start by establishing a baseline of communications and determine from there how they can increase their commitment. By having a clear vision of the business case and a plan of action, providers can tie patient engagement to higher revenue, reimbursements and referrals.

When initiatives are aligned with goals, it’s easier to stay on track and make adjustments as needed. Over time, they can more clearly evaluate the relationship between engagement, outcomes and loyalty among patients.

II. Improve the Patient Portal Experience

While portals have become a common way to communicate with patients, many lack mobile functionality or can be hard to navigate – causing patients to ignore them completely. According to the Government Accountability Office, less than one-third of patients report using their patient portals.

Why? In the 2017 Health Information National Trends Survey, more than 60 percent of patients surveyed said they do not use portals because they prefer a more direct means of communication, they don’t trust the portals or simply don’t see the need for them.

While portals are an established channel for patient communication, it’s important for providers to understand the benefits and the drawbacks to portals. Merely hosting a portal is just checking the box for patient engagement. Practices who truly want to see better connections with patients, to realize the benefits of what that means, should take advantage of additional, more preferred options for patient engagement.

III. Offer Convenient Options for Two-Way Communication

As much as patient resolutions are more easily accomplished with the right tools, providers must also ensure they are engaging with patients through the means they prefer. Text messaging has grown to be a popular form of communication for many businesses, including banking and retail, and more than 97 percent of Americans now text. Due to these consumer shifts, patient expectations have also changed and patients are seeking out providers who offer the ability to connect digitally with practices.

For healthcare consumers, a HIPPA-compliant text-based solution can improve the patient experience by granting them a familiar way to access their information and message providers at their convenience. And, because it doesn’t require them to install an app, create an account or remember a password, the ease of use inspires adoption. Providers can also use regular text message reminders about appointments or health-related goals or resolutions.

Beyond text and secure text messaging, providers can also use secure text for photos, video chat or live video consultations.

Better patient experiences are good for both patients and providers. Start 2019 by helping patients follow through on their own resolutions and you’ll find new opportunities that also benefit your own practice.