Five Ways Healthcare Providers Can Engage Patients


smartphone-593321_1920.jpgTo save money and increase operational efficiency, healthcare providers have to do more with less. With healthcare-related expenses in the U.S. ever rising, providers are constantly challenged to find ways to cut costs without sacrificing patient safety, quality of care, and, ultimately, outcomes.

More effectively engaging patients in their own care is one approach to meeting this challenge. A more engaged and informed patient is more likely to utilize preventive care services, access the most appropriate care settings, and comply with prescribed plans of care – all of which lead to reduced costs and improved outcomes. But how exactly does a provider go about truly engaging patients? Personal interactions – be it in-person visits or phone calls – are resource intensive and can’t happen frequently enough to drive behavior change. So, there’s only one option remaining: Technology.

Here are five different approaches a provider can use to increase patient engagement and gather crucial, health management-related data.

1. Email Alerts and Newsletters

According to the Pew Research Center, 92 percent of online adults use email, and 61 percent use email on a daily basis. Additionally, according to a study conducted by the Nielsen Norman Group, when users were asked if they’d liked to receive updates from a company, 90 percent opted to receive updates via email, while only 10 percent chose a social media outlet like Facebook. Email is, in short, an inexpensive and potent means of communication. Healthcare providers can alert patients that new information is available on their portal and include a link in the email. Email newsletters featuring a range of different types of information—including patient surveys, hospital updates, and information about pertinent medical issues—can help to boost awareness and engagement. It is important to note that, while email is a preference for many, the latest trends are pointing to the fact that the effectiveness of this channel is being diluted. This is due largely to the rise of social media, the significant number of emails that a typical individual receives (which continues to rise), and the abundance of spam that hits email boxes on a daily basis.

2. Social Media

Two-thirds of American adults use social media networking sites on a regular basis. That’s part of the reason why, of the 3,371 hospitals surveyed for a 2014 study, researchers found that 94 percent had a Facebook account, and 50 percent had a Twitter account. Unfortunately, another study noted that hospitals have a tendency to use social media to communicate with employees instead of patients. Healthcare providers need to embrace the power of social media. The entire world relies on it, and by developing a coherent social media strategy provider can increase engagement amongst both their employees and patients. Hospitals can use videos, blog posts, and infographics to help drive patient education, and they can post patient surveys easily as well. We are also beginning to see innovative healthcare startups use apps like Facebook Messenger to securely interact with users to answer health-related questions. Remember, all ages—from the young to the elderly—use social media on a regular basis, which translates to a great opportunity for providers to educate patients and maintain relationships. It’s one of the many touch points available to healthcare providers.

3. Videos and education materials

According to a Cisco white paper, “It would take an individual over 5 million years to watch the amount of video that will cross global IP networks each month in 2019.” By 2019, Cisco estimates that video will dominate 80 percent of Internet traffic. People simply love watching videos. Hospitals might frown on using YouTube to help drive patient engagement, but studies have shown that videos can be useful healthcare educational tools. One study of 56 patients with middle school-level reading skills noted that, after watching educational videos, the patients’ comprehension of important medical terms increased dramatically. Comprehension of the term “bowels” increased from 14 percent to 46 percent, and patients’ understanding of how to locate their prostates increased from 50 percent to 82 percent. Video is a powerful tool, and it can be easily shared and distributed via social media, email newsletters, and text messaging.

4. Telemedicine

Telemedicine is the future. According to the American Telemedicine Association, telemedicine, formally defined, is the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communication to improve a patient’s clinical health status. Emails, texting, and even specialized patient portals all fall under the telemedicine umbrella. However, telemedicine doesn’t only include sharing data—it also includes remote patient monitoring. Twenty percent of physicians, as of 2014, have already used telemedicine to monitor a patient remotely. Using the latest telemedicine tools—such as streaming web cameras or online chat services—a doctor can communicate with a patient from across the world at a moment’s notice. Hospitals and healthcare providers can use telemedicine to help keep patients on track with treatments, to answer questions, or to exchange feedback concerning a recent hospital visit. With telemedicine, a hospital can gain an intimate understanding of a patient’s needs without having to arrange an in-person interview.

5. Text Messaging

Texting, according to a 2014 Gallup Poll, is the primary means of conversation for most Americans under the age of 50. Of those surveyed for the poll, 39 percent noted that they texted “a lot” on the day before they were interviewed. However, as discussed in a previous post on text messaging with an aging population, 94 percent of those over the age of 70 use text messaging at least once a week, and the usage of text message spans across all socioeconomic statuses. This creates an enormous opportunity to reach a broad and diverse patient population quickly and cost effectively.

Hospitals already use secure text message services for their employees, but in order to drive patient engagement, providers need to use texting services to communicate with patients as a part of a larger strategic communication plan. With a secure texting platform, providers can conduct polls, check in on a patient’s status, or even ask a quick medical question in a short time frame. Texting is an excellent tool for communicating information and gathering data with little cost or time-involvement required.

Texting has a capability to reach patients immediately and directly, which makes it one of the top ways healthcare providers can engage patients. A thoughtfully architected text messaging program can deliver education, instructions, and alerts at precisely the moment it is most relevant to the patient. Embedding hyperlinks within the messages provides a gateway to the mobile web where the patient can access a myriad of resources, including patient portals, educational videos, and instruction guides. Text messaging is a powerful and largely under-utilized healthcare communication channel.

In the past, healthcare providers relied solely on in-person appointments to gather and share information. While it is clear that in-person interactions will always be central to the patient/provider relationship, today’s focus on outcomes necessitates more frequent and consistent information exchange. This can be accomplished in a cost efficient and effective manner by thoughtfully deploying a multi-channel digital communication strategy.