There is no doubt that the topic of patient engagement has taken center stage in healthcare. It was the hot topic at HIMSS 2015 where a major national study was unveiled, Three Perspectives of Patient Engagement. And that was just one of the many sessions, events, and booths focused on patient engagement at the event.
Thanks to Meaningful Use, a lot of the focus on patient engagement has been around patient portals. It makes sense since practices have to meet specific thresholds in both MU2 and MU3 for portal use. They certainly play a key role in providing patients with access to medical records, test results, and even tools like online scheduling and billpay. The benefits have not gone unnoticed by providers. Over 80% of doctors believe a patient portal helps with patient satisfaction and 71% believe it helps with patient/physicians communication. The benefits haven’t gone unnoticed by patients either. Two-thirds of patients say they would be more loyal to physicians who provides a portal through an EHR.
Despite the undeniable value of portals, they are just one component of true patient engagement. This was clear in the presentation about the new national study released at HIMSS. According to the presentation, the biggest problem in creating patient engagement isn’t providing access to health information. The problem is shifting the attitudes and expectations of both clinicians and patients.
Resolving this problem requires a major culture change in healthcare. Despite the fact that patients and providers say they want improved access, communication, and outcomes and that patient engagement may hold the key, change is slow.
The reason is actually pretty simple. A shift in the culture towards a truly patient-centric model requires changes at every interaction and that involves every person across the spectrum. In many cases this means not only shifting attitudes but also the way things are done. That can require adding, changes, or maximizing technology. While technology plays this critical role, it is much bigger than portals alone.
It starts with finding the appropriate provider and goes all the way until the final bill is paid. The new patient-centric model looks something like this:
Patients can search for providers online, see patient reviews, and book an appointment from home.
Patients can easily find answers to questions about the practice on their website.
When the patient does call the office, the phone is answered quickly and so is the inquiry.
The patient receives a reminder through the means of their choice—text, email, or phone, and can complete pre-registration information to speed up check in and the encounter.
The patient doesn’t have a long wait time after check in, and if there is a delay, someone alerts the patient and gives them the option to reschedule.
In the exam room, the patient encounter runs smoothly as all the relevant patient information is at hand and the provider can refer to their mobile HER, which allows the physician to maintain eye contact and share information and images with the patient.
The patient receives education and a visit summary before leaving the practice.
The patient receives a follow text or email with directions to leave a review of the practice.
The patient can follow up on the patient portal to see lab results or review medical record information.
The patient receives an email or text with a link to their bill to pay online.
The patient has an ongoing connection to the practice through regular emails, social media, practice blog, and/or newsletter.
There are lots of other little things a practice can do to provide a positive experience that makes them want to come back and helps them feel more engaged in their own wellness and can even improve outcomes.
This consumer-like experience is really what patients want not just a portal. They want a strong relationship with their provider and to be in control of medical decisions or participate in shared decision-making with their doctors.
There is a huge opportunity here for all healthcare providers to begin shifting the way they relate to patients and provide care. It’s a chance to go beyond Meaningful Use and portals and look at the entire patient experience, including a new element to patient care—convenience.
As smaller practices are more nimble, they may find it easier to make these changes than large practices. This can be a unique competitive advantage that smaller practices can take advantage of.
Today, there are also a lot of affordable, easy-to-use solutions for patient engagement and practice marketing that can help. A practice can now easily create an engaging website, provide an online scheduling widget, share positive reviews, and send mass emails and texts with news and information. When combined with an electronic health record and best practices in billing, any practice can become a truly patient-centric practice. Then, the ability to meet those portal use thresholds becomes an easy to achieve by-product of a larger patient engagement strategy.