There’s more to patient engagement than spending big money on technology

John Kim, Technology Evangelist, Kareo

John Kim, Technology Evangelist, Kareo

Lately the term “patient engagement” is popping up in conversations among practice managers and independent physicians – but the term isn’t always one of endearment.

This is no surprise, considering physicians attesting for Stage 2 of “meaningful use” are required to prove they’re engaging patients by giving them secure online access to their health information. They’re also being bombarded with the message that patient engagement is critical to sustainability (e.g., If they don’t find a way to iChat with Susie Smith about her medications during their off hours, she’ll go elsewhere). 

The unfortunate consequence of this is that too many physicians have gotten lost in dollar signs and the perception that patient engagement equals more time and less money. Instead of regarding “patient engagement” – the practice of connecting and communicating with patients in an effort to improve their health and well-being – as something good for their practice, they sigh and think, “I have to answer all these e-mails” or “I’m the one who’s supposed to stare at your Apple Watch stats!?!”

However, many physicians would benefit from considering how to practice “patient engagement” with the goals of improving outcomes, care quality, and practice revenues front and center. Incidentally, improving patient engagement isn’t always so expensive. Techniques such as sending appointment reminders to patients’ mobile phones and utilizing e-mail-based satisfaction surveys at the end of the visit are just two examples of low-cost techniques that yield powerful results.

With this in mind, the best way to think about improving patient engagement is by thinking of it in the context of the three “R’s”: Reminders, Reputation, and Re-Care:

Reminders (& Recalls) 

People lead busy lives, and remembering to make follow-up appointments or take medication isn’t always top of mind. That’s why one of the best ways to engage people in their care is provide reminders to patients similar to those they might see in their mobile calendar. This can include things like a reminder for a 50-year-old patient to schedule her first colonoscopy or a patient with diabetes to track his blood-glucose levels at regular intervals. Reminders not only reduce no-shows, but they bring patients back into the office to adhere to their care plans, which drives revenue.

Reputation 

A lot of doctors still think having good “word of mouth” is all they need to build a successful practice. The reality is that when John tells Bob he knows of a good sports medicine doctor, the first thing Bob is probably going to do is a Google search to find out more about this doctor. What shows up then – a two-star rating and cringeworthy reviews, or glowing testimonials – will impact Bob’s conversion rate from Internet visitor to actual patient. For all of these reasons, looking into ways to use technology to engage patients for the purpose of boosting reputation – for example, by encouraging patients to post positive reviews to social media outlets – is only going to become more important.

Re-care

The idea behind “re-care” is one of connecting with patients after they leave the physician’s exam room, whether that’s through supplemental telehealth e-visits or tapping into technology to monitor vital signs. Engagement techniques that fall under this term may also include sending text-based healthy eating suggestions, or utilizing annual reminders for physicals or other routine tests.

The good news is that growing number of cost-effective technology solutions are helping practices hone in on the 3 “R’s” at the heart of patient engagement.

One of the biggest examples of low-cost reputation-management technology is automated e-mail surveys that go out to patients after each visit.

Research shows that using automated e-mail surveys can greatly diminish the chances a patient will leave negative reviews on sites like Yelp, because he or she is given an opportunity to offer direct feedback. In automated surveys, if a patient rates a practice unfavorably (say, with two out of five stars), she is diverted to a user interface that prompts her to give feedback that can go directly to the office manager, so any problems may be addressed quickly.

There are also a growing number of platforms that allow physicians to send secure messages and reminders to patients’ phones and tablets with the purpose of encouraging them to take part in their own health outcomes. Emerging e-visit technology, for example, has enabled physicians to charge a fee for patients to connect with them after hours (within reason, and at hours of the physician’s choosing) to ask health-related questions.

Ultimately, when it comes down to investing in any new technology to improve engagement, whether it’s a cloud-based portal or a secure scheduling platform, physicians should consider the extent to which a solution offers “reminders,” boosts “reputation,” and gives patients an opportunity to engage in “re-care.” By keeping these things in mind, patient-engagement technology will feel less like a frustrating expenditure, and more like a part of your practice marketing plan.

 

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