If you’ve been paying attention to the healthcare zeitgeist in recent years, chances are you’ve heard the phrase "patient engagement". From Brisbane to Baltimore, boosting patient engagement has become a primary goal for healthcare providers. That's all very well, but what is it?
The concept of patient engagement originated in Professor of Health Education Dr. Scot K. Simonds’ 1974 paper Health Education as Social Policy. Simonds coined the term “health literacy”, which he defined as “the ability to read and comprehend written medical information and instructions”.
Simonds’ health literacy was based on the theory that a greater public understanding of medical literature would, in turn, lead to better health outcomes for patients. Modern concepts of patient engagement still have the same idea of empowering patients to make good health decisions in their everyday lives at their heart but have become far more expansive.
Patient engagement is used to describe everything from patient portals to wearable tech, from patient surveys to patients actively participating in their own health and wellness, so a concrete definition can be hard to come by.
It’s probably best explained as the tools used and actions taken by patients, caregivers, and healthcare providers—to promote informed decision-making and behaviours that facilitate improved health outcomes.
Introducing a patient management system can deliver a ROI as high as 20:1.
Simply empowering patients to take a more hands-on role in their own treatment and future health can deliver a wealth of benefits for them, along with healthcare providers, and even wider society.
It’s now well established that better engagement within healthcare can translate into positive healthcare outcomes for patients. In fact, some have even described patient engagement as “the blockbuster drug of the century”, with numerous reports and studies concluding that more engaged patients are more likely to:
What’s more, reports from countries well invested in patient engagement, such as the UK and Denmark, show a clear correlation between a more proactive care system and improved public health. Denmark has seen a 50% reduction in hospital days nationwide since making a concerted push towards greater patient engagement.
Much like their US counterparts, Australians are more than patients: they’re also consumers, which means your organisation must vie with other healthcare providers for their registration and treatment.
Improving patient engagement can make real business sense and represent a great way to steal a march on your competitors.
Traditionally, healthcare providers have spent an inordinate amount of time and money dealing with paper-based forms, whether that’s patient surveys or intake forms. Not only is this grossly inefficient, but it also introduces potential errors when administrative staff members key in information (human error, illegible
handwriting) and, worse still, it’s a poor consumer experience.
Simply involving patients more in the administrative process can help to curb some of the more expensive aspects of healthcare administration. Studies from the US show that, in some cases, introducing a patient management system can eliminate the need for paper-based interaction altogether and deliver ROI at a ratio as high as 20:1. Likewise, incorporating patient surveys and data capture into patient-self-check-in or online platforms can help cut administrative costs and, in the process, remove a major patient irritant.
In a hyper-competitive healthcare market, patient satisfaction is not just the most likely determinant of your organisation’s success, it’s also the key criterion you’ll be judged upon. Increasingly, private and public payers are changing their payment systems to reward (or penalise) providers based on patient satisfaction data—so how happy your patients are with their healthcare is vital.
The clinical aspect of care is just a fraction of the time that goes into patient experience. Fair or otherwise, it’s the whole experience that crystallises the patient's view of their care.
This is where patient engagement can help; appointment booking, providing feedback, online interaction, accessibility, involvement in decisions, engagement with healthcare media, and use of apps are all parts of the overall experience and facets of patient engagement.
Research shows a growing demand from patients for a more participatory role in their healthcare and reveals links between patient satisfaction and patients who feel involved in decisions about their care.
So those providers who are behind the curve on becoming more patient-centric are likely to not only struggle with patient retention but also face penalties that will eat into already thin margins.
An advantage of patient engagement being such a vast concept is that a wealth of options is open to your healthcare organisation for boosting it. From wearable tech and healthcare apps to digital media and smart surveys, here are just a few of the options available.
In Australia, digital media consumption was up 4.4% year-on-year in 2016, and during the same period print consumption declined by 8.6% — evidence, if it were needed, that the way we consume media and access information is changing. With this in mind, it makes little sense to continue to try to engage with most patients through traditional mediums such as health awareness pamphlets and posters.
Instead, many healthcare providers are beginning to provide healthcare messaging through smart patient information screens and digital displays in waiting rooms. These offer the ability to broadcast everything from local healthcare messaging and custom healthcare awareness content, to live TV— all while patients wait.
Using digital media players to boost patient engagement follows a simple logic: patients are much more likely to remember and engage with healthcare messaging if it’s delivered in a way that piques their interest or keeps them entertained. To put it another way, as a waiting patient, which are you more likely to remember: the dated flu vaccination leaflet you picked up off the table, or the punchy 3-minute video you watched on why flu vaccination is important? Our money is on the latter.
Alongside this, digital media players allow for customisable content—meaning practice staff can be far more proactive in exposing patients to the latest public health campaigns, as well as providing content specific to their community.
Wearables hold many benefits for patients, particularly those with chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes or obesity. For many adoptees, simply making the decision to wear a device is the bold first step on the road to better engagement with their own healthcare management.
Furthermore, these devices provide another level of awareness and a potent source of motivation for patients to be proactive with their healthcare needs. Giving wearers the ability to track day-to-day exercise or diet provides them with a better grasp on how everyday choices can affect their health, as
well as attainable daily goals.
For healthcare providers, having access to data about patients’ daily activity can help them make more informed decisions—the more insight the healthcare provider has into a patient’s life, the better they can tailor the personalised course of treatment suited to their unique circumstances.
The idea that providing digital access to patients can improve patient engagement isn’t necessarily a new one, but it is effective. Allowing your patients to book an appointment, request a repeat prescription, leave feedback on treatment, or access the latest health information from their tablet, laptop or smartphone gives them a more proactive role in their own healthcare.
What’s more, it has the added benefit of meeting your patients “where they’re at”. According to Sensis, 87% of Australians access the internet daily, spending an average 10 hours a day on an internet-connected device. Any healthcare provider attempting to boost patient engagement should look to do so through the medium most popular with their patients, and increasingly this is
via digital devices.
There is a growing consensus among healthcare policymakers, particularly in the UK’s NHS, that medical research should move away from being carried out “to”, “about” or “for” the public and more “with” or “by” them. There are many forms this can take in practice, but some examples include:
We mentioned Australia’s proclivity for smartphones and digital devices earlier, and, as well as allowing patients to more easily access healthcare media themselves, the widespread use of digital devices offers healthcare providers a golden opportunity to better connect with their patients.
This is where SMS and email notifications come in. Now, your immediate reaction to the suggestion that SMS can be a useful engagement tool might be to question whether this is 2004. However, using both SMS and email notifications can yield a few important benefits for your patient engagement.
First of all, using the two in conjunction gives you a way to reach virtually all of your patients—most people possess either an email address or telephone number. Secondly, it gives you a means of reaching your patients with healthcare initiatives, appointment reminders, and timely information, such as practice closure dates, instantaneously and no matter where the patient is.
Finally, SMS and email can be used as a prompt for patients to register for online appointments, potentially increasing your digital appointment uptake and patient loyalty.
Healthcare providers have always used surveys as a tool for patient engagement, and understandably so: the quantitative and qualitative data they provide is often key in identifying patient trends.
However, in the past, patient surveys were often at the mercy of patients’ whims and staff having enough time to process the data. Fortunately for healthcare providers, times have changed. As digital displays and patient check-in kiosks have become near-ubiquitous in healthcare settings, they have also become the perfect vessel for the delivery of patient surveys.
Instead of filling out printed surveys, which they may or may not return, or being directed to a website that they have little interest in visiting, patients are prompted to answer questions during the check-in process.
Hardly ground-breaking, but it offers a quick and simple process, at a time when patients are already answering check-in questions. This creates a seamless survey process, which feels like a slight extension of check-in—making patients so much more likely to respond.
As an added coup for busy practice managers, the analytics and reporting built into many survey modules make immediate data processing much less time-consuming. Not only does this reduce the burden on busy staff, it also allows for up-to-the-minute analysis of patient trends— providing all the data needed to
inform decision-making and address concerns proactively long before they become problems.
Our final tool for patient engagement has perhaps the greatest potential to shake up patient engagement. According to Deloitte, in 2020, 92% of Australians owned a smartphone. Not only that, but we’re also using them more than ever; some 8 in 10 Australians use their smartphone to access the internet or an app more than 5 times a day.
So, in an age when people can do almost anything from their smartphone, from having their dry cleaning delivered to their desk to ordering dinner, why should engagement with their own healthcare be any different?
Healthcare-related apps are cropping up at a rapid pace, for everything from mental health support to online appointment booking. The efficacy of healthcare apps often depends on patients using them regularly and incorporating them into their routine, but traditionally they have struggled with patient engagement. However, this is beginning to change with patients' ever-increasing reliance on smartphones and other devices.
With smartphones, the potential for getting patients more engaged with their health is vast. Patients can now book an appointment or request a repeat prescription, leave feedback on treatment, and access the latest health information from their personal smartphone or tablet device. This allows patients to be far more proactive whilst providing valuable health data to healthcare providers that can use it to better allocate resources and improve services.
The logic is simple: by making healthcare more accessible through the medium that patients are most likely to engage with, many of the previous barriers to engagement, such as having to take time out of a busy day or simple disinterest in traditional means of patient-practice communication, are removed. For patients, looking after their health becomes as easy as checking their bank balance or booking a taxi.
Australia is a linguistic and culturally diverse society, with over 300 languages spoken across the country, so inclusivity has never been more important to successful patient engagement.
In practice, this means making patient services—whether appointment booking, awareness campaigns, or the ability to communicate feedback and opinion on care—open to as many patients as possible. To answer this need, many local practices are utilising technology that allows them to translate vital patient information into multiple languages.
The benefits for patient engagement are obvious: language translation tools allow practices to communicate properly with areas of their community that just a few years ago would have been difficult to reach without a human translator. In turn, the practice benefits from data drawn from a wider patient demographic—giving an accurate representation of patient trends and views from the community they serve and providing a solid foundation from which to make decisions.
But accessibility isn’t only confined to language, technology can also help to boost deaf and blind patients’ involvement with their healthcare. For visually impaired patients this can be achieved through audible alerts and dynamic speech programs. For patients with hearing difficulties, the same can be achieved using digital displays.
We’ve looked at a few of the most effective methods of improving patient engagement. While the list is by no means exhaustive, what’s hopefully emerged from the examples given is a common theme: the power of technology to improve patient engagement.
Whether harnessed to provide engaging content while patients wait, in the form of wearables, to administer smart surveys, improve patient accessibility, or within one of the plethoras of healthcare apps on the market, technology is very much the future of patient engagement.
This isn’t something healthcare providers can sleep on; research shows that patients now not only express a desire for greater participation in their healthcare, they expect it. Any healthcare organisation looking to thrive in an extremely competitive market, where challenges come from start-ups and online services as well as traditional competitors, needs to use technology to the full.
Of course, improving patient engagement
requires the right technology. At Jayex we have years of experience in helping healthcare organisations improve patient engagement through our suite of patient-centric solutions.
To find out more, speak to one of
our experts today.