Why providers need to take a fresh look at patient engagement

January 14, 2019

It’s crucial for providers to think of patients as customers and engage with them via the same channels that other businesses use to nurture those valuable relationships.

It’s no surprise that patients who take an active role and interest in their healthcare have better health outcomes and lower costs. It’s also no surprise that patients haven’t been connecting with practices or using traditional patient engagement solutions, as those tools don’t offer different options for how patients want to connect. 

Healthcare consumers now expect more from providers. Patients want tools that are flexible and easy-to-use to help them meet their health needs, according to a recent report by Deloitte.

To meet this demand, physicians’ offices, specialty clinics, community pharmacies, and the like have adopted technology solutions from multiple vendors for appointment reminders and patient portals. In addition, most providers offer these services through a patchwork of technology or single-point solutions that often lack interoperability and can overwhelm staff with added administrative complexities and increasing frustration. 

The answer to this problem is not less technology-it’s technology that does more. Providers need to adopt new, cutting-edge solutions that offer multiple channels to connect with patients, based on their preference and convenience, as well as a single place for staff to manage communications. 

Rethinking patient engagement

The challenge of using technology to connect with patients poses the opportunity to think about patient engagement in new ways. Healthcare consumerism has changed the way we want or expect businesses to communicate with us. Today, it’s crucial for providers to think of patients as customers and engage with them via the same channels that other businesses use to nurture those valuable relationships.  

New communication options, such as cell phones and wearables, have shifted the way we providers and consumers communicate with each other. Indeed, mobile is already a primary means of communication for many consumers with a survey by Flurry Analytics finding that the average U.S. consumer now spends up to five hours per day on their mobile devices.

For providers, tasks such as phone-calls for lab results, reminders and scheduling that previously required hours of manual administrative work within the practice, can now be easily automated. Through technology, patients can complete pre-intake forms, take pictures of insurance cards or medicine bottles, fill out surveys, and even make payments-all with less active interaction needed from providers.  

Just as businesses in other industries like retail, banking and insurance are using technology to better communicate with patients, it’s time the healthcare industry caught up. The 2018 Future of Health: Digital Health report from EY noted that nearly 70 percent of physicians believe digital health technology will reduce costs and help reduce the burden on doctors and nurses. “Engagement with digital technology for health is gaining momentum, driven by a desire to improve wellness and underpinned by convenience. Technology is seen as one of the key enablers of seeing health as a lifelong journey,” the report notes.

Technology has the opportunity to fundamentally change the way both doctors and consumers approach healthcare. It can enable new outcomes and give greater patients flexibility and choice. But it can also create added frustrations, and for technology to do more, we need to understand the ways it lacks efficiency.  

Collaboration platforms offer efficiency and engagement 

While many providers are already using some sort of digital engagement via patient portals and appointment reminders, it’s often with a makeshift system of single point solutions that only solve specific functions. A provider may use one vendor for billing, another for appointment scheduling, and still another for text reminders. In many cases, providers are often unable to communicate with one another behind the scenes, and patients must use separate systems to message their physicians, view their medical records, or pay bills.

It’s not only an expensive and inefficient way to run the back office, but it can diminish patient engagement and the quality of care.

Often, single-point solutions were added to a provider’s workflow over the years as new technologies and trends came to market. This multi-vendor approach has left office personnel juggling multiple browser tabs and apps with no way of exploring the overall patient communications history in a single dashboard. This makes errors more common and can leave staff frustrated and burned out by working on laborious, administrative activities that end up stealing too much of their time.

For improved patient experiences and more engaged consumers, healthcare providers need to consider how their various tools work together. After all, technology should simplify tasks, not make them more complicated.

A comprehensive collaboration or customer relationship management (CRM) platform that combines patient engagement with provider communications and internal productivity solutions offer practices more effective options to reach patients in ways that they could never do previously. Advanced solutions, like HIPAA-compliant secure text, let physicians use pictures and videos to capture patient symptoms, send educational materials or lab results, file patient conversations for future reference, and alert patients when follow-up care is required.

Thankfully, cloud-based products can now combine many applications within a single, fully-integrated platform. Moving to a comprehensive collaboration platform enables providers to reduce administrative complexities and boost engagement by offering patients everything they need in one location. By doing so, practices will be able to better connect with their patient customers, ultimately resulting in better outcomes and lower healthcare costs.  

The era of point solutions is over. A more comprehensive collaboration platform has arrived. 

Michael Morgan is the CEO of Updox, a unified collaboration platform for healthcare customer relationship management (CRM). With a successful track record in high-growth healthcare technology organizations and helping organizations use technology to transform the way care is delivered, Mike provides data-driven leadership and aggressive growth orientation with deep experience across marketing, product management, business development and operational disciplines. Prior to Updox, Mike was senior vice president of Marketing for Netsmart, an electronic health record provider, which grew to become the dominant leader in the behavioral health market.