Hands-on healthcare is becoming more integrated with many aspects of care opening the doors to patients being engaged with their doctors on matters of personal health. This sounds almost like a no-brainer, and many physicians may have been doing it all along, however, that isn’t the case in most healthcare organizations. As such, the industry as a whole is trying to figure out best practices for patient engagement strategies.
A visit to the doctor’s office or hospital doesn’t necessarily look any different than most patients are used to seeing. Most of the content or a visit is also unchanged, which should bring comfort to those that might think that engagement may indicate performing your own surgery or mending your own wounds. What it does indicate is that the medical professionals may be asking more of your opinion as to what you would prefer, setting up future appointments before you leave the office, detailed explanation when treatment happens outside the office, and more available to the doctor by electronic means. For example, in the past, long before smartphones and Apple watches, physicians called their patients to discuss their test results or their diagnosis. Although a simple phone call, many patients truly appreciated the phone call because it demonstrated that their doctor cared about their well-being. In fact, in 2012, a Harris Poll estimated that 85% of patients polled value being able to talk to their doctors by phone or email. They still want the interaction so that they can make better decisions about their health. All too often today, physicians are pressed to reduce the time they spend with patients due to increasing amounts of required documentation and other administrative duties. Unfortunately, multitasking and rushing often make patients feel like a number, which diminishes the serious nature of their condition. In the end, they may dismiss the information instead of developing a plan of action.
Some of these concepts are new to many patients, especially those that don’t have ready access to, or have much practice with internet and electronic communications. Strategies need to be put into place to engage patients. Obviously, there isn’t a perfect plan that will cover everyone with all of their needs, but working to cover as many people as possible in their unique situations. So, what are some of the areas and strategies that can be understood and employed to help engage patients?
EHR – Electronic Health Record System
The EHR system is a way for the patients and physicians to pull up the medical record. This plays a part in providing information in times that are critical and in times strictly just to notify. Critical moments could include emergency room visits or out of town critical visits with another physician. Noncritical moments can be to access the information when test results are in or check on an upcoming appointment. Either way, vital statistics are readily accessible for whatever purposes come up.
Mental Health Issues
As most of us are quite aware of, there are many levels of mental health issues, and too many people that suffer under its blanket. As medical professionals work to assess and treat those that endure with the effects, whether great or small, they can also work to improve the quality of care that is provided to those individuals. As quality of life improves, there is a direct correlation to improvement in family and social circles.
Telecommunication between doctor and patient can be helpful on many fronts. In a day and age where Skype and FaceTime are used for personal and professional meetings, there is no reason why they can’t be drawn upon to meet with a doctor. This not only eliminates many of the costs specifically related to running an office, but also can be more convenient for either or both participants when it comes to scheduling. There are going to be times when this method isn’t appropriate but utilizing it could begin to cut down on overhead costs and be a way to engage the patient like never before.
In the same realm as telemedicine, e-messaging can eliminate the back and forth phone tag, which prolongs contact between doctor and patient. If the equivalent of texting or email allowed for communications to be taken and handled more efficiently, patient satisfaction levels would increase, and doctor’s time dedicated to calling back patients might decrease significantly. Both parties would be able to chat more succinctly.
Educating Families & Caregivers of the Elderly
With a growing population requiring more and more medical assistance, there is growing need for people to take care of them. Since the majority of time for these aging and ailing is spend outside medical facilities, that mean it is spent at home. In many cases this mean in a home with family taking care of maturing family members. This isn’t a passive role or one that should be taken lightly, so the more educated and knowledgeable about specific situations, the more help these caregivers can be and give.
Many times, an admission into the hospital is not preplanned and very stressful. Some conditions are not considered critical and don’t require lengthy stays. Medical professionals are able to handle a majority of what happens within the walls of the hospital, but it is sometimes what happens after being discharged that can be of great concern. Unfortunately, a few individuals are exposed to hospital acquired infections (HAI) and must either stay longer or are readmitted within a short amount of time. A few others are discharges without a good foundation of knowledge on how to manage their own care.
Hospitals are well aware of infections being spread and doing all they can to remedy everything they can. It is the second situation that involves patient engagement: before leaving the hospital, appointment(s) should be set up with family doctor rather than hoping the patient follows-up. Specific instructions should be provided so the patient understands risks, medication, processes and other essential information. And, if need be, have an advisor that works directly with the patient to answer questions and offer advice. These types of aids help to let situations that become emergencies and lead to readmissions.
Encourage Nurse Communications
Nurses tend to be the first line of communication when a patient enters a hospital or clinic. They are the ones that take the vital signs, ask many of the questions and then pass the information off to the physician. As such, they have a tendency to have more of a relationship with the patient. They are also the ones that have more time to spend with the patient, and their insight can be of great value, not only for the physician, but for the patients, too. If more emphasis could be applied to this strategy point, more patients might feel the willingness to become personally involved with the health and health issues.
Reminders About Medications
For a good portion of the population, medications are their lifeline to staying healthy and alive. Most of us understand that we take medications on a temporary basis for pain management, infections or other conditions that aren’t life-long situations don’t require long-term diligence. If a dose is missed, it usually isn’t life threatening. For the individuals that depend upon strict adherence to times and dosages, the task feels daunting. Making sure this routine is followed is a patient’s priority, but they may need assistance. This can be in the form of electronic communications or smartphone apps, either way it is a means to protecting the patient’s health.
Having Technology at the Bedside
While staying at a hospital, having a tablet that shows what is going on with treatment and procedures allows patients to feel like they are in control. The app installed on the tablet helps the patient to request food or water, see results of tests and leave messages for facility staff. It is also a means for communicating with employers and family outside of the hospital. The feeling of not being isolated helps in the progression of health.
Start Improving Patient Engagement
Patient engagement is a process, one that can be learned and fine-tuned to meet your patients’ needs. Getting feedback from your patients is a great way to help you determine gaps within your process and where you hope to be to excel at patient engagement. The following are a few patient engagement solutions your practice may be able to leverage to increase the number of patients you have that effectively manage their health.
Obviously, there are other forms of patient engagement strategies that can be utilized. There is no one set of strategies that will work for every person, this is more of a discovery process and finding out the needs of each patient. Being open and willing to find out these needs are part of a strategy in and of itself. Patient engagement is nothing new, but the importance of it is finding a new emphasis as healthcare organizations work to improve patient outcomes and satisfaction.