What to look for in a patient engagement platform

September 10, 2019 - by Pamela Ellgen

Visit any healthcare IT conference and the number of vendors claiming to offer a patient engagement platform is staggering.

From hospital concierge services that schedule manicures to hardware for attaching televisions in patient rooms, seemingly all vendors would like to see themselves as a patient engagement platform.

But few enable actual patient engagement or even seem to understand it.

Adrienne Boissy, MD, MA laments this reality in an article for NEJM Catalyst, “Health care professionals talk about engagement in health, but not always the experience of it. We talk about the experience of our patients, but not always their engagement. So . . . what are we really talking about? Do we even know?”

What is patient engagement?

Patient engagement is when patients are actively involved in their care and considered valued decision makers in the process. Importantly, doctor patient relationships are characterized by trust and compassion. Engaged patients are:

  • Informed — they understand their health status and the recommended treatment.
  • Heard — they communicate with their providers and participate in shared decision making.
  • Empowered — they believe they have the ability to change their health outcomes.

The difference between patient engagement and patient experience

Patient engagement is active — how a patient participates in their care. Whereas patient experience is passive — how a patient receives and perceives their care. Engagement has a clear interactive component.

Both experience and engagement matter, and both aim to improve outcomes. Higher patient engagement was associated with nine out of 13 positive health outcomes in a study published in the journal Health Affairs in 2014. Outcomes included better clinical indicators, more healthy behaviors, and greater use of preventive care.

What is a patient engagement platform?

A patient engagement platform is a tool that allows patients to interact with their care providers via their mobile device, tablet, or computer. It bridges the gap between providers, patients, and third-party vendors and keeps patients involved in their care even when they’re not within the four walls of a hospital. It may also enable access to medical records and provide appointment reminders, self-scheduling, and delivery of patient education.

Are portals patient engagement platforms?

Although patient portals are sometimes seen as patient engagement platforms, patient adoption of portals is surprisingly low. And for those patients who do log in, portal access doesn’t necessarily correlate with better outcomes.

Ultimately, a tool that isn’t used isn’t effective. Patients are looking for engagement platforms that meet them where they are — on their phones — and don’t require a separate login.

In a 2018 report on patient engagement, KLAS Research observed, “Patients seem to respond much more favorably to patient outreach tools that push communication and education directly to their ever-present smartphones.”

What to look for in a patient engagement platform:


  • Interactive, real-time patient communication
    Meaningful connection is inherent to the definition of engagement. Therefore, any patient engagement platform you choose should enable bidirectional communication. That is to say, patients should be able to respond to and initiate contact with your health system.
  • Keyword Actions and chatbot functionality
    Not every interaction with patients needs staff input. A patient engagement platform should allow for automated responses to common questions, such as, “Where are you located?” The platform should also allow keywords to trigger automations, such as scheduling a ride with Uber Health for patients who need a lift.
  • Sentiment analysis
    A patient engagement platform should use sentiment analysis technology to recognize when patients are frustrated and respond promptly — before patients take to Twitter or receive a CAHPS survey.
  • Multilingual support
    Some of your patients speak a language other than English, and so should your patient engagement platform.
  • EMR integration
    A patient engagement platform should integrate with your EMR. For example, the platform should be able to receive information from the EMR, such as a referral or recall, and write back to the EMR.
  • Portal enrollment
    There’s still a place for the patient portal. So, whatever patient engagement platform you choose should be able to drive patients to the portal.
  • Integration with other vendors
    As much as you want one app to solve it all, that’s just not feasible, and it’s not even in your or your patients’ best interests. Instead, choose best of breed vendors that integrate seamlessly with your other vendors. For example, a patient engagement platform could offer billing features or even better, integrate with a billing vendor.
  • Employee adoption
    Acceptability to your staff is essential for any patient engagement platform. In other words, if your employees don’t like the new technology, it’s not going to fulfill its potential.

Why WELL is the best of breed patient engagement platform

WELL offers interactive, real-time patient communication. It enables conversation between patients and your staff and offers automations to improve efficiency and get your patients the answers they need right away. WELL offers multilingual support in 19 different languages, including Spanish, French, German, Vietnamese, Mandarin, Japanese, and Korean.

WELL integrates with the leading EMRs and third-party vendors, enabling billing, transportation, sentiment analysis, and more. One leading health system in southern California used WELL to increase portal enrollment by 19 percent across all sites. Finally, WELL is easy to implement and staff love it, which is why WELL is one of the top rated patient engagement platforms on G2 and Capterra, leading one end user to say, “I love WELL so much. It makes getting in contact with patients so quick, easy, and stress FREE. I know our patients are also loving it as well. Cuts our time spent on phones in half.” ♥


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