Making patient engagement a reality

We’ve heard the phrase “patient engagement” so much recently that it’s possible we’re beginning to tune it out.

We need to get patients engaged in their health, we hear over and over again. Help them become comfortable with a patient portal and learn how to access their data.

But if we’ve learned nothing else in the last couple of years, we now know that the key to a successful patient engagement strategy isn’t just building a patient portal. Patient portals are not in and of themselves a strategy.

Two recently published articles address our need to reengage both our patients and ourselves in regards to making true patient engagement a reality.

Shift your culture

In a preview of an upcoming presentation at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HiMSS) conference in February, Jan Oldenberg, a healthcare consultant, said that the key to true patient engagement is a culture shift within practices.

“Successful institutions understand that everyone has a role in engaging patients,” she wrote. “Scheduling clerks can mention that patients might be able to schedule appointments faster through the portal … the nurse who rooms the patient might mention that a summary of the doctor’s orders will be available on the portal afterwards.”

This sense of taking ownership within your staff — and not simply assuming that the success of a portal is entirely the responsibility of your patients — makes all of the difference, she said.

“When the portal becomes embedded in the everyday operations of a clinic and everyone feels a part of its success — that’s when it is most likely to be successful,” she wrote.

In addition, Oldenberg said that this culture shift requires a shift in our words and maybe even our thinking.

“I’d like to suggest that the idea that ‘we’ the healthcare system can ‘engage patients’ starts us thinking in the wrong direction because it implies that engagement is something we can ‘do to’ people,” she wrote. “Engagement is always a choice that people make for themselves.”

[Read more:]

Don’t make assumptions

When our state of Louisiana launched a campaign to help improve patient engagement with the statewide health information exchange, officials had no idea how successful the program would be. Or who the most active demographic would be.

In addition to creating a 28-percent increase in the number of residents using the exchange, the program saw the greatest positive response from an unlikely source — senior citizens.

“I went into the campaign with the misconception that seniors were not going to be interested in health IT because they were perhaps not as tech savvy as younger audiences,” said Jamie Martin, marketing and communications manager for the exchange. “I could not have been more wrong.”

It was seniors that not only actively participated in the campaign, but also made their voices known about wanting secure access to data. Meanwhile, 18-24 year olds — the ones that most expect to be most interested in technology-based solutions — weren’t as likely to check the exchange.

“Truly, a valuable lesson learned,” Martin said.

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