Five things healthcare organizations can do to improve patient engagement and quality of care

By Pratik Chakraborty

Most healthcare providers understand the importance of patient engagement. In value-based care, it’s key to optimizing patient outcomes, which leads to better-value care overall.

But since 2020, patient engagement has become more important than ever—especially for those with complex care needs. Providers must find ways to engage patients and keep them in-network. The alternative risks worse outcomes and lost revenue.

Here, I’ll walk through five things providers can do to maximize patient engagement.

1. Use an interoperable cloud data store

Electronic health records are a federal standard. But some providers still rely on legacy systems with custom software or local storage. These systems make it difficult to share and manage data across in-network providers.

As a result, patients often have to complete the same form for multiple providers—a frustrating requirement, especially for patients with complex care needs. Administrative friction discourages patients from following through with their care.

To efficiently share data, providers can use a single interoperable cloud data store. The right tool should:

  • Follow interoperability standards. The most powerful tools adhere to the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standard.
  • Prioritize data security. Sensitive patient data requires robust security protocols.
  • Be easy to learn. With a simple training process, providers can maximize employee adoption and ensure that patients reap the benefits.

In a fully interoperable data storage model, multiple providers can use the same patient information to pre-fill common forms. The result: Patients have a smooth, high-quality experience from day one.

2. Spotlight the patient portal

Patient portals empower patients to easily manage their care and access a complete view of their treatment and wellness plans at any time. Most providers use a portal to help patients self-schedule appointments, request prescription refills, access digital health records, and securely message their physicians.

The problem: Although 59% of patients have access to a patient portal, only 38% actually use it.

When patients don’t engage with a patient portal, they may not have health information when they need it. What’s more, providers may struggle to update patients about their care. The impact: Patients may be slow to schedule visits and receive treatment, which can tank the quality of care.

To boost patient portal engagement, I suggest following this four-step process:

  1. Identify patient pain points. Most patients who don’t use portals prefer to speak directly with their provider.
  2. Make useful portal features easy to find. A simpler experience may encourage more people to log in.
  3. Encourage patients to make the most of the portal. When providers encourage portal use, 71% of patients follow through.
  4. Provide a richer user experience with a mobile app. Patients will access an app on their phone more than a browser equivalent. A mobile app also helps patients stay on top of alerts and notifications.

When patients engage with care teams through portals, providers can deliver care more efficiently and effectively.

3. Contact patients proactively

Even with a patient portal, many patients struggle to schedule appointments, refill prescriptions, and follow through with referrals. But these steps are critical to patient engagement. And for complex care patients, they’re key to improving outcomes.

Providers can take initiative by contacting patients early and often. To start, office staff can call or message patients immediately after referral to schedule their next visit. Then, they can deliver pre-visit forms or checklists. Ahead of the visit, staff can remind patients about their appointment. They can also notify patients about uncompleted forms.

Note that different patient demographics may require different communication channels. For example, older patients are likely more comfortable with phone calls, whereas millennial and Gen Z patients may prefer to interact via text or mobile app.

Proactive communication ensures that patients have regular contact with their providers so they don’t fall through the cracks.

4. Prioritize patient education

At every stage of care, patients should understand whether they’re improving and why. That’s particularly important for patients with complex care plans. Without that understanding, patients may lack the motivation to stick to treatment over the long term.

Patients also need to know how to prevent diseases before they appear—key for those with a family- or population-level history of health conditions. In the United States, people with chronic health conditions account for 90% of healthcare costs. Preventive care and education lowers costs for everyone involved. What’s more, providers can focus on delivering critical care to save lives.

To improve prevention, adherence, and outcomes, providers must equip patients with the information they need to manage their own health.

What does this look like? Let’s say a provider is treating a patient with multiple sclerosis (MS). The provider might send materials identifying ways to manage flare-ups. Next, they might put the patient on an exercise plan, complete with a rotating list of at-home exercises (e.g., aerobics, light strength training). They can track patient activity via a wearable synced to the provider’s cloud data store. If the provider notices a dip in activity, they might ask about barriers to exercise (e.g., a cramped space, longer working hours). Then, the provider can educate the patient about how exercise impacts MS outcomes and brainstorm ways to overcome barriers.

The result of this proactive, educational engagement: The patient feels empowered to self-manage their care, which can improve outcomes.

5. Automate patient journeys

Many providers manually handle patient engagement. But this approach takes too much time and creates room for error. With so many patients to juggle, providers may be slow to reach them—and patients could fall through the cracks.

Here’s an example from my own experience. I scheduled my physical a year ago, but forgot about the visit until my provider called three days before. In other words, I almost didn’t attend my visit, and as a result I could have missed out on critical health insights.

Automated tools can help providers deliver key information to thousands of patients. Providers can automate many of the actions I’ve suggested so far, such as contacting patients to schedule their next visit, sending post-visit summaries, and delivering weekly educational material.

Automated patient journeys make it easier to implement and maintain engagement strategies.

New care models will demand better patient engagement

Providers and patients both want the best outcomes possible. Patient engagement can be the vehicle, but newer care models require stronger engagement than ever.

Take the telehealth boom, for example. As more patients choose virtual visits, providers will have to engage patients more to produce the best outcomes.

Future care models will likely refine this outcomes-focused approach. When providers prioritize engagement, they can prepare for the next healthcare evolution.

Pratik Chakraborty is the associate director of Salesforce practice at Apexon, a digital-first technology services firm backed by Goldman Sachs Asset Management and Everstone Capital that specializes in accelerating business transformation and delivering human-centric digital experiences. For over 17 years, Apexon has been meeting customers wherever they are in the digital life cycle and helping them outperform their competition through speed and innovation. This story first appeared on PSQH.