The 7 Rules of Patient Engagement: Building Lasting Relationships

Individualization at scale. You’ve likely heard the phrase at least once or twice in recent years. It’s a rising buzzword in the marketing world, and it’s proven to be valuable for all industries and verticals.  

“Individualization is the new personalization,” reads the title of an article published by TargetMarketing in January 2018. To summarize: How and why consumers (and patients) take action is specifically tied to their interests as individuals. In order to achieve individualization, businesses must deliver content experiences to a segment of one. The experiences must be optimized in real-time based on the actions and preferences inextricably tied to that customer’s identity.

Engaging a consumer in a retail environment isn’t all that different from engaging a patient in a healthcare program – and, in fact, the healthcare industry is uniquely poised to rise above other industries when it comes to engagement simply because one’s health and wellness is an innately personal (and, therefore, individualized) topic.

The benefit? Engaged patients enjoy improved health outcomes and can drive increased loyalty, efficiency, and growth over a lifetime of care. They are more likely to engage in preventative measures, stick to a healthy diet, exercise, and schedule regular check-ups, screenings, and immunizations.

To improve patient engagement in your network, follow these seven rules for individualized, targeted communications that make a long-term impact.

1. Initiate Contact Only with Clearly Defined Objective(s)

The first touchpoint is arguably the most important. Most consumers in the United States have a limited attention span for advertising. So, when initiating contact, it’s important to do so with purpose and clearly articulated value proposition: Inform, engage, and enable action. If your first communications are vague or confusing, your attempts will fall flat. Causing your target audience to look elsewhere.

If the initial outreach is digital, make sure to provide a clear call-to-action with an obvious next step (ie schedule an appointment, register for a seminar, download a guide, sign up for a clinical trial, or even something as simple as create an account). Use a healthcare CRM (HCRM) to track your leads and determine which CTAs are most effective.

2. Start with the Patient, Not with the Service

Healthcare is a deeply personal industry by nature. Providers are promoting a state of wellbeing, an absence of pain, or even a longer life.

When leveraged appropriately, without invading a patient’s privacy, the personal aspect of healthcare can have an incredibly positive impact on retention, engagement, and loyalty. Yet due to the emotionally-charged climate surrounding conversations of disease, rehabilitation, and mortality, it’s also easy to overstep boundaries.

For these reasons, it is critical to begin any communication with a patient by understanding his or her individual needs, concerns, questions, and history. The average adult isn’t going to be sold on your services just by hearing about your facilities (like that new, state-of-the-art surgical robot). Instead, patients want to feel that they are heard, understood, and that their concerns can be efficiently addressed by a capable physician – on their own terms.

Pro Tip: Engage a customer advisory council. This helps validate messaging is built around things they care most about and provides a double check that the right level of empathy is included in messaging and programs.

3. Pick up Where the Last Interaction Left Off

Genuine individualization means creating interactions that are both personal and human. If a patient has to go through the same ten steps and answer the same twenty questions every single time he or she calls or emails your practice before getting help, it won’t be long before loyalty turns to frustration and fatigue.

With a CRM-enabled call center solution, staff can quickly locate a patient’s information and view details such as notes from prior conversations, prescription refill requests, and more. This makes it easy to pick up where the conversation left off and streamline communications between patient and provider, increasing efficiency and ultimately building a greater sense of security and trust.

Other technologies, such as an online portal or EHR (electronic health record), can also lead to increased patient engagement. Patient-physician interactions shouldn’t be limited to phone calls: Facilitating ongoing communication between patients and physicians via apps and online portal has been shown to improve engagement rates by 60% or higher.

4. Don’t Ask a Patient for the Same Thing More Than Once

In the same vein as Rule #3, this is about basic communication and efficiency. In a digitized era, one might think that patient demographics would be easy to collect and maintain across a healthcare network. Yet it’s still incredibly common for a patient to have to repeat information multiple times when maneuvering through a single hospital or clinic – and nothing is more aggravating than having to re-write a lengthy mailing address or look up an emergency contact phone number on four different sheets of paper during one visit.

An HCRM platform streamlines the collection of key contact information. This way, updates can be made quickly and can take effect across the entire network within moments. Today’s patients are prioritizing convenience, and a slow or repetitive system for collecting basic information is unlikely to be tolerated.

5. Keep Interactions Personal and Personalized

Healthcare is about people, and patient engagement is simply people engagement. Individualization goes a long way in any industry, but it’s non-negotiable when it comes to healthcare.

There are two keys to personal and personalized interactions within the healthcare industry: Well-maintained data and empathic, compassionate staff. “A general assessment of care quality and patient satisfaction surveys showed that 65 percent of patient satisfaction can be attributed to clinician empathy,” reads a recent study conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital. Empathy is a complex skill to master, but it starts with body language, active listening, and a lot of patience. Eye contact, a warm smile, and a pleasant tone of voice cannot be forgotten.

In terms of data, healthcare marketing content must also be personalized to the extent that it becomes wholly individualized. HCRM software leverages propensity modeling and rich historical campaign data to further hone buyer personas as well as messaging and channel tactics. These groups of patients share similar features, demographics, or characteristics that form a target group or market. Campaigns can then be developed and personalized around these personas and content automatically distributed.  

6. Deliver Information That Reflects What’s Learned About Them

Generic, cookie-cutter newsletters and outdated pamphlets won’t cut it anymore. It’s time to step up the game when it comes to creating valuable resources for patients. “Doctor Google” has made common information about health, disease, and illness widely available on the web, and consumers look for information beyond generic blogs or encyclopedic statistics. Content that goes deeper can further your SEO efforts and help consumers find you when they do turn to Doctor Google.

But that same content can serve multiple masters in a modern marketing department. Use your consumer, household, and patient data wisely to create content and segments that reflects what you know about them – and be careful to avoid sending irrelevant information, as this will only make your population feel dehumanized. An email blast about screenings for prostate cancer is unlikely to resonate with a 25-year-old single woman, while a married woman in her 50s might encourage her husband to make an appointment when messaged appropriately.

7. Learn About Patients in Bits, Not All at Once

Throughout the patient engagement cycle, it’s important to prioritize the collection of accurate, detailed information – and understand that patient information is not static; that it is going to change over time. For this reason, it is both impractical and more or less impossible to learn everything about a patient at one time.

When collecting and recording information about patients, that data will append to the patient’s record and we will continually build a more robust data profile for that consumer over time. While we don’t want to continually ask for the same information over and over again, we also want to ensure that what we do collect is as accurate as possible and provides patients the opportunity to update and confirm their personal information. If a patient feels rushed, pressured, or judged, he or she is more likely to leave out important details that could be critical when diagnosing or providing treatment.

Fictional Case Study:

In order to most effectively illustrate each of these seven rules for engagement, we’ll employ a fictional case study example: Elaine, age 45, is an unmarried woman who recently moved to the California Bay Area. Elaine is healthy with no history of major illness or disease, but her mother died of breast cancer at 65 and her older sister has undergone a lumpectomy. We’ll follow Elaine’s pathway through an ideal patient engagement cycle with your primary care practice in order to illustrate each of the seven rules outlined above.

Elaine searches the web for cancer-preventing foods and finds an article on your website with the details she’s looking for. She downloads a guide in the same session, providing you with her name and email. With the help of a marketing automation program she receives an email later that day from your practice with a subject line that reads: “Mammography has lowered breast cancer mortality in the U.S. by ~40% since 1990. Schedule with us today.”

Elaine, knowing she has a genetic predisposition to breast cancer, is shocked by this statistic and realizes she’s overdue for a mammogram. She does not yet have a PCP in her new neighborhood, so she follows the link in the email to submit an online appointment request form (where she provides additional contact information). She is then designated a qualified candidate by your HCRM and moved down the pipeline.

In minutes, a contact center representative (CSR) calls Elaine to help her make an appointment. The CSR does not begin the conversation by telling Elaine all about the mammography equipment and the complementary women’s services they offer onsite. Nor do they begin by explaining the clinic’s 10-year history in the community, or its affiliation with one of the city’s best hospitals.

Instead, the CSR begins the conversation with an understanding of what Elaine has already engaged with (cancer-preventing foods and an email about the importance of regular mammography screenings, and an understanding that she’s part of the New Movers segment). The CSR can start a conversation following up on the request for scheduling a screening and asking basic questions: “What are your key concerns?” and “Would you also like a referral to a primary care physician?”

After setting up an initial appointment, Elaine calls back with a question about prepping for her visit. She reaches your engagement center. The answering CSR sees notes in Elaine’s file summarizing her prior conversation. The CSR summarizes Elaine’s last conversation before answering her question about preparations; Elaine then asks about the cost of BRCA testing. After providing an estimate and discussing insurance coverage, the CSR leaves another note in Elaine’s profile.  

On the day of her appointment, Elaine arrives early, expecting to fill out lots of paperwork. Instead, she’s handed a touchscreen tablet that’s connected to the practice’s online portal. Elaine’s profile is already nearly complete – your HCRM platform saved the information she provided when submitting her original appointment request form. She uses the tablet to complete a short health questionnaire, noticing that her interest in testing for the BRCA gene has already been recorded. She is checked in and ready in less than 5 minutes.

Elaine is greeted warmly by her physician and is given a brief overview of what will take place during today’s visit. She is also given a tour of the office, introduced to the front desk staff, and guided to her exam room. The physician asks if she has any questions or concerns that she has not previously mentioned.

One week after her appointment and BRCA testing, Elaine finds out she does carry the gene. Her mammogram was normal, however, and she is in good health. Elaine’s test results are recorded and stored in her EHR, which she accesses via patient portal along with a personal note from her physician. Elaine stops receiving email campaigns about BRCA testing. She is entered into a new journey wherein she receives a personalized packet by mail providing wellness tips and options for preventative care.

As a result of your practice’s dedicated patient engagement program and thoughtful communication strategies, Elaine remains a loyal patient for years to come. She continues to be committed to her health and, with careful monitoring, a healthy diet and exercise regime, and regular wellness visits, she remains cancer-free into her senior years.

Rachel Neely

Rachel Neely

VP of Customer Success at Evariant
Rachel Neely is the VP of Customer Success at Evariant. In this role, she serves as a healthcare marketing expert, guiding clients through collaborative workshops, identifying and reconciling points of ROI, overseeing the usability of Evariant products and solutions to ensure they meet client-specific needs, and collaborating with Physician, Engagement, and Marketing Practice Leaders to build new assets, frameworks, and points of view. Rachel holds a BA in Communication from Purdue University with specializations in Advertising and PR.
Rachel Neely