Increased patient engagement leads to more satisfied patients with better health outcomes – and more satisfied patients are key to growing your practice. But keeping them engaged is an ongoing challenge for any practice – a challenge made even more difficult by the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 41% of adults in the United States either delayed needed medical care or avoided it altogether in the first half of 2020. As COVID-19 infections peaked, many patients continued to stay away. This led to missed routine vaccinations, fewer opportunities for early detection of new health issues and poor management of chronic health conditions. These care gaps will likely create a ripple effect for some time.
According to Epic Health Research Network, delayed cancer screenings in 2020 due to COVID-19 may result in undiagnosed cancer or later-stage cancer diagnoses. Gaps like these mean it's more important than ever to re-engage patients in caring for their health.
How can you foster connection with your patients after more than a year of delayed care due to COVID-19? Be proactive with eight patient engagement best practices to follow in 2021:
1. Embrace the new
COVID-19 required practices to pivot quickly to telehealth and virtual visits – which turned out to be a positive change for patient engagement. Respondents to the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition's Telehealth Impact Physician Survey said telephone and video visits helped them provide high-quality care to patients. With in-office visits returning, many providers said they expect to continue virtual visits, creating new ways to stay in touch with patients.
While not every patient prefers a virtual visit, offering telehealth to those who do opens up new avenues for connecting. You can create new practice workflows to support telehealth solutions permanently and foster successful patient engagement by:
- Educating: Some patients aren't sure how telehealth works. Set patients up for success by providing helpful resources that let them know what to expect. You can also guide them in how to access and use the technology they'll need
- Training: Make sure office staff and clinicians have the know-how they need to engage patients during telehealth visits. From professional dress and focusing on eye contact to mirroring patient gestures, a good "screen-side manner" helps make a successful visit
2. Streamline comprehensive care
Digital tools make care coordination easier than ever for providers, removing barriers that create complexities for patients. They also allow patients to be more proactive with their own care. Solutions that offer digital assessments and connectivity also help foster communications between all members of the care team.
Digital tools can help engage patients in healthcare decisions. These tools include:
- Online patient portals: A centralized portal for patients creates a one-stop location for patient information, appointment calendars and test results. With secure electronic messaging, your clinical team can interact with patients in real time to answer questions and give care instructions. Many patients appreciate a way to ask healthcare questions without calling the office
- Online provider portals: Electronic health records make it easy for clinicians to review treatment notes and understand clinical decisions. Creating a centralized digital portal for your clinic helps standardize protocols and foster collaboration across your practice. This collaborative approach helps patients see providers as a unified care team
3. Ask patients what they think
Survey your patients about their experiences with your practice and use this feedback to drive improvements. Online tools can help you gather feedback via email or send a survey right to a patient's mobile phone. While you can ask patients to rate their experience with your practice on a numerical scale, don't forget to ask open-ended questions, like:
- What was the best thing about your visit today?
- What do you wish your doctor would do differently?
- Is there anything we didn't ask that you'd like us to know?
Asking open-ended questions helps patients feel heard and encourages them to engage with your practice. For a broader view, consider creating a patient advisory council to provide regular patient perspectives on practice changes or decisions.
4. Increase your outreach
Don't wait for patients to contact you with problems or questions. Use automated tools to send appointment reminders and remind patients to comply with their prescribed therapies. These flexible tools allow you to text, call or email patients according to their preference. Many practice management software providers offer these integrated tools within their EHR and practice management products.
Outreach lets patients know you're thinking of them, helping them to feel more connected to your practice. Engaging patients in this way also helps improve treatment adherence and helps your practice follow industry best practices that support better health outcomes.
5. Make patients part of the care team
Shared decision-making is critical in engaging patients. Research shows that patients who take an active role in their own healthcare decisions are more likely to adhere to treatment and have better outcomes. A focus on shared decision-making can also help your practice earn recognition as a patient-centered medical clinic.
How can your practice engage patients in shared decision-making? Offer your patients the tools and information they need to be part of their own healthcare team. For example, the McKesson FluWise® patient engagement digital toolkit provides what your practice needs to promote your flu clinics – and to make sure your patients have the information they need to make informed decisions.
6. Mind the small details
Patients want to feel respected by, and connected to, their healthcare providers. Any time a patient interacts with your office is an opportunity to engage – or for the patient to disengage. Reflect on your practice procedures and ask:
- How does our office team greet patients?
- Are front office staff courteous and friendly?
- Is it easy for patients to get through to someone outside of office hours?
- Have we designated staff members to help patients navigate care?
7. Stay connected from afar
How patients behave at home and the decisions they make have a significant impact on their health. How can you help keep patients engaged in their healthcare at home? Technology can help.
Remote patient monitoring tools like the McKesson suite of telehealth and virtual care solutions help you care for patients wherever they are. These tools help you monitor patient vital signs , perform remote diagnostic exams and even conduct virtual visits. You get the data you need to adjust care in real time, while patients get peace of mind. Your practice can also employ tools such as smartphone apps that send a patient's at-home blood pressure reading to encourage ongoing discussions between patients and providers.
8. Keep care convenient
Your patients are busy, so adjust your practice protocols to make fitting in healthcare easier. Simple changes like offering online scheduling means patients can make appointments when it's convenient for them.
Online check-ins are another convenience that patients appreciate. Free up patient and staff time by allowing patients to complete and upload paperwork at home instead of asking patients to arrive early.
When you follow patient engagement best practices, you increase opportunities that support improved health outcomes for your patients. Improving protocols to better engage patients also helps them feel more connected to your practice – meaning they're more likely to stay your patients for the long term.