Physicians across the country are facing pressure to become more proactive about delivering care to patients. The old way of reacting to a patient’s current illness, treating it and sending them on their way no longer works in the age of new healthcare payment models and rising chronic illnesses. Keeping patients healthy, and receiving compensation for doing so, requires ongoing effort from doctors and patients alike. With this in mind, physicians need to plan and execute ongoing patient outreach campaigns in order to engage people and activate them to participate in their own healthcare.
Engagement outreach can include things like automated phone calls, text messages or emails between visits to keep patients on track with their treatment plans, remind them to pick up medications, or prompt them to schedule preventive screenings and keep already-scheduled appointments. All of these things can be accomplished using electronic health records and appointment reminder systems.
Here are steps your practice can take to develop a systematic patient engagement plan that addresses multiple points along the care continuum:
Use patient data to learn about your patients.
In order to successfully engage patients in their healthcare, you need to speak to them in a language that makes sense and is meaningful. Analyze the data within your electronic medical records system to gain an understanding of various patients. Then look for insights that can help you draw conclusions about common illnesses and diseases among your base of patients. Are a large number of your patients overweight? What percentage of your patients have high blood pressure? Familiarize yourself with patients collectively and decide where you want to focus engagement efforts.
Stratify patients by risk level and assign specific types of outreach to groups of patients.
Consider your low-, medium- and high-risk patients. These groups require communications tailored to their needs and helping them stay healthy. Design an engagement strategy that assigns appropriate types of outreach to patients based on their risk group.
Since low-risk patients are generally very healthy, plan outreach messages and materials that focus on routine care or wellness and prevention for this group. Medium-risk patients are more likely to become ill than the first group. People in this group may also have been diagnosed with conditions like pre-diabetes. Medium-risk patients require preventive screenings, and they need to be monitored more closely than the low-risk group. Prepare to engage this group of patients with messages that support healthy lifestyle adjustments. The final patient subset is the high-risk group. This group is made up of individuals that have chronic diseases and conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, obesity, cancer and more. The goal for communicating with these patients should be to provide help with disease management. This group of patients benefits from medication and appointment reminders, but they also typically need a lot of support and motivation to follow through with self-care. Plan communications for this group that focus on disease management.
Start with what you know–engage patients with appointment reminders.
Appointment reminders are often the gateway into patient engagement. If your practice is one of the many already utilizing automated appointment reminders, then you can build on the outreach that you have already been doing. Use appointment reminder technology to deliver text messages, emails, or automated voice messages to patients before their scheduled appointments. Send reminders a day or 2 in advance as well as a last minute nudge to encourage patients to keep appointments. Measure the success of your efforts and learn how the timing and delivery method influence the effectiveness of reminder messages. Once you have a solid understanding of this technology and how to use it to influence patient behavior, begin expanding the use of your appointment reminder system. Reminders help get patients to office visits, but the technology behind them can be used for between-visit communication.
Add routine care-focused outreach campaigns.
Use the insights from patient data and the engagement strategy you developed to execute routine care-focused outreach. When patients are due for preventive screenings, use your appointment reminder system to prompt them to call or go online to schedule an appointment. This engagement method can be widely applied to most groups of patients – high and medium-risk patients that typically require more frequent screenings, and healthy patients that need routine care to maintain their health.
In addition to making routine care appointments, send patients messages that encourage them to participate in preventive self-care. There are many ways to do this, and you need to target communications to different patient groups. These messages could take the form of a text message reminding patients with diabetes to test blood glucose, an email newsletter with exercise and nutritional info for patients that are trying to lose weight, or a voice message medication reminder. To ensure you send appropriate messages for the different groups of patients, design messages for specific conditions you want to prevent. This might result in a set of prevention-focused messages designed around conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and so on. Keep attention on both preventing new illnesses in healthy patients, and preventing complications or acute care episodes in high-risk patients.
Support patients with ongoing motivation.
Even when patients have been given instructions and they know what actions they need to take to meet their health goals, they often fail to follow orders. According to the TeleVox Healthy World Report, “A Fragile Nation in Poor Health,” 83% of people say they don’t do what their doctors tell them.
Because it is difficult to make lifestyle and behavior changes, you need to engage patients and support them in making healthy choices by sending messages that activate them. TeleVox’s research shows that nearly 40% of patients say they would follow doctors’ orders if they got some kind of reminder or nudge from those doctors between office visits. This indicates that patients want to feel supported and encouraged by their doctors.
If you’re wondering what motivational patient outreach looks like, it could be an email that encourages patients to stick with a healthy diet and reminds them of the benefits they’ll see from weight loss: more energy, reduced risk of disease, feeling of accomplishment. Encouraging patient engagement could also be a text challenging patients to skip sugary drinks for 48 hours, or it could be a voice message inviting patients to attend a community wellness event where there will be demonstrations on nutrition and preparing healthy meals. These are just a few examples. The important thing is that you provide relevant and positive encouragement.
Each of the checklist items above can be accomplished with EMR and appointment reminder technology. By leveraging these two systems (that your practice likely already has in place) you can engage patients at different points of care.
Allison Hart is a regularly-published advocate for utilizing technology-enabled communications to engage and activate patients. She also leads TeleVox’s Healthy World initiative, a research program that leverages ethnographic data to uncover, understand and interpret both patient and provider points of view on encouraging healthy behaviors for better results. Healthy World promotes the idea that touching the hearts and minds of patients by engaging with them between healthcare appointments will encourage and inspire them to follow and embrace treatment plans – and that activating these positive behaviors leads to healthier lives. Hart currently serves as Vice President of Marketing for TeleVox (www.televox.com), a part of West Corporation (www.west.com), where the healthcare mission is to help organizations harness communications to expand the boundaries of where, when, and how healthcare is delivered.