The importance of patient engagement lies not just in creating a better patient experience, but also in ensuring their loyalty. Engagement is also closely related with empowerment. What we are looking for are informed patients who understand their treatment, options available and take proactive measures in maintaining their health.
But this is easier said than done. Medical care requires one-to-one care, multiple caregivers and a mass of data. Fortunately, technology has made this considerably easier for us. With new gadgets, tools and software, we can devise a step-by-step comprehensive patient engagement policy.
This is our 6-step process of achieving patient engagement with technology:
Defining the goal
Before you start, you must spell out every detail of your policy. This is important in planning for every eventuality later. There are a few key points here:
Understand what you mean by patient engagement: Patient engagement is a comprehensive policy. But you need to be clear on how far you want to take this. Are you looking for an engagement policy where patients can make their own appointments, ask for prescription refills and are encouraged to question or leave feedback? Or are you looking for an even more engaged patient, someone who is proactive in taking care of his/her health, is encouraged to question the treatment and eager to take charge of their own health and treatment? The degree of engagement will obviously impact the policies.
Effect on the current working of the organization: This is a policy that will affect the entire organisation. But you need to identify the departments and services that will be impacted, particularly your staff, medical professionals (such as physicians/diagnosticians/surgeons etc), senior leadership and the board of directors.
Find out or estimate the metrics: This is important in not just gauging the success of your policy, but also in selling it to the board of directors when the time comes! Percentage of people currently using patient portals, number of organisations with similar policies and its impact, number of patients/appointments in a day, number of refills and follow-ups in a day and so on.
Define the 5 Ws: Who (patients)? What (reduced costs/engaged patients)? Where (the organisation or the website)?When (the deadline)?
Creating a culture of engagement
No patient engagement policy can succeed without the full support of your own people. Without them it will at best be a half-hearted effort and at worst be an unfulfilled promise to your patients. It is important that you meet each department separately, even the ones not directly impacted by the change, send a detailed email of the vision and its benefits. Engage and encourage feedback, but make it clear that this is irreversible. Invite experts and patient representative bodies to explain the benefits of patient engagement.
Ultimately, money may well decide how much we can do. Patient engagement is not as expensive as you may think. A number of EHR vendors can build an engaging patient portal. Technology such as wearable sensors can be trickier to pull off, since your patients will also need to make an investment. But the basics of patient engagement — a website, computers and mobile may already be around.
Identifying engagement tools and methodology
There are a number of technological products that help in patient engagement. From launching a patient portal, EHR to mobile solutions and innovative apps — healthcare tech is one of the hottest subjects today. You can connect through emails, social media, facilitate ePrescription and remotely monitor patient health through cloud-based apps.
Today patient engagement also depends on collaboration of multiple agencies, such as labs, pharmacies and at-home nursing staff. Keep in mind that the engagement infrastructure must be within your budget.
The next step should be to train your staff in working within this new regime. Select a methodology that requires a short learning curve and works with tools that are popular. This will make its adoption easier by both the staff and the patients. So the key elements of the desired methodology are:
- Ease of use
- Compatible with running systems
- Short learning curve
- Mobile enabled
- Scalable and flexible for future changes and growth
Good planning makes for a smooth implementation! Launching a patient engagement policy will impact your entire organisation, so it must be planned beforehand. Training must be scheduled to cause the least disruption. Similarly, the transfer of records from paper to electronics must take place in a foolproof, least disruptive manner.
Finally, seek feedback from your patients through surveys and questionnaires. Ask the regulars their opinion about the changes, how it has impacted them and what more you can do to improve. Review your metrics every half yearly to see how far you have come. It is important to revisit, identify the lacunae and implement changes that sound good.