zd-pixel 'They're Getting 'Engaged!'—Healthcare Providers Can Motivate Their Patients' Returns

Looking for a new job?

‘They’re Getting ‘Engaged!’—Healthcare Providers Can Motivate Their Patients’ Returns

By Stephanie Stephens On Aug 20, 2021

Login to Apply for Healthcare Jobs

"Come back to me—please?" No, it’s not a mournful ballad heard on country radio, but the question many healthcare providers have been asking, albeit silently, since the onset of the pandemic. Patient engagement mattered then and it matters now to boost clinical outcomes and better control healthcare costs—and to keep practice and hospital revenues in line with expectations, aka, the bottom line.

The Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) says, "When healthcare organizations invest in patient reengagement, patients can improve their own health, which is the ultimate goal for everyone."

As the CDC noted in September 2020, a total of 4 in 10 U.S. adults reported avoiding medical care because of concerns related to COVID-19. It’s time to consider ways to welcome patients back to the fold. While the nation took a breather weeks ago in anticipation of things returning to somewhat normal, the Delta variant has put us squarely into an uncertain and cautionary mode that’s definitely familiar.

[ Read: Google Circles Back to Electronic Health Records ]

Last year, the market research firm The Martec Group found that during the height of COVID-19, as much as half the population was "on the fence" about engaging in future in-person and remote visits with healthcare professionals. The study found that "four significant segments exist, ranging from those who are concerned about reengaging in both in-person and remote visits to those who are confident and willing to reengage either way."

They Can’t Ignore ‘Health’

"People’s engagement with their own health is likely to have increased during the pandemic, with so much focus on health," says Judith Hibbard, PhD, professor at the University of Oregon, and an expert on consumer choices and behavior in healthcare. "It’s a new landscape for everyone. People who are disengaged and passive may have found it difficult to ignore all of this."

That thesis is seconded by Experian Health, which says the pandemic actually prompted patients to engage in their own care in new ways, as they had to use telehealth and virtual care.

Patient engagement isn’t just the responsibility of the patient, Hibbard says. "Clinicians are on the same journey as patients and they need to rethink their roles. They need the skill and confidence to take that on—to take on the responsibility of health."

Hibbard says that use of the word "engagement" occurs in healthcare when what is actually meant is "greater activation" from patients. She is lead author of the Patient Activation Measure (PAM), documented in more than 500 studies to successfully measure activation and predict a broad range of health-related behaviors and outcomes.

The PAM is a 13-item survey assessing a person’s knowledge, skill, and confidence for self-management. Someone with a low score would be less likely to effectively self-manage, says a 2018 study of which she was a co-author.

Key conclusions from that study include that:

1) Patient activation measures may provide an early signal of success or failure for interventions designed to care for the highest utilizers.

2) Patient behavior, which includes ability to effectively self-manage, has been shown to be more important to outcomes than the provision of medical care.

3) Patient activation may provide the link between those behaviors and interventions designed to foster them.

What Do They Care About?

"Engagement leads to activation," says Alan Glaseroff, MD, adjunct professor of medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine, and co-founder, along with his wife, Ann Lindsay, MD, of Stanford Coordinated Care that provides primary care to Stanford University employees and their dependents. Glaseroff, Lindsay, and Hibbard have collaborated on a number of key research projects in the field of patient engagement, including the PAM study.

[ Read: Great Workplaces and How You Can Have One ]

"Primary care is largely a preventive field—its job is to prevent complications from chronic illnesses—and it’s very much about self-management," Glaseroff says. Studies looking at what leads to premature death have found medical diagnosis and treatment are worth 10 percent of that equation, while individual patient behaviors tally 40 percent.

It’s very important to determine patients’ goals and to really listen to patients on the way to helping them understand what they should do to achieve those goals, he says. His work with a number of healthcare organizations has yielded eye-opening responses from patients that include, "I get bombarded with facts, but no one asks me what I care about."

"The key to engagement is to find out what people really do care about," Glaseroff says. "Take the time to ask them how they feel about what’s going on, and how they got there. Ask them, ‘If everything went well, what would that look like?’"

Patients Respond to Small Successes

MGMA reminds providers about the importance of educating consumers to be active decision-makers—not that they’re "having things done to them," but that they’re in control. That can include these suggestions:

  • Communicate that patients can weigh in on their medical options, ask any questions, and create their own health goals.
  • Motivate them to develop a medical biography with a history of conditions and medications.
  • Encourage patients to state not only their physical condition but their emotional and mental state.

The key point to remember is that "Everyone knows what needs to happen, but they don’t know how to get there," Hibbard says. "Those who are disengaged, not motivated, they’re afraid, and it’s emotionally painful to fail. Once that’s happened they don’t want to go back."

When patients have negative experiences with healthcare, they become discouraged and passive, she says. "When you look at the kinds of behaviors that chronic disease requires someone to make with behavioral changes, those can be complex and difficult, and that can be overwhelming for someone who has low confidence in their ability."

[ Read: Primary Care with a Familiar Name ]

So patients don’t become disengaged, break things down into smaller steps, and start with something simple, she says. "Meet patients where they are, so they can do what they’re capable of right now. Find out what they want to work on."

Even if a patient accomplishes something really small, they get more motivated, she says, so build on that.

Text, Email, and Phone Your Patients

Engagement can be rewarding for patients in a number of ways. "What the data in general showed is that patients really appreciate and really value the emotional components of their relationship, the courtesy, the respect, the kindness, the empathy," said Tom Lee, MD, chief medical officer at Press Ganey, to Patient EngagementHIT.

Taking a peek into the patient side of things allows practitioners to exercise more control. A late March 2021 survey from the practice growth platform PatientPop says there’s plenty you can do to be proactive. The company found that more than half of patients have missed or canceled a healthcare appointment due to COVID-19, which supports other research. The majority of patients who usually receive regular specialty care experienced an interruption—or no care at all. And here’s a real opportunity: Nearly half of patients are worried about unchecked health issues.

[ Read: 4 Tips for Positive Patient Communication for New General Practitioners ]

Be strategic about communication tools, for the company’s latest data shows patients do like text messaging, email, and phone calls almost equally. It suggests now’s a great time to use a welcoming, informative email to invite patients to book with you. Give them a convenient reason to schedule with you, including any expanded hours, if you offer them. Invite them to book immediately online. Oh, and don’t forget to emphasize your practice’s safety protocols even now.

Choose Humanity Over Bureaucracy

More specifically, PatientPop recommends these concrete steps to get your patient reengagement moving.

  • Develop a patient outreach plan
  • Collect and export patient email addresses
  • Create the messaging and deployment strategy for your patient reengagement email campaign
  • Drive appointment volume with a clear call-to-action
  • Make it easy to book an appointment
  • Close the loop with automated appointment reminders

And since technology is at the core of patient engagement, Experian suggests these ways to build loyalty among your patient population:

  • Prioritize convenience across the entire consumer experience
  • Make patient access…accessible
  • Respond to affordability and pricing pain points
  • Personalize the patient experience from end to end

Consider all of this an opportunity, industry experts say. Medical software company Kareo recently released its State of the Independent Practice Industry Report that surveyed approximately 1,300 independent practices, and the outlook was sunny, indicating that those practices feel positive about the future. One of the key themes that emerged: Practices plan to be more engaged with patients to offer a more satisfying patient experience.

Technology brings many benefits, but don’t miss these key takeaways from Kareo. "Patients arrive at their healthcare visits with their own set of values, aspirations, concerns, and questions, which makes the delivery of care a complex business. The patient-provider interaction is evolving, with patients taking greater responsibility for managing their health proactively and providers recognizing the need for greater patient empathy. Providers recognize the need to prioritize the humanity of medicine over the bureaucracy of medicine while operating an effective organization."

Login to Apply for Healthcare Jobs

Looking to Hire a Physician? Post a Job Today!

Related Articles: