Patient engagement offers benefits to health care organizations of all sizes. Private practices connect with patients on a higher level, avoiding the delay of reporting changes in health between appointments. Meanwhile, clinicians use information collected in patient portals and through patient-facing platforms to understand how a person is progressing within a current treatment plan.
For example, those with high blood pressure can self-report daily blood pressure readings to the practice, which may then adjust medication dosage to gain control over the issue faster.
This is extremely cost-effective, avoiding the need to schedule a subsequent appointment to check blood pressure before the next regularly scheduled appointment. For patients, the effects include a better understanding of their care and answers to questions that come up between appointments as well. At the same time, insurers realize the benefits of better population health, reducing the overall cost of care, which improves the company’s profitability. It’s a win-win-win for patients, providers and third-party entities involved in the healthcare industry.
To tap into these benefits, healthcare providers need to know the three elements of patient engagement and how to apply them in their practices.
Patient Portals Provide an Instant Way to Boost Engagement
The patient portal is the first step to patient engagement. It provides a means for patients to review their EHR, including past visit documentation, results from laboratory tests and more. Depending on the scale and capability of the portal, patients can also interact with clinicians.
In today’s age, everything is available via chat and online messages, and the same features must be present in your patient portal. Patients expect to be able to communicate with healthcare professionals via an online portal. The portal should also have the capability to make payments on account balances and schedule new or follow-up appointments as well. Although the obvious benefit of improved engagement exists, patient portals offer another advantage to those in need.
Patient portals give those with chronic and urgent healthcare needs a way to contact healthcare providers regardless of their location. While true of traditional, over-the-phone contacts, the patient portal is the digitalization of this interaction. It empowers patients with a way to ensure the continuity of their care.
For example, John Smith had a blood test, and the office called with a message regarding his results. However, due to privacy laws, the message lacked details. A simple call to the office might suffice, but what about weekends and nights? John could log into a patient portal, see his results and immediately find out what he needs to do immediately.
Depending on the results and tests in question, this could have a serious impact on his safety. Diabetes instructions may be communicated, or he may need to see a caregiver immediately, even if it means visiting an emergency center. Other applications include requesting prescription refills, submitting insurance documentation and more. That’s the complexity of healthcare, but it all depends on the usability of the system.
The ways in which patients interact with physicians and staff via the patient portal also affects overall engagement. As explained by Healthcare Finance, an engaging portal must include several key elements:
- Mobile access. Although desktop patient portals help patients connect with care providers, healthcare entities must also empower patients through mobile access. Mobile capabilities enhance a provider’s ability to meet Meaningful Use (MU) Stage 2 requirements and effectively eliminates the concern over those without access to a computer.
- Interoperability. Advancements in consumer-facing technologies, such as fitness apps and home health-monitoring devices, will necessitate a seamless way to access and collect information, enabling faster and more efficient management of health conditions. The patient portal itself may serve as a point of interoperability, connecting consumer devices and platforms with the EHR.
- Monitoring. As patients grow apt at sharing data with caregivers, clinical support staff must monitor incoming information. Consumers have vast resources, including wireless technologies, to track their health from the comfort of their homes. The value of this information is derived from sharing it with care providers. Of course, this will further require IT development within the practice to collect and review data.
- Context. Monitoring data alone is not enough to improve patient care; clinicians must act on data. If the information transmitted to a care provider indicates the worsening or improvement of health conditions, it will affect treatment decisions. As a result, caregivers can intervene as needed, providing new instructions or recommendations to improve patient care. Moreover, integrated systems will again come into play, entering information automatically within the patient’s EHR and notifying providers of changes in consumer-reported data.
The ease of use of a patient portal also relates to the likelihood patients will take advantage of the system. In fact, patient portal systems that include these four elements of engagement will see more patients use the system and improved health of communities served. Ultimately, healthcare professionals recognize the importance of accuracy in documentation and can even use patient portals to collect information about symptoms and patient experiences. It all contributes to a higher quality and standard of care.
Telemedicine Puts Patient Portals in Hyperdrive
The patient portal is the yellow brick road to improving patient engagement. However, it can only go so far. In its most basic form, the portal connects patients with their records and communications with providers. Yet, patients want more from modern healthcare than a way to review information. They want real-life interactions. That begs the question, “how do healthcare providers interact with patients in a greater capacity than online messages?”
The answer is telemedicine.
Telemedicine literally means “far medicine,” deriving from the Greek prefix “tele”. While the world has grown more connected, how people “see” their healthcare providers have evolved in tandem. Instead of visiting a practice for follow-up care, patients can leverage telemedicine to see their caregivers from any location. According to Becker’s Hospital Review, the number of patients using telemedicine increased to more than 7 million in 2018, and that number will continue to climb.
Healthcare providers using telemedicine may also treat patients without risking the spread of infection. This is a critical step in fighting the spread of major illnesses, including the flu. Furthermore, telemedicine helps those living in rural areas and with limited access to care receive treatment for their medical needs.
The benefits of telemedicine are much more than just an easier way to work with patients. Telemedicine has fewer administrative costs for healthcare providers than a traditional, in-clinic visit. The technology helps with urgent care triage, ensuring those that need care faster have access to it. While the healthcare provider is limited to visual and audio communication for diagnostics during a telemedicine visit, new technologies are also changing the narrative.
Wireless sensors can be used to manage senior wellness via telemedicine, and the applications of wireless technologies in telemedicine are limitless. As explained by Modern Healthcare, even health insurers are getting in on the telemedicine game, such as BlueCross BlueShield covering telemedicine visits for certain plans. Therefore, it is in the best interest of healthcare providers to implement telemedicine solutions to boost engagement and ability to provide care to those in need.
Email and Text Reminders Complete the Patient Engagement Triad
Continuity of care remains a key problem for the healthcare industry. Even with the most experienced and professional practices, patients may forget about their appointments. While personal assistants, including Alexa, Cortana, and Siri, may help, the true burden of reminding patients of their appointments falls to healthcare providers.
Patients depend on clinics for basic reminders. Manually sending out emails and texts for patient reminders is impractical and costly. Instead of forcing office staff to dedicate countless hours to this action, healthcare providers can automate the process with an advanced tool for turning digital interactions into email and text reminders.
The technology powering automated communications via digital services has additional applications beyond patient reminders. Healthcare providers could use it to send faxes from personal devices, send pre-appointment registration requests “ProCheckIn” to patients and provide feedback regarding patient self-reported data. Integrated systems also ensure practices know when patients confirm their appointments by aggregating responses to texts and entering them within the system.
Increase Your Practice’s Patient Engagement With the Right EHR Solutions Provider
Improving patient engagement is the best way to make your practice stand apart and improve patient outcomes. Practices that understand the three critical components of modern patient engagement, including a high-quality patient portal, the use of telemedicine and automated texting and email services, can connect with patients more often and create greater patient involvement and satisfaction. However, finding the right solution is a complex process. To avoid uncertainty, healthcare providers should look for vendors that have an integrated EHR with all these capabilities and also have a proven record of helping healthcare practices succeed in this digital era.