The shift toward a value-based healthcare landscape has forced providers to find new ways to engage patients and consumers. Health systems need to prioritize patient engagement because consumers are changing – they are more informed than ever and focusing on better, more satisfying health experiences.
How can health systems keep up with this shift in patient expectations?
Technology like telehealth, patient portals, mobile health, and healthcare CRM platforms can, with the right implementation, improve patient communication, loyalty, retention, and engagement within a health system.
In fact, the 2016 HIMSS Connected Health Survey showed that half (52 percent) of healthcare IT professionals use at least three connected health technologies. Of those who use health technology, 69 percent emphasize tech that allows for the transfer of health data between patient and provider.
According to Tom Martin, HIMSS Director of Healthcare Information Systems, “The Connected Health findings illustrate the importance of interactive relationships between physicians and individuals and technology as a means to advance comprehensive health and healthcare.”
Effective patient engagement is dependent on reaching the right audience with the right message, through the right channels. Technology can help health systems do this more accurately and effectively, but true patient engagement still isn’t possible without a strong physician-patient relationship.
What are some of the benefits of implementing healthcare technologies to strengthen this relationship? Let’s take a look at a few examples:
Telehealth is a broad scope of healthcare services provided at a distance through video consultations. Many health systems are offering telehealth options in order to appeal to a wider range of patients. Since 30 percent of patients already use computers or mobile devices to check for medical or diagnostic information, it’s no surprise that 70 percent of patients are comfortable communicating with providers via video, text or e-mail instead of seeing them for an in-person appointment.
Telehealth in particular is being used by hospitals and other health systems as a way to improve the quality of patient care and satisfaction. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has used telehealth to monitor vital signs and conditions of chronic patients at home. A Chief Consultant for Telehealth Services for the VHA reported that using telehealth for post-cardiac arrest care programs reduced readmissions for heart failure by 51 percent, showing that this technology can be an efficient and cost-effective care delivery vehicle for a large patient audience.
Telehealth makes physician services accessible to consumers who otherwise do not have the time or the means to visit a physician in person. The opportunity to communicate at any time, from anywhere, creates an open dialogue between patients and physicians that builds trust and strengthens their relationship.
With patient portals, providers and patients can communicate directly with one another through a secure website. This technology also provides patients with an easy way to schedule appointments, view test results, and pay bills. Kaiser Permanente successfully engages almost half of their 9 million members through patient portals.
It’s important to note, however, that successful adoption of patient portals takes time and money. What’s more, many patients are reluctant to use this technology. Some patients are worried about privacy while others don’t use computers, forget their password, or simply don’t understand the benefits of patient portals.
This apprehension is fairly widespread – a 2014 survey from Xerox indicated that 64 percent of patients don’t use portals, and 35 percent don’t know about them. On top of that, 31 percent said that their physicians never told them about having online tools.
Kaiser Permanente’s patient portal was a successful method of patient-physician communication because they created marketing campaigns to raise awareness and to drive portal adoption among members.
Aside from marketing tactics, the key to using patient portals for effective patient engagement is physician communication. During in-person appointments, physicians can discuss how to use the technology and the potential benefits it provides, such as access to health records, easy appointment scheduling, or medication refills.
With the right marketing and education, patient portals can open another channel of communication between patient and provider, which ultimately strengthens the physician-patient relationship.
Many providers are taking advantage of the widespread adoption of smartphones – especially in the case of younger generations– with mobile apps and other mHealth options. A recent survey found 71 percent of millennial patients would use mobile apps to book appointments, share health data, and manage preventive care.
An example of a successful health app is ZocDoc, which helps users find physicians easier and make appointments without having to endure long wait periods. Since 2007, the app has been downloaded more than 300,000 times and is now one of the top mobile health applications.
With the help of mHealth options, physicians are able to communicate, connect, and develop a relationship with patients who they otherwise wouldn’t have seen for an in-person appointment.
Another technology that has the potential to improve patient engagement is a healthcare customer relationship management (CRM) platform. This integrated data hub aggregates health records, consumer data, financial data, and more, to help healthcare providers better target at-risk patients with the right information at the right time.
With access to this information, physicians can target individuals based on demographic, lifestyle, and customer preferences. When the right message is sent through the right communication channels to the right audience, patients are more likely to make positive behavior changes throughout their entire health lifecycle.
Patient insights from a CRM platform could potentially be utilized in conjunction with any of the aforementioned technologies to help improve the physician-patient relationship. For example, insights from CRM software could better inform the messaging that physicians send to patients through patient portals. If physicians have a better understanding of patients’ behaviors, they could also suggest alternative care methods like telehealth or mobile health to keep targeted patients engaged during the entire continuum of care.
Example: How Orlando Health Successfully Leveraged New Technology
One of Evariant’s clients, Orlando Health, saw an opportunity to adapt to changing consumer behavior. They knew they needed to be where consumers are digitally searching, so that when they are ready to make a decision, they choose Orlando Health.
With a CRM platform that aggregated consumer data, they were able to create informed multi-channel marketing campaigns and optimize them continually for success. With the help of technology, their health system was able to increase digital advertising click-through rates by 170 percent, web conversions by 93 percent, web-based appointment requests by 102 percent, and marketing campaign call center volumes by 317 percent.
From a patient acquisition perspective, this is certainly impressive. Once health systems have successfully acquired new patients, however, they need to develop the relationships and foster the engagement that results in higher levels of patient loyalty and retention.
Technology like telehealth, patient portals, mHealth, and CRM helps physicians communicate more effectively with patients to drive engagement throughout the entire patient journey.
Limitations of Healthcare Technology
Technology should not be viewed as the “silver bullet” for driving engagement between patients and providers.
To be competitive in a value-based environment, healthcare marketers need to think about changing their patient engagement strategies to include both technology and meaningful in-person relationships with patients and physicians.
True patient engagement occurs throughout the entire clinical journey, from learning to discovering and taking action, all the way to sustaining behavioral change. The goal is to engage consumers with relevant content that actively involves them in their own care, meaning physicians need to think about what information specific patients will want to learn more about, or what advice they might need at certain stages of their journey.
Technology has the potential to improve the patient experience within a health system, especially by offering more choices to a larger audience. Whether it’s telehealth, patient portals, mHealth, or a CRM, these initiatives won’t be successful in improving the physician-patient relationship without the right data, and the right people.
In order to truly personalize the patient experience, health organizations need to find a way to put a human touch on the opportunities these technologies provide. Ultimately, a strong bond between patient and provider is necessary to create the engaging and transparent health experiences patients want.