What is all this about “Patient Engagement”?

Patient Engagement is a new buzz phrase being thrown around healthcare with increasing regularity. Like most industry speak, it takes a simple concept - making patients feel engaged in the process of staying healthy - and makes it seem complicated and hard to do. It isn’t. In fact, it is easy - one could even liken “patient engagement” to the golden rule. Treat your patients as you would like to be treated. Only by the full participation of patients in the process of their care will we achieve the ultimate “triple aim” of healthcare according to the Institute for Healthcare Reform:

  • Improving the experience of care
  • Improving the health of populations
  • Reducing the per capita cost of healthcare

patient engagementTo get everyone’s attention, the Affordable Care Act links reimbursement to performance on patient experience metrics. For the first time, practices will have their reimbursement influenced by not only the work that they do or the clinical outcomes but by how patients rate them. The Medicare Shared Savings Program includes 33 individual measures to assess the care provided by Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs). Seven of those 33 are related to the patient’s or caregiver’s experience of care and those have equal weight with others related to care coordination and patient safety, preventive health and the management of at-risk populations.(1) The reason why is simple - there is more and more evidence that patients who are more actively involved in their healthcare experience better outcomes at a lower cost. (2) So how do we do it? We make it easy for patients to interact with their medical providers and to have access to information that they find relevant and helpful. It means making it easy for them to gain access to their own information and information that they will find helpful in managing their care. Having the right healthcare IT solutions and services is the key to successfully engaging patients. Patient portals can make it easier for patients to schedule appointments and register online. They can sign up to receive text or email-based reminders and gain access to electronic statements and have the ability to pay online. Automated, secure messaging can be used as an appointment reminder, to deliver test results, remind patients of a medication schedule, alert them in the event of closure or promote a health-related event. All of this may seem like an additional burden, like yet one more thing for a practice to worry about; but consumers increasingly demand convenient 24/7 access to information and services and healthcare is not immune to these increased expectations. Healthcare providers must find new and innovative ways to meet these demands are competition for patients increases and payment reform takes hold. Luckily there are great new technologies out in the market to help practices provide new services and new modes of communicating and interacting with and influencing their patients. But there needs to be a high degree of integration. It starts making it easy for patients to interact with your practice - easy for them to schedule an appointment, easy for them to understand how much they will owe the practice, easy for them to receive reminders, directions and alerts, easy for them to pay and easy for them to access their clinical data in an easy-to-interpret way. Again, it all gets back that golden rule. How do you want to be treated?  

1. Will the Affordable Care Act Move Patient-Centeredness to Center Stage? Urban Institute and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.  http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF412524-will-the-affordable-care-act.pdf.

2. “Patient Engagement” February 2013.  Health Affairs/Robert Woods Johnson Foundation. http://www.rwjf.org/en/research-publications/find-rwf-research/2013/02/patient-engagement.html    

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