Peter did not manage his health. He ate poorly, smoked regularly, exercised rarely, and saw his doctor once every five years.

The result? In his late 50s, Peter experienced multiple chronic conditions and was a regular at the local ER.

Many of Peter’s mid-life problems could have been avoided. He had good genes and good intentions, but the bad habits overwhelmed his body. If Peter had partnered with a healthcare provider to manage his physical condition, he would have been healthier and would have used healthcare resources more wisely.

We commonly refer to partnerships between providers and patients as “patient engagement.”

What Is Patient Engagement?

Patient engagement in healthcare is defined as patients actively engaged in gathering information and making decisions about their symptoms, illnesses, and treatment options.

A more expansive definition includes a vibrant partnership between patients, their families, their representatives, and their healthcare team. It also extends its reach into organizational governance and policy-making.

Our definition falls between those two ideas.

Patient engagement is a partnership between patients and the clinical professionals with whom they interact. Clinicians engage and communicate with patients in their care, and patients share in making decisions and managing their conditions.

It’s not enough for doctors and nurses to reach out and provide information and options. If patients don’t respond and contribute to managing their health, patients are not engaged.

It’s also not enough for patients to collect information and bring questions to their doctors. If clinicians don’t provide education, encourage healthy habits, and stimulate patient involvement, patient engagement is not building.

For patient engagement to thrive, both sides need to communicate regularly and commit to it.

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Why Is Patient Engagement Important in Healthcare?

Since medical professionals are the experts, some may feel patients should just follow their advice. But research shows that when patients have a role in making decisions, they form a greater understanding and stronger commitment to healing and health maintenance processes. Higher patient engagement yields improved patient outcomes and cost savings.

In a study of 60,185 patients divided into two groups. One group received “usual” support from health coaches, while the other group received “enhanced” support. The study generated patient engagement outcomes across multiple metrics. For patients who received enhanced support instead of usual support:

  • Total medical costs were 5.3 percent lower
  • Inpatient admissions were 12.5 percent lower
  • ER visits were 2.6 percent lower
  • Surgeries were 9.9 percent lower
  • Heart surgeries were 10.9 percent lower

From this and other studies, it’s clear that patients and providers can positively impact healthcare costs and patient outcomes through patient engagement. But is it the right approach for your practice?

Benefits of Patient Engagement in Your Practice

Patient engagement isn’t always easy. In a survey of 555 healthcare leaders and clinicians, 63% said “time investment by healthcare team” is the biggest challenge to building patient engagement into care delivery.

Here’s one narrative: Organizations that are actively engaging patients must spend more time with each patient, which means they can’t see as many patients each day, which means they have reduced income.

But that isn’t the full story. In other ways, patient engagement in healthcare increases income and saves time.

Patient engagement research shows that the least-engaged patients are twice as likely to delay care and are three times more likely to have unmet medical needs than the most-engaged patients. As patients become more engaged with their care, we see “higher levels of preventive health behaviors and preventive care, as well as increased self-management of health conditions.”

In short, when you invest time developing your patients’ engagement, they invest their own time improving their health. As a result, engaged patients are healthier patients who:

  • Decrease your no-show rates
  • Require fewer visits so you can take on more patients
  • Stay with your practice because you are helping them maintain and improve their health
  • Schedule appointments and look up their lab results, saving time for your organization

In the long run, patient engagement is likely to make your practice more efficient, profitable, and effective.

Strategies to Improve Patient Engagement

For those wondering how to increase patient engagement, we suggest strategies framed by a four-step process. The idea is to start small, then steadily expand your program while applying the lessons you learned from previous patients.

First step: Choose a patient group

Identify a chronic disease that’s common within your patient population. Perhaps many of your patients have diabetes, obesity, arthritis, or anxiety. Another option is to target patients who have multiple chronic conditions. Select a patient group that will benefit from careful health management.

For this to be both valuable and manageable, try to encompass 5% of your patients. Then contact them, explain what you’re doing, describe how they’ll benefit, and invite them to participate.

Second step: Choose a care team group

After selecting your patient group, choose the clinicians who will be accountable for the success of your program. It may be all the nurses, or maybe one or more multidisciplinary teams that typically work with your patient group. These will be the people who learn and eventually teach everyone else how to improve patient engagement.

Third step: Give both groups access to the same user-friendly patient communication software

Your patients and their designated care team must be able to communicate with each other through a single, easy-to-use patient engagement solution that supports secure phone, text, video, and telehealth functions. One such solution provider is TigerConnect, which offers a HIPAA-compliant, reliable, feature-rich platform that can meet your patient engagement needs and deliver superb client care and collaboration capabilities to your clinical team.

Fourth step: Repeat the first and second steps

After your program is running smoothly with your pilot group, expand to another group of patients and, if necessary, a new group of clinicians. Continue to grow the program as dictated by your successes.

Recent technology advancements make this the perfect time to launch your patient engagement program with a comprehensive clinical communication platform.

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