As there is no established definition of patient engagement, contradictory opinions clash with common points of view all the time. By accumulating various interpretations and adding real-life experience of how engagement is put into practice, we have come up with to the following term:
Patient engagement stands for the scope of a caregiver’s strategies supported with technology and aimed at encouraging a patient’s willingness and ability to actively participate in their health and care.
Patient engagement misconceptions
By presenting this definition, we also want to clearly distinguish it from two other ideas that frequently go together with the patient engagement concept. Let’s break them down now, once and for all.
Patient engagement = patient experience?
Certainly not. Patient experience doesn’t touch upon an individual’s proactive attitude to their wellbeing, it rather depends on what impression a provider manages to create during the care cycle and beyond. In the plainest words, it is whether individuals like or don’t like being patients of this particular caregiver.
The Beryl Institute gives the following definition of patient experience: “the sum of all interactions, shaped by an organization's culture, which influence patient perceptions across the continuum of care.”
Patient engagement = complete self-care?
Again, no. While patient experience stands for a patient’s passive role in their care, this particular misconception practically says that properly engaged patients are able to treat their diseases themselves. It is no coincidence we say that individuals actively participate in their care. Participation doesn’t imply that the burden of treating a disease – from a petty cold to atherosclerosis – should be on patients’ shoulders alone.
Key elements of patient engagement
We expressly mentioned IT support in the patient engagement definition, as encouraging patients relies on continuous communication beyond irregular face-to-face appointments, which is achievable only with the help of technologies. Caregivers should also know how exactly to apply software in order to carefully support patients without annoying them.
Therefore, engaging patients takes two interconnected elements: channels and interaction logic.
Patient engagement channels
Channels are the ways to communicate useful information to patients, such as videos, articles and guidelines, as well as to get health data back from individuals (their vitals, mood, nutrition facts). Currently, there are 2 channels available to caregivers – patient portals and mobile apps.
Portals are patient-friendly versions of electronic health records. With the tight integration with EHR, providers can customize and personalize content to offer their patients only relevant materials. Usually, the following features are built into portals:
- Appointment scheduling
- Access to lab results
- Request form for a prescription refill
- Online billing and payment
- Q&A chat
- Social media integration
- Interactive learning options
Portals are something like “good-to-know” things patients can turn to for reference. Even though some portals allow recording vitals, individuals don’t get any feedback and can’t really use this data to assess the treatment progress. This functionality set makes a patient more of a health watcher than an active player in their own wellbeing.
Mobile patient applications
Here we are not speaking about creating another patient portal in the form of a mobile application. While patient portals serve more as reference channel, apps equip patients with tools to control their health status daily by being at an individual’s fingertips.
We define the following types of engaging mobile patient apps:
- Chronic condition management app
- Universal app to interact with all patient groups
- Post-surgery recovery support app
While these three differ from each other according to their use, they share a certain scope of functions and features to ease up patients’ daily healthcare routine:
- PGHD recording and sharing with a caregiver (heart rate, weight, oximetry results, blood pressure, blood glucose, temperature)
- Medication intake scheme with customizable reminders
- Nutritional tips (food diary with calorie calculator, recipes and weekly menu plans)
- Physical wellness and fitness support (warm-up and workout videos, meditation podcasts, breathing technique guides)
- Remote consultations (emergency button, secure video conversations and more)
Practically, portals and apps complement each other. Patient portals encourage individuals’ willingness to get healthier, while apps empower patients’ ability to achieve this goal.
Patient engagement interaction logic
This is the central element of patient engagement, as it sets the rules of communication. Sadly, many patient engagement initiatives lack it, thus their efficiency winds down. The key to implement a strong interaction logic is in the right technology, that’s why we suggest to consider a healthcare CRM.
There are 4 reasons for that:
- CRM is a place to store diverse patient data, not just concentrated health overviews like in EHRs. Caregivers can guarantee a personal touch in every interaction with individuals by using additional information on relatives, contacts, income level, care level, interests and an extensive section of PGHD.
- CRM can unite separate clinical systems. It integrates with other systems to synchronize and bring together disparate pieces of patient data into a wholesome picture. Among possible systems there are EHR, clinical data analytics, patient mobile applications, medical mobile applications, patient portals and more. Hence, CRM can get and process information about scheduled and missed appointments, a patient’s health status changes (from lab results or PGHD) and treatment plan performance.
- Building sophisticated communication schemes is only possible by means of CRM. It allows caregivers to interact with patients via emails, SMS texts and personalized messages on a patient portal or in a mobile app.
Upon getting updates on interaction with patients, the system can respond to different patient events by sending automated notifications to both patients and caregivers. Such events can include missed appointments and tests, significant changes in an individual’s condition or upcoming support group meetings.
For example, let’s see how healthcare CRM can support diabetes management. It identifies the rising trend in blood glucose levels, which poses a risk of hyperglycemia. The system sends notifications to both a patient and their caregiver. Then the caregiver can suggest the patient checking their HbA1c level to assure their treatment plan still working and to prevent complications.
Moreover, if a patient gives up on care, delays appointments or tests, CRM can handle their reengagement with its intelligence and communication logic. Based on information from other systems, it can reach out to individuals in a gentle manner without irritating them.
- CRM can store patient feedback received from other systems or entered directly, then it can automatically adjust subsequent communication to it. This allows to engage patients in their health in the way they want it, not the way providers think it would work. Moreover, caregivers can use the feedbacks to generate automatic reports on patient satisfaction and thus see their overall patient engagement activities efficiency.
Patient engagement can encourage patient’s willingness and ability to actively participate in their health and care only if it means aligning the channels and supporting them with a healthcare CRM. Sadly, it’s a rare case for now, as a lot of caregivers don’t think through their communication with patients.
Using CRM means applying best practices of building trustworthy relationships with patients to make them feel supported and appreciated. It also means timely responding to anything patients go through and persuading them to keep going at moments of weakness, like when they forget to record some vitals or miss an appointment.
Caregivers who embrace the whole structure of tech-run patient engagement thrive by raising awareness and motivation among their patients, improving care delivery and, accordingly, health outcomes.
By Natallia Babrovich, Business Analyst at ScienceSoft