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Healthcare technology has been dominated by electronic health records (EHR) and everything that comes with them throughout the last decade.  The premise of EHRs is to have integrated real-time information that can easily be shared throughout a health system. It was realized early on that, if clinicians can share information with each other, making their jobs more efficient and improving patient care, couldn’t sharing information with patients also improve the quality of care?  And just like that, the need for improving patient engagement was born.

Patients in the information age have an important role to play in their own healthcare experience. However, their input relies squarely on how informed they are and the quality of the information they are receiving.  Can your patients understand the information being shared?  Is the information accurate and easily digestible so that patients can use it to make informed decisions about their care?  Do they have the technical means to engage with their physicians?

The logical place to start thinking about patient engagement is with patients, right?  Actually, healthcare organizations have to examine their internal processes first before attempting to engage with patients.  Sure, there are reasons to get every patient signed up for myChart as quickly as possible, but for the purpose of patient satisfaction and quality care, internal education is more important than jumping the gun with mobile application downloads.

Think of patient engagement as a lifecycle that begins with their first need to visit a healthcare facility.  Why should they choose yours? What do they know about you? What information is available to them and in what mediums?  The people they come in contact with at your facility stand as the primary communicators at this stage and that includes everyone from scheduling, security, and reception, to technicians, clinicians, nurses and doctors involved in their care. Everyone must be informed.

The more knowledgeable your people are about your organization and its offerings, including patient engagement tools, the more comfortable they will be talking to patients and visitors about them.  Equally as important is that the quality of the data presented to patients builds trust both internally and externally. Make sure your people have the tools and information they need to engage patients.

There are numerous ways to engage patients these days and capabilities vary wildly from organization to organization. These can include mobile applications, email, texting, wearable technology, biometrics, and patient portals, among others.  The public drives the market here and you have to go where patients are and use the tools they use.

Currently, email, social media, and text messaging are the primary forms of personal communication.  Mobile push notifications and text messages work best for quick messages while email and social media provide access to patients where additional information can be linked.  Text messages can be used to remind patients about their medications or upcoming appointments as well.

Encourage patients to engage with you as well.  One of the best features of patient portals is the ability for patients to reach out to their physicians directly and ask questions about their treatment.  This feature should not be overlooked as it gives the patient some control in the engagement process and this ongoing conversation between patients and their care team is the ultimate goal of improving patient engagement.

Mobile optimization is a must.  Most people use their phones to send, receive, process and store information. Ensuring that your organization’s website is optimized for mobile capabilities is essential,  as is proving engagement tools on mobile devices, i.e. mobile applications and patient portals.

Some of the most common interactions patients have with their doctor or healthcare practice once they leave the office are appointment scheduling, prescription refills, and bill payments.  A win for patients and clinicians is to provide those capabilities via desktop and mobile applications.  Automating these processes builds trust and appreciation from patients as their time is valuable too.

But it shouldn’t just be patients initiating interaction. Social media provides communication opportunities with patients as well as the general public.  It’s an opportunity to display your organization’s thought leadership, but also show that you’re modern and progressive enough to engage in two-way communication.  Social media, when done properly, allows you to communicate and have conversations with patients, the public, partners, other businesses, etc.  The possibilities are endless.

There are a number of vendors in the marketplace who are working to assist hospital systems with this issue.  Their collective goal is to provide patient’s with information while allowing providers to devote more attention to patient care, resulting in a better experience for everyone.  Patients have the information they need to actively participate in their care and the decisions that must be made, nurses are freed to focus and engage with patients – which is what they do best – and physicians are empowered to reduce costs from an improved workflow, outcomes, and patient satisfaction.  It’s a cycle that all begins with proactive sharing of information and a focus on patient’s needs and engagement.

Even tech giants like Apple are getting into the game as user experience is what they’ve hung their hat on for years. If a user is a patient at a participating hospital, the new features in Apple’s Health app will collect all existing patient-generated data, from over 40 participating health systems and 300 participating hospitals, and display it in a user’s Health app. Apple’s goal is to bring a patient’s medical information right to their iPhone. Given the slow pace of technology adoption in healthcare, the willingness of these institutions to work with Apple is immense.

Improving patient engagement is not only good for the business’s bottom line, it is also good for the patient.  Healthcare is a very real and personal thing and the more information we share, the more personal it becomes.  The more we engage, the more we’re able to partner with our patients to provide the highest quality care for them.  Improving patient engagement strengthens bonds within the community and ensures patient loyalty at a time when patients are starting to shop for healthcare.

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