Offering effective healthcare programs means more than just treating patients for illnesses and injuries. Often, the most important thing a healthcare provider can do is implement a patient engagement strategy, making patients participants in their own treatment plans.

Once patients become fully invested in their treatment, they are more willing to listen to their doctor’s advice. They’re able to work with their providers to make informed choices about their healthcare. And they’re able to competently manage their symptoms and illnesses for the long term.

Becoming active custodians of their own health also enables patients to recover faster, resulting in more savings for healthcare institutions. According to a study conducted by McKinsey & Company, enabling patients to become stewards of their own care through automation can lower administrative costs by $24 to $48 billion annually.   

Conversely, a research article published in Health Affairs indicates disengaged patients are three times as likely to have unmet health needs and twice as likely to delay medical care, resulting in poorer health outcomes. Thus, keeping patients engaged not only improves their health, but it also increases patient satisfaction and builds loyalty with healthcare providers.

Let’s explore each aspect of an effective patient engagement strategy to determine how healthcare providers should develop strategies for increasing patient proactivity.

What is a patient engagement strategy?

Patient engagement strategy actually consists of multiple strategies designed to:

  • Assess patient willingness to participate in their own healthcare plan
  • Educate patients about their condition
  • Engage patients in shared decision-making about treatment plans
  • Provide support outside of healthcare institutions    

Together, these strategies create empowered patients who view themselves as willing participants in their healthcare. Let’s take a closer look at each strategy and examine the resources needed for their success.

Assessing patient activation

Patient activation measures a patient’s willingness and ability to manage their own health and care. According to the National Institutes of Health, a fully activated patient goes through four stages:

  • Stage 1: A patient accepts their role in their own care is important.
  • Stage 2: A patient gains the knowledge and confidence to manage their symptoms or illness.
  • Stage 3: A patient uses a treatment plan developed with providers to manage their own health.
  • Stage 4: A patient keeps managing their own health even when treating chronic or painful conditions.

Healthcare professionals often use the Patient Activation Measure (PAM), a 22-question survey patients complete online or at the beginning of an appointment, to determine their level of patient activation.

Responses to the questions help determine a patient’s current ability to navigate the health care system, collaborate with providers, make treatment choices, and self-manage illnesses and health problems.  

Based on the results of the PAM, healthcare providers develop and refine individual strategies to fully activate a patient. From there, patients become more engaged in their treatment plans. 

Educating patients about their condition and treatment options

Providing patients with the knowledge and skills they need to manage their conditions means more than just supplying them with information. Today, patients consume content through a variety of channels and mediums — and different patients respond better to different content. When developing your educational materials, keep the following in mind:

Provide clear, concise content to keep patients accountable

Medical records and educational resources are often filled with technical terms and complex acronyms that make it difficult for patients to understand their own conditions, health issues, and treatment plans.

To educate patients more effectively, use clear, simple language to inform patients about their medical test results. Make sure to define all technical terms, particularly for patients with low activation levels.

As patient activation levels increase, their health literacy rises and they become more adept at comprehending complex information. Be sure not to “talk down” to patients as they become more invested in their treatment.

Patients also need to be kept accountable for their role in their treatment. Include reminders in your content for them to make and keep appointments and keep up with their educational materials. 

Deliver content in the manner patients prefer

Patients have many options for receiving content. Effective ways of communicating with a patient include:

  • Online patient engagement platforms
  • Face-to-face meetings
  • Phone calls
  • Emails
  • Social media
  • Direct mail

Understanding how your patients learn best helps determine the best ways to deliver your educational content.

For instance, some patients may gain more knowledge by watching an online video on social media while others may prefer chatting with a doctor or nurse over a phone call or at a face-to-face meeting where they can ask questions.

Although online resources have made it easier to provide information to large audiences, not all patients are computer literate. Knowing how your content is best received helps you focus your educational efforts and communicate in the most cost-effective and efficient way.    

Involve patients in healthcare decisions

Once patients are fully informed and comfortable talking about their conditions and treatment options, they need to become active participants in their care management and wellness goals.

Participating in shared decision-making enables patients to help select a treatment path with their healthcare providers. They become more invested in their care, which can lead to better health outcomes.

During shared decision-making, clinicians should not only discuss treatment options but also become familiar with patient concerns, values, and personal goals for treatment outcomes. Shared decision-making helps shape the information a provider shares and enables the patient and provider to arrive at a treatment plan the patient will help manage over the long term.

As shared decision-making requires an investment of time from both provider and patient, it’s useful to streamline the process with patient engagement tools such as surveys for communicating patient questions and concerns.

Continue providing support

Keeping the channels of communication open between patients and healthcare providers is essential to keeping patients engaged. Healthcare practices need to provide ways for patients to get their questions and concerns answered on a regular basis. Receiving reminders to keep engaging in healthy behaviors and schedule appointments and checkups is also vital.

Since providing such support for all patients creates a strain on hospital resources, it’s useful to implement automated phone calls and online appointment reminders to touch base with patients. Be sure to use an excellent healthcare customer relationship management (CRM) platform to support your call center.  

Investing in automation not only increases patient outreach but also frees up time for call centers to focus on patient concerns requiring a more personal touch, such as sudden irregularities in health.

Investing in other digital patient outreach tools such as patient portal messages and medication adherence apps is also helpful for keeping patients activated in providing their own care. Simply sending patients automatic notifications to refill key drug prescriptions is an excellent way to offer support and hold patients accountable, improving their overall health outcomes. 

Final thoughts regarding patient engagement strategy

Developing and implementing an effective patient engagement strategy empowers patients by helping them realize they can take control of their own health.

By assessing patient activation levels, educating patients about their care, engaging in shared decision-making, and providing regular patient outreach, healthcare institutions build better relationships and trust between patients and their providers. This in turn results not only improves healthcare outcomes but also lowers healthcare spending, which benefits everyone.