Jeff Pigatto is VP and global head of Salesforce practice at Infostretch of Santa Clara, CA.
For 78% of healthcare providers, the COVID-19 pandemic has made patient engagement more important than ever, according to an industry report. Industry leaders recognize the need to improve patient engagement to reduce patient leakage, especially for those with complex care plans. Without robust engagement, patients are more likely to fall through the cracks.
To boost patient engagement, leaders need a plan. I’ll offer four key elements of a patient engagement strategy.
Use a cloud-based single system of engagement
Patients with complex treatment plans often face uncoordinated care, even when they are seeing in-network providers. Some providers, with the help of expensive back-office operations, still rely on paper-based systems to record patient information. Others may use digital tools, but they often depend on local storage and lack key system integrations. In both cases, providers can’t efficiently share patient data. As a result, the patient experience suffers.
Without streamlined data-sharing tools, patients often have to complete similar intake forms at separate care centers. That’s a tedious process, and a vulnerable one. Complex care patients often have emotionally fraught conditions. When they have to divulge sensitive information again and again, they may grow frustrated, uncomfortable, and unsatisfied. That creates a problem for providers. Dissatisfied patients may turn to other care options or may not receive the care they need, which worsens the patient leakage problem and impacts revenue generation.
With a cloud-based data-sharing system, providers can ensure that all in-network providers have the same access to patient data. This limits duplicate form completion, meaning patients have to divulge information less often. Key software integrations can further simplify patient data management. The result for in-network providers is a streamlined patient experience that’s more compelling than out-of-network options.
Offer proactive patient interaction
A provider will often issue an in-network referral and assume patients will follow through. But patients are human. Schedules quickly change, and people can be forgetful. If providers don’t engage in proactive and consistent outreach, patients will receive slower access to the care they need. That means providers lose out on revenue. With proactive patient interaction, providers can maintain patient engagement while minimizing gaps in care.
An effective patient interaction model includes:
- Scheduling appointments immediately after referral.
- Enabling form completion before care visits.
- Providing a pre-appointment patient checklist.
- Sending regular reminders about care visits and uncompleted forms.
- Emailing patients follow-up actions after each visit.
With consistent updates, patients will know that providers are serious about their care experience. What’s more, they’ll be more likely to remember the steps needed to stay in network.
Emphasize patient education
For many complex care patients, it’s expensive to manage their long-term health. Between repeated clinical visits, treatment, and therapeutics, the costs quickly add up. Over time, patients may see providers as putting profit over care. They might start looking for a more human-centered wellness experience, and that might be out of network. But consistent patient education can help. When patients feel empowered to manage their health, they can:
- Stabilize or improve their conditions.
- Follow their care plans more effectively.
- Reduce the risk of readmissions or emergency room visits.
- Lower the overall cost of care.
Providers benefit, too. Through patient education, they can prove they’re focused on helping patients heal. That approach could be exactly what patients need to stay with their current provider.
Here’s what patient education looks like in practice. Consider a patient who’s on a weight management plan for diabetes. Every few weeks, their provider can send plain-language materials showing how exercise helps improve insulin sensitivity. If the patient has a smart watch, their provider can suggest downloading a step-tracking app that syncs with the provider’s patient data management system. Then, the provider can use that data to keep tabs on anomalies. If the patient’s steps drastically dip between months, the provider can ask about barriers to wellness management and help strategize solutions. The result: the patient’s long-term health will likely improve, insurance claims and out of pocket expenses will reduce, and providers can maximize their value.
The patient engagement tactics we’ve looked at so far work together to prevent patient leakage, but they can be tedious to manually implement and maintain. That’s why I recommend a fourth key element of a patient engagement strategy:
Automate patient journeys
When providers use digital tools to automate every stage of the patient journey, they can save time, reduce human error, and minimize manual labor. In the long term, automation can help providers save on labor costs. Patient journey automation might look like:
- Automatically contacting patients to schedule their next care visit.
- Automatically delivering a pre-visit checklist at Day 7 before each visit.
- Sending automated patient follow-ups at Day 1, Day 7, and Day 30 after each visit.
Automating patient journeys can support existing patient engagement efforts to help providers reduce leakage.
Pandemic pressures have made patient engagement a cornerstone of efficient access to complex care. But the pandemic is also expanding the traditional range of complex care patients. In fact, new research suggests that between 20 and 25% of those who catch SARS-CoV-2 will have some form of long COVID. It can last several months and may require a complex care plan. The prevalence of long COVID amounts to what some call a “mass disabling event.” Alongside existing complex care patients, providers must invest in a long-term patient engagement strategy that accounts for an expanding chronically ill population.