Patient engagement is touted in both healthcare marketing plans and clinical settings as a strategy to produce better health outcomes and, ultimately, a better patient experience. But a close inspection of the intersection of marketing strategies and patient engagement shows that in many healthcare settings, the effort to become patient-centric has not produced effective patient engagement.
Let’s take a closer look at what patient engagement means, why it matters, and how to create patient engagement strategies that connect to better outcomes, reduced costs, and more fulfilling experiences for both patients and clinicians.
What is patient engagement?
Patient engagement is defined as a patient actively engaged in their own healthcare decision-making. At its best, patient engagement is a partnership between patients and clinicians in which they share information, foster healthy behaviors, and craft treatment plans to manage conditions and produce desired health outcomes.
Patient engagement should not be confused with patient satisfaction. While engaging patients in their own care may lead to better satisfaction with the patient experience, the two terms are not interchangeable.
Why patient engagement strategies in healthcare matter
Studies have consistently shown that patients who are actively engaged in the management of their own care and treatment plans achieve better health outcomes. Patients benefit from responsive providers who are willing to engage in the kinds of ongoing dialogues that foster trust and transparency in the healthcare decision-making process.
This kind of relationship-building and communication can be hard to come by in clinical settings for a variety of reasons. In a 2017 survey, 555 healthcare leaders and clinicians cited an inability of the healthcare team to invest time as the largest obstacle to integrating patient engagement strategies into care delivery plans.
5 tips for fostering patient engagement in healthcare
Helping patients become more involved in their own care reaps benefits for everyone involved, including healthcare professionals. Here are five ways to foster patient engagement throughout the patient journey.
Educate patients for better health outcomes
Educating patients can take many forms and extend far beyond the traditional pamphlets providers send home after a visit to the clinic. Consider expanding patient education initiatives to include more detailed information about prescriptions and dosages, newsletters on healthy habits, and reminders regarding overdue preventative screenings and tests. Studies have also shown that accessible communication is the key to successful engagement, so avoid medical jargon in patient educational materials.
Invest in the relationship between clinicians and patients
A 2019 study found that other than a scheduled visit, 70% of respondents had not heard from their primary care provider in the last two years. It’s difficult to build a relationship or foster trust without communication, and healthcare settings are no exception. Clinicians need to be aware that patients may hesitate to reach out for fear of seeming troublesome or difficult, so checking in periodically can reassure patients and help concerns surface.
Better patient engagement is about empowering the patient experience
It can be easy to get patient engagement and the patient experience confused. In fact, the two are closely related. Empowering patients to make their own decisions throughout the healthcare journey can have a profound impact on the patient experience. Every step in the journey, from making an appointment to following up on aftercare, is a chance for a clinician and the rest of the healthcare team to provide the best possible resources and encourage patients. After all, every patient is a critical stakeholder invested in their own health outcomes. As stakeholders, patients should be kept fully informed about their healthcare “investment” and given every chance to help it be successful.
Personalize healthcare experiences with custom content
Encouraging patient engagement can come off as formulaic. Often patients may just take that aftercare or at-home treatment pamphlet they’ve seen five times before and toss it in the trash. That’s why healthcare marketing materials and patient education digital assets need to focus on effective, customizable content. Forms that can be personalized to include notes from the appointment, information about integrating treatment into a busy lifestyle, or advice about overlapping conditions create personalized content that won’t end up in the dustbin.
Use technology and telehealth tools to drive patient engagement
Patients and providers have more tools than ever to connect and communicate. Electronic health records, telehealth tools, and patient billing portals allow patients to coordinate their own care. By encouraging patients to leverage the online tools and technology at their disposal, health professionals can foster greater levels of engagement. Multiple studies confirm the ability to coordinate treatment between healthcare teams remotely and the use of telemedicine tools to monitor outcomes can have far-reaching benefits for both patients and clinicians.