Patient engagement is a concept within healthcare that positions patients to engage with their healthcare providers more collaboratively. Active patient engagement can maximize patient outcomes because patients who are engaged and invested in making decisions about their care often tend to be healthier and experience better results.
Accessible and well-promoted digital tools are key to improving patient engagement and encouraging patients to be more involved in their healthcare decisions.
Before COVID-19, many healthcare organizations recognized a need for digital patient engagement solutions, but many lacked the motivation or the methods to effectively implement lasting changes.
Despite Congress requiring healthcare organizations to implement basic digital patient engagement strategies to get reimbursement, ultimately, the sweeping effects of COVID-19 prompted many healthcare organizations to quickly acquire digital solutions.
How Did COVID-19 Shape Patient Engagement?
Healthcare organizations that had already begun to digitize patient engagement before mandatory closures were better positioned to manage the sudden urgency that the COVID-19 pandemic presented to provide virtual care and digital tools to their clients.
Specifically, COVID-19 shaped how patients interacted with their healthcare organizations for routine care and appointments: digitizing the intake process and other forms, allowing for online scheduling and bill-pay, two-way communication via text and email, and giving patients the option for telehealth visits.
Telehealth was especially key to maintaining patient engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic. Studies confirmed a 20-fold increase in the rate of telemedicine adoption at the start of the pandemic in March 2020. The main reasons being patients’ concern for their safety and authorities promoting social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Another effect was the widespread adoption of the virtual waiting room. A response to patients concerned about infection as well as the surge in telehealth appointments, the virtual waiting room allows patients to accomplish everything they would in a traditional waiting room in a digital format. Here patients check-in for appointments, fill out paperwork, consume educational materials, and do other tasks necessary pre-appointment.
COVID-19 also challenged healthcare organizations to make sure that virtual health solutions had the same kind of equitable reach as in-person care, including providing translations for all digital interactions and making sure technology such as remote monitoring was programmable in other languages.
The Future of Patient Engagement Post COVID-19
Following the pandemic, it is predicted that over a third of patient interactions will be digital, and the physician will no longer be the automatic first touchpoint of patient interactions.
As a result, patients want healthcare companies to invest in patient portals, including options such as virtual waiting rooms, self-scheduling, and online bill pay. 75% of patients believe that physicians who offer mobile technology options provide a faster and more convenient experience.
Telehealth, in particular, is positioned to remain at the forefront of patient engagement because remote visits allow patients who typically struggle with barriers such as those with transportation, financial, or physical issues, access to quality and consistent healthcare.
Furthermore, preliminary data indicate that improved patient engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic positively affected patients with chronic conditions by reducing the number of hospital visits.
Moving beyond COVID-19, it is important to address the main concerns surrounding the future of digital patient engagement, with sustainability and reimbursement issues being some of the top concerns for doctors.
It is in both the patient’s and the healthcare company’s best interest to invest in a streamlined patient engagement platform that provides patients with the opportunity to continue using the digital tools they need to effectively and efficiently collaborate with their providers.
As healthcare organizations continue to promote and improve patient engagement, long-term patient gains will continue to shape how to invest in solutions that benefit patients.
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