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Readers Write: A Proactive Engagement Strategy is Key to Building Patient Relationships and Driving Outcomes and Experience

April 14, 2021 Readers Write No Comments

A Proactive Engagement Strategy is Key to Building Patient Relationships and Driving Outcomes and Experience
By Mike Linnert

Mike Linnert, MBA is founder and CEO of SymphonyRM of Palo Alto, CA.


Each calendar year, we use awareness months to bring attention to different chronic conditions and diseases that affect the lives of millions of people here in the US and around the world. For example, March was National Kidney Month, which highlights the 37 million people in the US – more than 1 in 7 adults – who suffer from chronic kidney disease (CKD). What’s even more alarming: approximately 90% of those with CKD don’t even know they have it. One in 3 American adults is at risk.

CKD is the ninth leading cause of death in the US. Like other chronic conditions, it’s important that we spend time talking about what we, as healthcare innovators and providers, can do to educate those at risk. We need to help those who are suffering manage symptoms and reduce the risk of acute, life-threatening conditions. We also need to increase general awareness of these diseases and their co-morbidities. 

Early awareness and intervention are proven to drive better health outcomes; in fact, early detection is the most effective way to combat CKD.

When we look at the aforementioned statistic – 90% of those with CKD don’t know they have it – the urgency of education and awareness becomes clear. Erkeda DeRouen, MD, a primary care physician and Inlightened expert, reiterates just how critical knowledge can be: “Kidney disease is very important to discuss because it’s one of those ‘silent emergencies,’ what they call ‘silent killers,’ a lot of people think of like heart disease.” According to DeRouen, a lot of people with some degree of CDK can live for years without knowing anything is wrong, given that it doesn’t always have clearly-defined symptoms.

Be proactive with your outreach and communications. Since most patients don’t know they have CKD or potentially other life-threatening conditions, it may be too late by the time they reach out for care. Whether it’s a chronic condition or simply a healthier lifestyle, providers are in a unique position to improve patient awareness about the role they play in their own health, well-being, and outcomes. A well-designed, data-driven engagement strategy that proactively communicates relevant information, such as tips and tricks for eating healthier, can go a long way in furthering their awareness of the conditions for which they are at risk and can drive real change in their own health.

For health systems and providers, one way to do that is through the development and execution of a data-driven engagement strategy. Data and prioritization are key for effective and successful patient engagement. For health systems, it’s not what content a person is likely to consume (think Netflix); rather, it is about the next best action a patient should take for their health and wellness.

Take for example, a patient with several outstanding actions (i.e., Annual Wellness, colonoscopy, cancer screening, glaucoma exam, etc.) that must take place as part of their care journey. How do you effectively reach out to the patient? What’s the most important action for the patient to take right now?

A study from the American Heart Association found that nearly half of patients who received support through a patient engagement tool prior to a cardiology clinic visit had a positive change in their medication therapy compared to less than a third among patients who did not receive the engagement tool. 

The health systems that are able to deliver hyper-relevant and actionable engagement based on data, both during and between encounters, have a great opportunity to drive real impact in reducing the number of Americans at risk of, and suffering from, chronic conditions like chronic kidney disease.

A study conducted by Forrester on behalf of Cedar revealed that more than a quarter of patients switched medical providers because of a poor digital health experience. The research found that in 2020, 28% of patients switched providers because of a poor digital health experience, a 40% increase from 2019.

We can expect these trends to continue as patients expect the convenience of digital healthcare experiences as a result of the pandemic.

Patients’ expectations will continue to evolve as the consumerization of healthcare continues its forward march. As more and more providers and systems recognize the importance of mirroring people’s everyday digital lives, data shows us that patients will make choices to seek healthcare experiences out that fit their lifestyle and meet their expectations. With consumer brands like Amazon expanding their healthcare footprint, the opportunities for patients to seek out the experiences they expect continue to grow.

In order to drive those sought-after experiences, providers and systems should:

  • Be proactive. Don’t wait for patients to come to you for information. With the plethora of rich data and insights available in healthcare today, proactively reach out to and engage patients as their health advisor to guide and activate them towards the care they need.
  • Be clear. If you want to drive patients to take an action, don’t make them guess why you’re reaching out. Be concise and to the point and then make the action easy to complete.
  • Personalize. Personalization extends beyond just email campaigns that include a primary care provider’s name. They have a higher click-through rate than those that are generic or come from the health system, but which channel or medium does each patient prefer to communicate? Will SMS be more effective for some patients? Or perhaps even good old phone calls? What action is the most relevant for the patient now?
  • Prioritize with data. Rather than sending blanket messages to every female patient over the age of 50 about scheduling a mammogram and potentially overwhelming radiology, why not prioritize and reach out to those who are most at risk first? Imagine sending a text message with information on breast health and how they can schedule an appointment directly within the text.

Unfortunately, we cannot wave a wand and make all patients healthy no matter how much we wish we could. What we can do is leverage the technology that we have available – that people are already accustomed to using – to drive awareness about patients’ health and wellness that lead to better outcomes and healthier patient populations. In the process, patients might have an experience that makes them want to stick around.

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