Strategies for Optimizing Virtual Patient Engagement

Today’s healthcare system is tilting toward more consumer-centered and participatory medicine.  According to a report by Ernst & Young (EY) and the American Hospital Association (AHA) Center for Health Innovation, this trend is forcing providers to embrace on-demand, connected, and data-driven patient engagement methods and technologies.

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically accelerated this shift. During the first quarter of 2020, telehealth visits surged by 50 percent, compared to the previous year. By week 13, telehealth had increased by 154 percent compared with the same period in 2019. WELL’s own research indicates a permanent increase in telehealth visits, post-pandemic.

Post-vaccine, these shifts will revert slightly  –  but only slightly. Therefore, providers need to rapidly implement new patient engagement techniques and strategies. One such strategy is virtual care, allowing providers to safely attend to patients during lockdowns and stay-at-home guidelines. Now, as we prepare for a post-pandemic world, virtual patient engagement, an approach that encompasses telehealth and other virtual care solutions, is the new reality.

So, how can you optimize virtual patient engagement while maintaining standards of clinical excellence as you administer care virtually? Now more than ever, providers need to consider the following strategies to facilitate virtual patient engagement and interaction. Moreover, you should develop a value-based relationship with patients that is based on mutual trust and credibility.

Improve patient communications

Patient engagement is downstream of the quality of patient communication. And the truth is, for the most part, provider-patient communication is subpar. Many providers learned this the hard way this year when they suddenly had to perform unprecedented amounts of virtual patient engagement, and their tools were lacking.

What providers need is a platform that supports two-way communication between staff and patients, both automated and manual. The platform should integrate and support various modes of communication, especially SMS and other forms of messaging. This way, healthcare providers can communicate with their patients using their preferred media.

For example, Houston Methodist in Texas experienced a surge in virtual care visits when the pandemic broke out. Compared to their pre-COVID engagement rates, they had 50 times more virtual visits. The healthcare institution coordinated with WELL and created a virtual waiting room for over 30 of their outpatient clinics.

“The ability to communicate back and forth,” said Tesha Montgomery, Vice President of Operations and Patient Access at Houston Methodist, “assured patients that we were there for them both virtually and in-person. It was crucial as we continued to safely provide care in the midst of this pandemic.”

Adopt all-in-one portal solutions

Following the popularization of electronic health records (EHRs) and electronic medical records (EMRs), the use of patient portals has become increasingly prominent for healthcare providers of all sizes and specialties. Such platforms enhance the quality of care while enabling greater virtual patient engagement.

Modern-day providers face the demand for integrating health records across multiple data sources while segregating new products to a diverse audience and aggregating data into a single customer view.

All-in-one portals can not only boost virtual patient engagement but also provide secure, online access to personal health information. This includes lab results, medication lists, allergies, immunization, and discharge data. They can also permit patient-provider communication using secure messaging, payment and appointment management, and prescription refill requests.

While such portals commonly include patient information, we should note that not all patient engagement platforms are equal. Your patient engagement platform should work as a powerful communication tool, delivering messaging that drives financial and clinical results.

A great example is Cerner, who has decided to integrate their patient portal with WELL to improve patient communication, reduce administrative time for clinicians and staff, and close the gap in communication in healthcare.

Prioritize interoperability

Virtual patient engagement tools are only as impactful as their ability to offer a true 360° view of the patient. This is why healthcare providers should vitally prioritize interoperability between their technologies and other existing patient engagement methods and systems.

System interoperability is the ability of different information systems, applications, and devices to access, integrate, exchange, and cooperatively use data in a coordinated way, within and across the organization. The goal of system interoperability for any provider is to facilitate access to and retrieval of information in order to enable safe, timely, effective, efficient, and equitable patient-centered care.

Perceptive healthcare providers are now leveraging virtual patient engagement tools such as WELL and patients are responding positively. Such tools can integrate seamlessly with existing clinical and administrative systems, driving the adoption of patient portals, payment systems, and more.

Once their health information is entered into a system, it becomes available to the patient whenever they need it, wherever they are. Communication becomes effective and efficient. This is the essence of interoperability in healthcare, according to Scott Wallace, the President and CEO of the National Alliance for Health Information Technology (Alliance).

Streamline healthcare reminders

One of the barriers to patient engagement is the sheer volume of patients that need interaction. In today’s age of healthcare consumerism, the focus has shifted from volume to value care. Consequently, healthcare providers should now prioritize 1:1 communication and reminders.

To boost virtual patient interaction, providers need to seamlessly combine outbound communication. This enhances healthcare reminders, increases patient responses, and decreases patient leakage.

They can do this through automated phone messages and emails, or through patient engagement solutions that unifies communications by integrating your EHR and patient-facing vendors. Case studies show that reminders and constant patient engagement can decrease no-shows significantly, increase appointment confirmations, all of which have direct implications on revenue.

WELL offers an unlimited amount of configurable automation rules that streamline repetitive messaging tasks. Moreover, providers can restrict configuration and management of automations to specific users, which enables complete oversight. Furthermore, with its EHR integration, providers can schedule any form of outreach, from automated appointment reminders to thank you messages.

Offer virtual visits

One key benefit of telemedicine is the ability to address patients’ concerns virtually via video chat or web messaging. Often regarded as ‘high-tech’ care, it can also support meaningful connections with healthcare consumers, who may require ‘high-touch’ care remotely.

A recent survey revealed that over 42 percent of patients now use telehealth services. Unsurprisingly, patients have come to appreciate not just the convenience of video chatting with their caregivers, but also its cost-effectiveness. Those surveyed stated why they prefer telehealth visits:

  • 65 percent of patients cite convenience
  • 63 percent says they don’t have to worry about exposure to other potentially sick individuals
  • 44 percent believes it easier to schedule than an in-office appointment

Safety, convenience, and cost-effectiveness are some of the key themes that emerged during the COVID-19 crisis. Going forward, these will most likely continue to impact healthcare consumers’ behavior post-pandemic.

This is why communication platforms with video-enabled functionality are vital to providers’ patient engagement techniques and strategies. Such technologies allow them to connect better with their patients and offer this new form of care.

Moreover, to maximize telehealth investments, providers should integrate with an automated patient communications solution like WELL. Automated message delivery, especially with invitations, reminders, and no-show follow-ups, helps to coordinate virtual care easily. This saves valuable staff resources and time while greatly improving patient satisfaction.

Recognize the consumer aspect

Remember, when you start implementing virtual patient engagement strategies, you are no longer delivering the technologies to other physicians. You are delivering the technology directly to consumers, and it’s a completely different animal.

With doctors and other health professionals, less than optimal interfaces are tolerable but with consumers, this is unacceptable. A virtual patient engagement platform should provide speed, intuitiveness, and ease. This improvement happened for Tandem Health, a multi-specialty community health provider in South Carolina. With their WELL integration, they simplified communications by moving away from their clunky patient portal messaging system to convenient, secure text messaging.

As Marty Martin, Director of Clinical Informatics at Tandem, said, “Just walk into any waiting room. Everyone is on their phones, texting. With WELL, we are meeting them where they already are.”

Everyone who’s got a stake in the healthcare industry needs to start recognizing patients as consumers. This includes understanding how they can provide what the patients want and care about. Millennials, in particular, have grown up in an age of consumer-grade digital habits. As such, they cannot fathom why healthcare is any different.

The age of healthcare consumerism has arrived. As the healthcare industry steadily moves into the 21st century, providers need to empower patients to be smarter, healthier, and better informed. Leveraging the power of digital technology to lift the barriers to patient engagement is a great first step. ♥

Help patients make sense of complicated health information when the stakes are high

Health literacy had a star-studded moment when Saturday Night Live (SNL) recently covered the topic.

Of course, SNL didn’t say “health literacy” a person’s ability to find, understand and use health information — but one character squirted hand sanitizer into his mouth and slapped it on his neck like aftershave. Another sipped a martini declaring she already had her vaccine.

Unfortunately, these jokes weren’t wild fabrications. Due to people perilously ingesting disinfectants like Lysol, the CDC issued warnings in April about how to use them safely. The following month, tackling another unfounded rumor that was gaining traction, the National Institute of Health announced that “drinking alcohol does not prevent coronavirus.”

Health care systems have also played a leading role in curbing the spread of misinformation about COVID-19. They also have developed a library of evidence-based advice to address patient concerns and keep them safe.

Indeed, an unheard of number of patients are seeking clarity in uncharted medical territory. In the first two months of COVID-19, as well as swamping health care systems’ call centers, patients sent 285 percent more text messages with questions and inquiries to WELL’s customer base.

Many organizations have provided patients with everything from texts about what symptoms might signal COVID-19 and how to get tested to doctor-authored blog articles about how to prevent the coronavirus to Facebook Live events and emails about the safety of coming in for a colonoscopy or a child’s vaccination.

But do patients understand this information? The numbers don’t bode well. When health literacy was last measured nationally, nearly 90 percent of respondents were identified as having low health literacy, as detailed in the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy study.

Who has low health literacy? Hint: it might be you

According to Dr. Danielle Ofri, an internist at Bellevue Hospital and Clinical Professor of Medicine at New York University School of Medicine, limited health literacy is “especially common in those who have the most diseases and the fewest resources.”

It’s also common in older adults and those who have low education levels and low general literacy skills, such as written language and basic math.

But they are far from the only ones. As a college-educated, native English speaker (who is a health care writer!), I could not make sense of a chemotherapy brochure that stated, “Fatigue is not relieved by rest.”

Confused by this stand-alone statement – doesn’t rest recharge you? – I was unable to use this information to take a specific action to feel better. By definition, I was a textbook case of demonstrating low health literacy.

Less understanding = more unwell patients (and unhappy staff)

Many patients’ inability to comprehend or flat-out misunderstand health information can have much graver consequences. A 2020 Journal of the American College of Cardiology literature review of 15 health literacy studies, which included heart failure patients, discovered just that.

“Our findings showed that an inadequate level of health literacy is associated with increased risks in mortality and hospitalization among patients with heart failure,” said Lila J. Finney Rutten, PhD, an author of the study and Professor of Health Services Research in the Department of Health Sciences at Mayo Clinic.

Limited health literacy is also associated with more ER visits and fewer mammograms and flu vaccines, according to a 2011 Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality report, as well as higher health care costs.

Call volumes and inbound text messages can also increase when patients have unanswered questions, as hospitals and systems experienced when COVID-19 hit. When patients are muddled about medicine, health care staff feels the brunt.

While it’s easy to put the burden of understanding health information on patients’ shoulders, Dr. Rima Rudd, a health literacy researcher at Harvard University, believes health systems need to do a better job explaining all things health related.

“Are our forms readable? Are the directions after surgery written coherently? If it’s written in jargon, with confusing words and numbers, you won’t get the gist of it and you won’t get important information,” Dr. Rudd told the New York Times.

Cognizant of the problem, some health systems have been moving away from dense, medicalese copy that can be hard to digest. Instead, they are embracing everyday words, short sentences, more white space and visuals.

For example, WELL customers have been able to deliver to their patients evidence-based, bite-sized videos and straightforward written materials on COVID-19 through WELL’s partnership with Wolters Kluwer. The partnership helps allay patient fears, provides clear direction on when to seek care and reduces the number of calls patients place to their providers.

And instead of sending this easy-to-understand information to a patient’s sometimes infrequently checked email address, physical mailbox or patient portal, WELL sends it by many patients’ preferred method: text.

“A communications emergency”

As COVID-19 flares across the country and misinformation continues to catch fire online, the stakes for people understanding health information and accepting a coronavirus vaccine could not be higher.

“A pandemic is as much a communications emergency as it is a medical crisis,” wrote members of the CONVINCE initiative, a global business coalition to advance vaccine literacy, in Harvard Business Review (HBR).

As more and more people say they will definitely or probably would not get vaccinated at this time (49 percent), according to a September 2020 Pew Research Center survey, governments, corporations and health care systems face a daunting communications challenge ahead.

Given the complex nature of vaccines, “literacy for COVID-19 vaccines will require more extensive efforts than many other health literacy campaigns,” according to the HBR article.

To build confidence in the coronavirus vaccine, health systems must tackle patients’ fears and concerns – from safety to “big pharma” – by creating the type of scientifically sound content (e.g., blogs, Facebook posts) that’s most popular with their patients.

Placing doctors front and center in YouTube videos and on podcasts might make most sense. In a recent October 2020 AP-NORC poll, the family doctor ranked highest when it comes to whom Americans trust for information about the coronavirus.

Health systems’ proactive communication measures could turn vaccine hesitant or hostile patients to vaccine accepting ones, decreasing their chance of contracting COVID-19. This outreach will also better buffer administrative staff from the crush of calls expected to roll in once the first vaccine is released. ♥

Creating a culture of gratitude in healthcare

 

Every week, Dr. Katie Jarvis reached into her mailbox at the small-town hospital where she worked.

She only received two kinds of mail. One was from recruiters trying to entice her to move to a bigger city. They offered lucrative positions and the amenities a metropolitan area could provide.

The other was from her hospital administration. They made rounds every morning, delivering newspapers and checking in on patients. When they heard positive stories, they wrote a brief note sharing the feedback with the providers.

“I kept those cards for the days,” Jarvis says. “You know those days when I had a person, he or she had cancer or had to run a code; we have days where the hours just continue on. Those days, it’s not the money that keeps me going. It’s the impact I make. The notes are reminders of that.”

Today, even after starting her own healthcare technology company, Jarvis occasionally works shifts as a hospitalist. “I can’t give up the notes,” she says.

Science suggests that grateful patients and administrators do more than provide warm fuzzy feelings to providers. Gratitude actually alters their well being and even the care patients receive.

Gratitude reduces burnout

Burnout among doctors and nurses is on the rise. The causes are numerous and include a loss of autonomy and a move away from the high-touch medicine of previous decades toward “treating the data, not the patient.”

One antidote may come in the form of gratitude. A study published in 2019 in the journal BMJ Supportive & Palliative Care found that expressions of gratitude served as a source of support for providers in difficult times, improved mood, and provided encouragement to continue and rewards for their effort. It also increased professional satisfaction.

Nancy Congleton has been a nurse for more than 16 years and says that when a patient is grateful for her care, “it makes everything else irrelevant, such as: exhaustion from being 11 hours into my 12 hour shift; having to skip lunch; not getting to pee, or going from patient to patient without a breath in-between. Simply put, when patients are grateful to nurses, it erases the hardships that go hand and hand with the nursing profession.”

Gratitude balances negativity

Stanford physician Dr. Gregory Hammer has a similar outlook. Three years ago, he was an attending in the intensive care unit at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford when an 8-year-old girl arrived by life flight.

She had collapsed on the playground at school with cardiac arrest. When she arrived in the ICU, doctors discovered she had a heart condition that can cause seizures or, in some cases, sudden death. Remarkably, she recovered almost completely and went back to school.

Her family still sends Dr. Hammer a card every year.

“It’s really heartwarming that they are so grateful. It reminds me that I’m doing the right thing,” he says. “Grateful patients have a positive impact on physicians. They provide balance to how we beat ourselves up over every negative outcome.”

Dr. Hammer wrote the book “GAIN without Pain; The Happiness Handbook for Physicians.” He points to the human tendency toward a negativity bias and says that gratitude helps neutralize the discomfort of negative outcomes.

“Our patients can see, they know if we’re burnt out. They know if we’re happy and enjoying our work. They’re as aware of that in us as we are of them,” he says. “When our patients are grateful, it’s very rewarding. Generally, humbling. We see that we can make a difference in the way they think and feel, both their physical health and mental health.”

Express gratitude even when things go wrong

In medicine, as in life, things don’t always go according to plan. Schedules get overcrowded, providers call in sick, and sometimes outcomes are unexpected, even tragic.

Catherine Burger, a nurse for more than 30 years, remembers one patient who experienced unexpected quadriplegia after spinal surgery to correct scoliosis. “I recall this young man gently taking the hand of the surgeon who had performed the surgery that had gone so poorly for him, looking in his eyes and telling the surgeon that he was going to be OK, and he wanted to make sure the surgeon was going to be OK too,” she says.

She said his act of compassion left a lasting impact on her of how meaningful gratitude is especially in the face of negative outcomes.

Gratitude improves patient care

Not only does gratitude have a positive impact on physicians and nurses themselves, but it also impacts the care patients receive.

A study published in the journal Pediatrics in 2019 found that gratitude from patients significantly enhanced medical team performance. The study observed 43 NICU teams who encountered one of the following scenarios: maternal gratitude in which the mother of a preterm infant expressed gratitude to NICU teams; expert gratitude, in which a physician expert expressed gratitude to teams; combined maternal and expert gratitude; and a control group.

Team performance improved among the NICU teams who experienced maternal gratitude, particularly impacting their information sharing abilities.

“The effect of gratitude comes from the salience and meaning it gives to our work, thus it has a profound effect if it comes from patients or their families,” says study author Dr. Arieh Riskin.

When gratitude is missing

Unfortunately the converse is also true. Rudeness from patients, colleagues, and administration can hamper providers’ outlook and performance.

A study published in 2015 in the journal Pediatrics found rudeness compromised the performance of NICU team members in their ability to diagnose and to treat patients. In this study the rudeness came not from a patient, but from an outside “expert” in a simulated event.

Researchers observed that medical teams routinely experience rudeness in a hospital setting.The result is an immediate and direct effect on cognitive ability, reduced creativity and flexibility, and a decrease in helpfulness.

Dr. Sashini Seeni says it’s easy for patients to forget that doctors are human and the profession requires long hours, dedication, and sacrifice.

“The toughest part of being a doctor is not the treatment, the procedures, or the surgeries,” she says. “It is to deal with their colleagues, superiors and ultimately the patients.”

She describes an unfortunately common scenario in her hospital setting — a doctor is brusquely corrected by a superior for a mistake and receives little support from their colleagues.

“How will this doctor treat the patients if the patients start to complain and being mean?” she asks. She acknowledges that the correct approach is to put on a happy face in spite of the negative environment, but that takes its toll.

Research published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings observed, “Physicians who remain in practice while burned out show higher propensities for making medical errors and diminished quality of medical practice and professionalism. Worse still, patients of depleted physicians are less compliant with physicians’ care plans.”

A simple “thank you” is often enough

Among the doctors and nurses who contributed to this article a theme emerged: providers don’t need elaborate gifts or public displays — a simple “thank you” is often good enough.

They also pointed to some more deliberate gestures that have a meaningful effect, including hand-written notes and telling the provider that you feel better because of their care.

Psychiatrist, Dr. Amy Ricke of Your Doctors Online says a simple heartfelt verbal “thank you” can go a long way in letting a provider know they are appreciated, a thank you card or note even more so.

“I have saved the cards I have received from patients over the years to remind myself of why I chose to be a doctor when I’m feeling less than fulfilled,” she says.

She also encourages patients to complete surveys following their visits. “Unfortunately, often times the only people that respond to those surveys are those who are dissatisfied with their care.  Filling out the survey positively can make a big difference for your physician,” she says.

Cultivating gratitude in health care

Burger also said that organizations can do a lot to cultivate an environment of compassion and positive feelings towards their patients.

“Most importantly, educate all employees — and hold them accountable — in creating caring moments for patients and one another. Patients feel supported in facilities where staff are encouraged to care,” she said

In 2013, Scripps implemented a program called Excel Together in response to employee feedback requesting recognition when they performed excellent work and made a difference, The system-wide program provides a platform for staff to thank colleagues and nominate them for great work. It recognizes employee’s specific achievements that make a difference and support the Scripps culture.

But it doesn’t have to be a big program — even something as simple as scribbled thank you notes shoved into a mailbox can have an immediate and lasting impact. ♥

WELL Health and Wolters Kluwer partner to deliver diabetes self-management education

Diabetes self-management education and support improve patient outcomes,

But only 50 percent of diabetic patients receive it. In honor of National Diabetes Month, WELL and Wolters Kluwer have partnered to embed EmmiEngage® interactive multimedia programs on diabetes education into the WELL platform. The communication is aimed at helping diabetic patients make informed decisions related to their health.

The partnership provides health systems with a streamlined and effective way to educate diabetic patients, whether on an individual level or with an entire patient population. It improves care activation and nurse efficiency and reduces readmissions.

It also provides trusted clinical information from a single source — patients receive all communication directly from their provider.

Why diabetes self-management education matters

More than 34 million people are affected by diabetes (10.5 percent of the U.S. population) and patients diagnosed with the disease need to adhere to their treatment plan to avoid complications and poor outcomes.

Given the sheer volume of patients requiring diabetic care, many health systems struggle to stay up to date with delivering educational materials in the most efficient manner to their patients. This often results in patients with diabetes falling off of their treatment plans or not managing their condition appropriately.

Streamlining delivery of patient education

With the WELL and Wolters Kluwer Partnership, educating patients and providing answers to clinical questions automatically has never been easier.

WELL supports multiple triage and proactive outreach, whether automated workflows or post-encounter follow up, including redirecting patient inquiries from the traditional call center to more efficient modes of communication, such as text messaging. Because WELL offers two-way texting, patients can ask follow-up questions and receive support directly from their provider’s office.

Workflow

Here’s how it works. When a patient attends an appointment related to treatment for diabetes, WELL automatically reaches out post-encounter with self-management education. WELL’s bidirectional capabilities enable the patient to respond with questions, upon which they can receive additional educational content and converse with their provider by text message.

Provider: Hi Jane! Thank you for attending your diabetes checkup. Check out this video on how to learn more about pre-diabetes www.wk.com/prediabetes

Patient: Great thanks! Any foods I should avoid as a pre-diabetic?

Provider: Great question! A good place to start is this video on foods to eat for Pre-Diabetic conditions www.wk.com/healthyfoods feel free to text back with any more questions!

Patient: Thank you!

Unified communication for diabetes education

WELL Health unites your messaging in one communication hub. Your patients receive all care-related messages from one number they recognize at a cadence they can handle. WELL’s bidirectional capability creates an open channel for conversation between patients and staff. Deliver clinical, financial, and logistical information to your patients — all through one secure platform. No app required.

Wolters Kluwer is a leader in patient solutions and provides trusted clinical technology and evidence-based content that drives effective decision-making and outcomes through its EmmiEngage® multimedia programs. ♥

WELL launches Use Case Library to offer best practices and product use cases

Do you know what health systems in COVID-19 hotspots are doing to reach their patients?

How about how hospitals of your size around the country increase survey response rates?

With the WELL Use Case Library (UCL), you can learn best practices and product use cases from our internal expertise and leading healthcare organizations around the country.

Learn how other healthcare organizations similar to yours use WELL to its fullest extent to streamline workflows, improve patient experience, and maximize value.

WELL provides the UCL at no charge. It offers effective workflows and instructions for launching use cases. All are developed and validated by WELL and our clients to better serve organizations like yours.

“We created the WELL Use Case library because we recognized that our customers were eager for more ideas about how to use our communication hub. We wanted to empower them to expand at their own pace,” says Meg Aranow, VP Platform Evangelist at WELL. “We believe the library will position our customers for continued success in patient engagement while maximizing the ROI of their WELL partnership.”

What is the WELL Use Case Library?

The UCL offers an evolving repository of use cases, organized by category and searchable by keyword. Use cases cover everything from parking instructions to post-op followup.

WELL administrators can discover impactful use cases, understand best practices, and learn how to deploy each workflow. The majority of use cases can be implemented at no additional cost to your organization.

Each use case offers sample language to use in communication with patients. You can implement this language into your automations immediately. Use cases also provide demonstrated benefits and referenced clients, so you know the value of the use case before you even put it into practice.

WELL aggregated use cases across a broad spectrum of its client base and has brought experience from leading health systems as well as internal expertise to enable all WELL clients to excel

Why it’s important

WELL clients include many of the leading health systems in the country, such as Cedars-Sinai, NYU Langone, UnityPoint Health, and Houston Methodist. Benefit from their depth of knowledge and process improvements within the UCL.

In addition to the larger health systems, WELL serves academic medical centers, FQHCs, and community health centers. Whatever the size of your organization and the patient population you serve, the library offers unique use cases to meet your patient communication needs.

WELL clients pride themselves on continuous learning and improvements. We are thrilled to be a part of this insightful and collaborative community. Through the WELL Use Case Library, we offer a shared platform to drive value for healthcare organizations and patients. ♥

Drive Results with 3 Proven Patient Engagement Strategies

Optimized patient engagement strategies are a necessity for healthcare providers looking to properly address patient needs. Adopting digital communication management systems can help providers enact these strategies and improve revenue flow.

Primary care providers have a key role to play in driving patient-centered healthcare. Providers offer a vital entry point into the healthcare system. The onus is on them to provide progressive care management and humane forms of care for healthcare consumers.

The modern consumers of healthcare have a vital role to play here, as essential co-producers of their health. Patient needs and demands have shifted dramatically. Engagement strategies need to shift with them. When patients are engaged, their health improves. In turn, providers benefit.

Median operating margins for healthcare providers have hovered between two and three percent in the last decade. Unlocking improvements requires pioneering new strategies for patient engagement that involve consumers across the care continuum.

Why patient engagement strategies matter in the era of healthcare consumerism

Healthcare institutions exist to address the physical, mental, and social needs of the patients and their families. But only with the help of effective strategies for patient engagement are these needs met satisfactorily.

Research shows tangible benefits to implementing an efficacious patient experience and engagement strategy.

  • Good patient engagement increases adherence to treatment regimen recommendations among patients, which in turn leads to fewer complications and re-hospitalizations.
  • Good patient engagement enhances satisfaction. This facilitates a longer-standing relationship with providers, while improving experience measures that directly impact reimbursement rates.

From a business point of view, patient engagement contributes to outcomes that directly affect hospital costs and reimbursement. Executing on effective patient engagement strategies also rewards providers with better patient retention and referrals.

Creating a culture based on engagement

It’s vital for healthcare providers to create a culture of engagement in their institutions. This should start with making employees aware of the importance of maximizing patient engagement. Employees who are engaged in this way have a superior commitment to patients. They also put in more discretionary efforts in their professional work.

Once an engagement-friendly environment exists within the workforce, the next step is extending this spirit to involve your patients and their families. Educate staff members on the details and benefits of a patient experience and engagement strategy. Assigning internal accountability also helps keep every member on task.

Identifying the right patient experience and engagement strategy tools

Creating a culture of engagement in your institution requires commitment from all participants to transform the way you interact with patients. Fortunately, customer management tools enable these interactions. They bridge the gap between clinical recommendations and patient actions, helping patients make the choices they need to make.

For instance, Tiburcio Vasquez Health Center (TVHC) wanted a better way to communicate with their patients, 70 percent of whom are Hispanic. The practice’s outmoded robo-call reminder system informed patients of upcoming appointments, but did not alert their systems to confirmations or cancellations. After adopting a digital communications platform that facilitated new patient engagement strategies such as two-way texting, TVHC increased slot utilization by seven percent, increasing revenue by roughly $1 million.

Automating message delivery systems also maximizes the value of existing telehealth investments. Houston Methodist demonstrated this when they coordinated a massive surge in virtual care visits during the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the help of an innovative communication platform, the practice created a virtual waiting room for touchless patient intake, calibrating engagement strategies to the pressures of the time.

Using these innovative tools to connect better with your healthcare consumers increases your health system’s availability, accessibility, and convenience. With these foundations in place, patient engagement reliably improves.

Making information sharable

Another key shift in the world of healthcare is the notion of developing a longitudinal plan for care. Rather than working independently, care providers and communication management agencies now work hand in hand to ensure patients receive consistent recommendations and support throughout their care journey.

Proven communication management systems such as WELL create ideal platforms through which physicians and their patients can share plans, goals, and support information.

Case in point: Cedars-Sinai wanted their patients’ health information to become more accessible. So they shifted patient engagement strategies and used WELL to send a patient portal link out twice: once after scheduling an appointment, then a follow-up two days before the visit. Within just five months of sending the portal link through WELL, overall portal enrollment shot up by 19 percent.

Opening accessibility within a unified location enables healthcare providers to observe plans, track patient progress, and provide consistent patient messaging. Choose a communication hub that syncs real-time with your EHR to keep yourself updated with appointment status and patient details. It should also deliver multilingual, conversational messaging to each of your patient’s preferred channels for an unmatched experience.

High time to adopt systems around your patients’ needs

Healthcare consumerization has given rise to a new generation of patients who now act like consumers, asserting their needs and choosing providers that can meet them. Enable concrete patient engagement strategies by adopting the right healthcare tools.

Contact WELL Health today to see how a full-solution communication hub can help you offer and provide truly modern medical appointments. ♥

Patient-Friendly, Modern Medical Appointments: What Do They Look Like?

For the modern healthcare provider, patient satisfaction is paramount.

Optimizing the patient experience means offering modern medical appointments that meet the expectations of the contemporary healthcare consumer.

What makes a medical appointment “modern”? Providers need to move beyond an outmoded model of care, where a patient phones the health center, sits on hold, gets an appointment, sits in the waiting room, fills out forms on pen and paper, and so on. Research shows that modern healthcare consumers are very open to using intelligent technologies and innovative approaches to data-sharing. When it comes to online medical appointment scheduling, and in many other areas, modern medical appointments share a number of defining features:

They focus on improving consumers’ convenience.

Modern medical appointments are shaped by what modern patients actually want: forms of communication that mirror their normal lives. This shift is driven in part by the consumerization of healthcare, which is raising patient expectations around convenience. Patients want their healthcare to slot into their existing technology and behavior patterns; they don’t want to be forced to adapt to a dated set of systems.

Having an online medical appointment system is a key step toward improving convenience for healthcare consumers. Nearly 70 percent of patients switch healthcare providers in search of more convenience. Providers must consider improving and simplifying all manner of patient tasks through online medical appointment scheduling.

In the era of COVID-19, increasing convenience means minimizing the risk of contagion with technologies that offer touchless patient intake. Providers must also strive to make real-time COVID-19 information easily and rapidly available to patients. We are long past an era where most people want to phone their providers. Information must be conveniently available via the channels that modern people bias toward: text, email, etc.

They fix schedules digitally through healthcare technologies.

Modern medical appointments can be scheduled and rescheduled easily, and without picking up the phone. Patient-friendly providers leverage the power of new communication technologies to host online medical appointment scheduling functions, making the entire process accessible and convenient for all patients.

When patients are looking for an easy and streamlined patient access experience, they may ask the following questions:

  • Can I schedule my appointments online?
  • Can I manage my health information online?
  • Am I able to make my payments online?
  • Can I complete all of these from my mobile device, at my convenience?

If you are able to answer yes to these questions, then you are offering the modern medical appointments that patients want. However, if you are still relying on manual data entry, phone calls, and old systems of payment, then patients are certain to be irked.

They minimize unnecessary costs.

Modern medical appointments create benefits for providers as well as patients. How? Manual data entry not only wastes valuable time; it also opens the door to safety issues and revenue leakage. Studies show that appointment booking errors cost up to $2,000 per patient. Additionally, patient identification errors cost healthcare facilities an average of $1.5 million in revenue each year.

Adopting a technologically-driven platform improves operational efficiency. When you automate a significant volume of patient communication – from the initial touchpoint, through to treatment and record keeping – you not only improve slot utilization; you also reduce no-shows and maximize the value of your team.

By maximizing appointments and time efficiency, you will lower the cost of connecting with patients and drive increased revenue to enhance your bottom line. Keeping track of medical appointments, if not done efficiently, will potentially cost you patients. Moving toward a model of modern medical appointments will help you escape this fate.

Moreover, recent research reveals that no-shows usually signal ineffectively engaged patients, with as many as 50 percent of patient referrals never completed. Again, technologically-powered systems such as WELL can solve no-show issues by enabling seamless message delivery to coordinate virtual care.

Such systems will not only save valuable staff time and resources. They will also maximize the value of your existing telehealth investments and improve patient satisfaction. A recent report published by the WELL Data Analytics team predicted that telehealth will account for more than 15 percent of patient visits through the end of 2020. This makes it a vital necessity for providers, especially in managing an online medical appointment system now and in the future.

They include real conversations, not only basic automation.

Modern medical appointments allow companies to upgrade from executing basic automation to creating valuable conversations with patients. Platforms like WELL facilitate complex and meaningful exchanges that benefit both the patient and the care provider.

Opening up a conversation alleviates workflows, to ensure that patients can do as much as they can before they visit your care center. Such a system also recaptures more of what you might lose when completing appointments manually or through phone conversations.

In fact, empirical evidence suggests that ‘computer-mediated communication’ — principally, conversing through an electronic system — can actually become more effective and fulfilling than face-to-face communication. Modern medical appointments enable patients to converse about their care how they like.

Contact WELL Health today to see how a full-solution communication hub can help you offer and provide truly modern medical appointments. ♥

How to Improve Health Literacy Through Communication Technology

Determining how to improve health literacy among patients should be a key goal of all healthcare providers.

Patients who have precise, easy-to-use information about their health can better promote and protect their health and wellbeing. That is why health literacy has become a critical component in healthcare management.

Unfortunately, reports indicate that up to 90 percent of healthcare consumers have low health literacy. This should be a cause of great concern. Low health literacy levels can make it hard for patients to plan their appointment schedules, monitor medication, and manage chronic diseases, and more.

When providers are asking themselves how to improve health literacy, one powerful answer is communication. By leveraging cutting-edge healthcare technology to optimize patient communications, providers can rapidly boost low health literacy.

A closer look at the meaning of healthcare literacy

To improve it, you need to understand it. According to the Institute of Medicine of National Academies, health literacy is “the degree to which people can obtain, process, comprehend, and communicate basic health information and services needed so that they can make suitable decisions about their health.”

In plain English: people have access to information they can understand and do something about.

More recently, as part of the government initiative Healthy People 2030, two updated definitions relating to health literacy have been added:

a. Organizational health literacy: The degree to which healthcare providers enable healthcare consumers to access, understand, and use information and services to inform decisions related to their health and that of others.

b. Personal health literacy: The degree to which healthcare consumers can access, understand, and use information and services to inform decisions related to their health and that of others.

In other words, understanding healthcare information is not, on its own, the answer to how to improve health literacy. What is also required is enabling healthcare consumers to use such information, so that they can make well informed decisions.

Communication technologies play a central role

According to the Pew Research Center, more than 81 percent of Americans own smartphones, and over 90 percent use the internet. Another report states over 71 percent of adults have used the internet to search for health-related information. Meanwhile, over 21 percent have used some sort of technology to track their health information.

Faced with this technology reality, providers that want to improve the literacy of their patients need to embrace tools that let them meet patients on their own terms. The modern patient wants to text, not phone. They want to do things digitally, not manually.

Indeed, forward-thinking providers are now moving from ordinary health literacy to “digital health literacy.” Digital health literacy, otherwise referred to as electronic health (eHealth), refers to the ability for healthcare consumers to access, find, and use health information from digital technologies and apply the obtained knowledge to prevent, address, and solve health issues. This is where modern communication technologies come in. They have the capability to provide unified communications for health systems by integrating with providers’ EHR and patient-facing vendors.

Understanding the digital health ecosystem is vital

Health providers must understand the full breadth of the digital health ecosystem to determine how to improve health literacy. Providers need to grasp the value and function of the following:

  • Telehealth and telemedicine – Providers must adopt digitally-driven communication platforms that enable the seamless automation of message delivery. This will help coordinate virtual care, maximize technological investments’ value, save valuable time and resources, and improve patient satisfaction.
  • Mobile health – To improve health literacy, healthcare givers must be ready to deliver care through mobile means. Mobile devices, patient monitoring devices, and other ICT devices greatly help, especially where distance is a barrier to receiving care.
  • Social networks – Social media platforms are powerful tools that providers should leverage to improve both physical and mental health literacy. These platforms allow healthcare professionals to communicate health information in ways that healthcare consumers can easily understand.
  • Communication automation – By automating communication and operations, healthcare providers can enable the accessibility and usefulness of healthcare information. Automation will not only make it easy for patients to learn how to improve health literacy on their own. It will also improve slot utilization, and reduce no-shows.
  • Big data – As the volume of healthcare data grows, providers must use big data to significantly improve patient engagement and health literacy. The use of unconventional data can enable an accurate health literacy assessment. This can enable effective health promotion. Providers can obtain data from sources like social determinants of health to help them strengthen not only treatment models, but also patient education strategies.

A fully unified patient communication hub is key

A key way to drive health literacy is to recruit a fully-integrated communication hub that permits effective communication and engagement with patients. The goal is to pick the right healthcare communication platform that can handle communication, engagement, and education.

A digitally-powered communication solution such as WELL provides a two-way technological solution that unifies the full lifecycle of patient interactions.

Case in point: Vista Community Clinic grew their overall patient satisfaction to 86.4 percent after implementing WELL. MemorialCare Medical Foundation (MCMF) attributes a 35 percent clickthrough rate increase and a 25 percent conversion rate increase to the efficiency that WELL provides. Health literacy influences both patient satisfaction and engagement.

Similarly linked to health literacy is the capacity for fast and thorough correspondence. With WELL, San Ysidro Health managed to send out 226,546 messages to patients within the first 60 days of implementing the solution. As company president and CEO Kevin Mattson said, “Many of our patients use their cell phones as a lifeline during this pandemic. WELL allows us to reach our patients with essential information about COVID-19 and how to access testing and care.” Accessing this essential information is the quintessence of health literacy.

Clinicians and policymakers should be attentive of health literacy, due to its significant impact on public health, patient wellness, and providers’ success. Technology has a massive potential to improve health literacy by reducing disparities through accessible, usable, and intelligent systems. Such systems can tailor information, counseling, advice, and behavioral support to individual needs at their convenience.

For more health literacy examples and information, care providers can join Health Literacy Month and foster the importance of understandable health information.

Contact WELL Health today to see how a full-solution communication hub can help you offer and provide truly modern medical appointments. ♥

What Do Consumers Want from Healthcare?

Healthcare providers succeed when they give patients what they want. What do consumers want from healthcare? One foundational need is effective communication.

Gone are the days when a patient’s long-standing relationship with their provider was enough to keep them coming back. Today, convenience and personal preference trumps loyalty in healthcare provision. A recent healthcare consumerism study found that 80 percent of respondents want to take an active role in their health management. According to Deloitte’s 2020 Survey of US Health Care Consumers, more than half of consumers are “extremely likely” to tell their doctors when they disagree with them!

As the consumerization of healthcare is shaking up traditional delivery models, we see providers turning to digital solutions to offer greater value to healthcare consumers. It is the more exotic solutions that make the mainstream news. Self-diagnosing and health tracking technologies such as apps and wearables, augmented- and virtual-reality simulations for physician training, and therapeutic apps have all attracted media attention. However, as evidenced by the success of telemedicine during the pandemic, consumers place a high premium on a more foundational component of care: communication.

Healthcare is about people. And though patients are consumers in a busy and vibrant market, they are also human beings. As in every other area of life, when interacting with people, they want good and open communication.

Emotional connection amidst technology

What do consumers want from healthcare? Beyond the care itself, patients also expect the fulfilment of their emotional needs around health, dignity, and personal integrity. As described in a Healthcare Quarterly article, emotional support is a dimension of patient satisfaction that garners little attention in healthcare contexts, but is highly: “We need to teach providers how to maintain a caring disposition amongst all this new technology. The provider-patient transaction is still fundamentally one between human beings.”

In this context, communication plays a very fundamental role in the nourishment of the patient-provider relationship. Effective communication influences a wide array of outcomes, including: emotional health, symptoms resolution, function, pain control, and physiologic measures. Moreover, collaborative communication and decision making correlates with greater patient satisfaction and loyalty.

In the modern era, patients are welcoming a broader conversation with their primary care providers; a conversation that covers their entire wellbeing. The rise of healthcare consumerism advocates a paradigm shift from “doctor says, patient does,” towards a model that fosters a working partnership. With this shift underway, providers must enhance lines of communication.

This includes understanding how cultural differences impact decisions, and being able to modify care to align with consumers’ culture. It certainly includes being able to converse in the language most appropriate to the patient.

Without help from technology, how can providers possibly respond to the communication needs of the modern patient? As technologies are advancing in other sectors, consumers want and expect the same in healthcare. If you can book a flight with your smartphone, why not a doctor’s appointment?

Adopting working communication solutions

Providers need to embrace communication solutions for healthcare that are simpler, pleasant, convenient, and more productive. Providers should facilitate this at the point of patients’ research, scheduling, intake, as well as a follow-up treatment. Expanding healthcare consumers’ digital connection to providers provides not only convenience but also personalization of care.

We have observed the success of this approach firsthand at WELL. We offer an efficient hub that connects patients and healthcare providers through mechanisms such as phone, text, email and live chat. A provider can switch between automated messages and real-time interactions, to deliver information the way their consumers want.

The net impact of a platform like WELL is that:
Patients can communicate more swiftly and more conveniently.
They can communicate where, when, and using the technology that they want.
Providers can easily create personalized messages.
Providers can also reach and treat patients in their own language, enhancing the ability of a provider to show maximal cultural sensitivity.

WELL provides superior last-mile patient communication

Many healthcare providers and consumers are experiencing how the WELL hub gives consumers the communication they want.

The staff of Santa Monica Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Group (SMOG) immediately noticed significant improvement in their patient response after implementing WELL. A high number of unsolicited individual patient comments came in, with comments raving about the enhancement in service quality. Live call responses have also increased to 85 percent from a previous 50, while call volume dropped by 20 percent.

For the Vista Community Clinic in Southern California, overall patient satisfaction has climbed to 86.4 percent. “They love it! It’s one of those things that, if it went away, I think we would have very unhappy patients,” Michelle Monroe, the practice’s COO, said of WELL. Meanwhile, ALTURA Centers for Health has seen a 22-percent decrease in no-shows, a 10 percent increase in appointment confirmations, and doubled patient satisfaction rates.

All of these positive outcomes are the result of giving consumers one of the key things they want from healthcare: powerful and nourishing communication.

“It has become a lot easier to confirm appointments, as well as leave feedback afterwards,” said a patient at Columbia Pain and Spine Institute. The practice has received overwhelming positive reviews.

Giving patients the communication they want

The rise of consumerism in healthcare has forced industry players to adopt differentiation strategies to trigger competitiveness in the market. When asking themselves “What do consumers want from healthcare?”, providers need to start with the foundational human factor of communication.

This means tapping into other ways of communication other than phone and email. Use text updates and reminders, adopt telehealth technologies to advance patient engagement, and leverage patient-generated health data to enhance visibility into patients’ wellbeing. All of these communication strategies deliver a desirable healthcare experience for consumers.

Contact WELL Health today to see how a full-solution communication for healthcare can help you and your patients. ♥

Adapting to the Consumerization of Healthcare

The ongoing consumerization of healthcare is shifting expectations around how people access and receive care. Providers have to optimize the patient/customer experience if they want to stay competitive.

How the current generation views healthcare

Statistics show that the use of high-deductible health plans has risen exponentially in the last decade. Amongst other factors, this has driven the sharp rise of consumerism in healthcare, and seen patients evolve from care recipients into participants who play an active role in managing their own health.

In a survey on the consumerization of healthcare, 80 percent of the participants felt that the shift towards greater control of their healthcare was a positive thing. In short, a customer-oriented approach to American health services is not going away. And modern patients want the same things from healthcare that they want from other consumer products: convenience, value and innovation.

This shift toward a market mindset around healthcare is especially true for the younger generation, that has grown up accessing all their services online. Some of the statistics here are staggering. A 2019 study shows that 92% of consumers under 35 go online to find healthcare providers. Even before they reach a doctor’s room, 80 percent of consumers say that they “research most of their diagnosis online.” Any provider who is still offering care on the same terms they were in 1995 is setting themselves up for trouble.

An online-first approach to healthcare has combined with also a consumerist, selective approach to healthcare. The result is that today’s patients are happy to shop around. This is one reason why 24% of millennials don’t have a primary care doctor. Patients now take their time to compare services, assessing convenience, cost, and availability before deciding where to access healthcare.

How can providers respond to the demands of this savvy patient? By following other industries, and leveraging digital platforms in order to enhance the patient/consumer experience.

Disruptive technologies and the consumerization of healthcare

The market has responded to consumer demand for healthcare innovations. This has been visible in the entry of non-traditional players and disruptive technologies in healthcare. Companies such as Amazon and Apple use big data and AI to put critical health information in consumers’ hands (and on consumers’ wrists), with the use of phone apps and wearable devices. CVS is pushing new standards of convenience in healthcare, by connecting patients with primary care physicians, simplifying payments, and offering fast home pharmaceutical deliveries.

One of the most disruptive technologies in healthcare is telehealth, which recently took the spotlight because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Data reveals the volume of telehealth visits increased by 50x between February and April 2020 for some health systems. The data further suggests telehealth will continue to account for 15 percent of total visits through the end of 2020.

What does the boom in telehealth tell us? That patients value communication. A lot. They want to be able to interface with providers on their own terms, in a way that is convenient to them. Given this trajectory, traditional players have no choice but to adopt more customer-focused communication approaches. Key to this aspiration is the embracing of innovations in patient communication technology.

Communication is key to differentiation strategies in healthcare

When it comes to communication, healthcare ranks poorly with consumers.

According to a recent survey, over three-quarters of consumers believe that they should be receiving the same level of communication services in healthcare that they receive when encountering other industries. Specifically, they want the experience to be convenient, responsive, and digitally enabled.

Healthcare consumers are looking for a customized service. From when they make inquiries, to when they receive treatment and subsequent follow-ups, they want the care to be convenient for them.

Communication solutions for healthcare like WELL are powerful ways for providers to respond to the consumerization of healthcare and achieve outcomes like these. WELL enables healthcare organizations to communicate with patients via text, email, phone, and live chat. Providers report better client engagement, reduced no-shows and call volumes, and improved care coordination.

Sansum Clinic, for example, was looking for a better way to engage patients and get feedback. Within three months of using WELL, no-show rates dropped by 19 percent, and appointment confirmations rose by 27 percent. 360 Orthopedics saw an impressive 208 percent ROI with WELL when their no-show rate dropped to less than three percent—half of the industry average.

Another one of the effective differentiation strategies in healthcare that WELL can facilitate is streamlining payment collection. New Mexico Orthopaedics pulled this off by integrating their patient communication platform with SwervePay, allowing patients to pay with ease. Adoption grew quickly, and now, 17 percent of NMO patients pay their copays in advance.

Optimized patient communication is the future of healthcare

Over the last two decades, technology and digital innovations have disrupted almost every industry in the US. eCommerce innovations like Amazon, Uber, and Airbnb have succeeded in empowering the consumer. This power translates to information and choices. And as the pandemic made abundantly clear, providers need digital solutions to enable a satisfying experience for modern patients.

Communication solutions for healthcare like WELL are a powerful way for providers to respond to the consumerization of healthcare and offer the kind of care that patients actually want. The rise of consumerism in healthcare has made patients very discerning. They now utilize digital technology to access healthcare and achieve the power that innovation provides. Health providers can, as a response, enhance the customer experience through embracing digital communication solutions.

Contact WELL Health today to see how a full-solution communication for healthcare can help you and your patients. ♥

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