Patient engagement, or the efforts taken to get patients involved in all aspects of their care, can have a direct impact on your medical practice.
Although patient engagement can sometimes be achieved with simple patient education or other straightforward efforts, patient engagement across a population requires a more sophisticated effort. This effort can affect value-based reimbursement as well as population health management.
Engaged patients are more likely to comply with their treatment and prevention plans, which results in higher quality care, fewer medical errors and lower costs. There are various steps that can be taken in order to drive patient engagement.
Increasing access to care is the first step to improving the patient experience. Some examples include extending office hours during early morning, evening and weekend hours. Patients also want to engage electronically such as through an interactive patient portal where they can access health records, make appointments, request refills and email medical staff with questions. A patient portal allows the patient to engage with the physician, even if the physician is not physically available.
Identify Patients to Engage
Healthcare reform requires providers to get less compliant patients engaged in their care. Physicians should proactively identify patients who are at risk for not getting care and reach out to them. Once a patient has been identified, physicians should use a variety of communication including a patient portal to try to engage the patient to get the care they need.
Assess Patients' Ability to Engage
The ability of patients to engage in and self-manage their health care varies for each individual. When developing a care plan physicians should assess what obstacles may impact the patient's engagement such as personality and cost of care. For example, a physician may recommend a new prescription but if the patient is unable to afford the medication he or she may elect not to fill it. In this case, the physician would need to work with the patient to find a treatment that is more affordable.
Provide Appropriate Tools
Physicians should provide patients with "tools" to keep them engaged and on-track. This may include putting after care instructions in writing to give to the patient following the office visit. These instructions can include information about the patient's responsibilities as well as what specific actions the physician is recommending for the patient.
Set Appropriate Goals
It is important that the care team, including physicians and the patient, agree on goals. These goals should be both measurable and achievable. If a patient suffers from multiple ailments it may be necessary to set priority goals and assign the patient smaller steps in order to achieve the goals without feeling overwhelmed.
Establish Follow-Up Protocol
Protocols should be established in order to monitor patient progress and maintain engagement. If a treatment regimen is not working, the physician should assess the regimen as well as the patient engagement. If the patient is not engaging, the physician should assess the patient's self-management of his or her care. The patient may not understand the physician instructions or may not be able to afford treatment. The key is for physicians to cultivate open communication so the patient is comfortable sharing information and so the physician can better personalize the patient's care.
A simple guideline for physicians is to offer care that provides the highest quality outcomes for the best value, and remembering to engage the patient as often as possible. Encourage two-way communication and engage patients with providers at all levels to give the patient more connection points for their care.