Over the years we’ve seen an increase in patient engagement due to advances in mobile technology. This includes apps and health portals which allow patients to access their medical data from anywhere. Engaged patients often have shorter hospital stays, fare better overall, and have an improved quality of life, all while reducing costs and medical errors. Thus, this is an important development.

While patient engagement is important for all populations, it’s especially important when patients have a chronic illness or are dealing with a condition that requires ongoing care management. Through health portals and apps, physicians and patients are able to communicate fluidly and often, which helps patients stay on track with treatments while also making more informed decisions about their care. 

What is Patient Engagement?

Patient engagement is a widely used term and poorly understood concept in healthcare. According to a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, patient engagement is defined as, “The desire and capability to actively choose to participate in care in a way uniquely appropriate to the individual, in cooperation with a healthcare provider or institution, for the purposes of maximizing outcomes or improving experiences of care.” 

Strategies for Improving Patient Engagement through Health IT

Examples of successful patient engagement include the online ability to schedule appointments, refill prescriptions, see test results and medical reports, and email providers. In addition, improved patient engagement has delivered on the IHI Triple Aim Goals, which are:

1. Improving the patient’s experience of care (quality and satisfaction)
2. Improving the health of populations
3. Reducing the cost of care

How Can Data Help?

According to the New England Journal of Medicine Catalyst, “big data” in healthcare refers to “the abundant health data amassed from numerous sources including electronic health records (EHRs), medical imaging, genomic sequencing, payor records, pharmaceutical research, wearables, and medical devices, to name a few.”

Historically, incorporating all information sources into one presentation is challenging (due to HIPPA and financial constraints). However, the move forward has been incentivized by the transition from a pay-for-service model, which financially rewards caregivers for performing procedures, to a value-based care model, which rewards them based on the health of their patient populations.

With more concrete information regarding their current health status and trajectory at their disposal, patients create powerful data. In return, they can further understand their health, engage with doctors, and make decisions about their own care. As described earlier, this all improves health outcomes and patient satisfaction.

How to Drive Patient Engagement to Gain Usable Data

Firstly, in order to have the most complete picture of patient health the provider must drive patient engagement. According to Health IT data, providers should connect with patients at critical touchpoints of care delivery to increase engagement. This includes office visits, health posters in the office, and videos in the waiting area. Above all, the best way to engage patients and retain data outside of the healthcare setting is through an easy-to-use health portal.

Secondly, other major drivers of engagement are informational and educational resources, which incentivize patients to return to the portal. Information should be delivered in a simple and clear manner with none or minimal jargon. Even patients with advanced degrees in other fields may not understand complex healthcare terminology. If they have a hard time following the message, they’re more likely to disengage.

For example, suppose a provider shares advice such as, “It would be beneficial if you exercised 3 times a week”. The provider should also share specific ideas on how to achieve that goal. In this case, providing easy-to-access and affordable exercise options, as well as direction around duration and type of exercise, makes it more likely that the patient will follow doctors’ orders.

Finally, a third way to increase patient engagement is multi-channel communication via SMS and email. For example, using SMS for instant communication helps providers respond quickly. In return, information is delivered back to the patient in a more timely manner. Expanding patient-provider communication and care coordination betters transitions of care and assists monitoring of patient conditions. 

In conclusion, these various approaches not only drive and maintain patient engagement, but also help improve patient experience, quality of life, and overall health. In other words, the ultimate goal in healthcare.