Patient engagement strategies proliferate, experts pontificate and lay people ponder, but as we wait for the dust to settle, there are few tangible suggestions that truly claim to guide physicians and practice leaders in the steps to take for actually engaging their patients.
Though meaningful use requirements mandate physicians provide secure messaging and patient portal capabilities as a requirement for attesting, but what can those at the practice level actually do to get patients more involved in their care and foster the spirit of meaningful use?
According to Jason Fortin, senior advisor at Impact Advisors, a healthcare consultancy, there may be some simple, more traditional paths to patient engagement.
For example, other than focusing on creating social media campaigns to drive traffic to sites and brick and mortar practices, “But, they shouldn’t abandon regular mailings and telephone calls to patients,” he said. “Don’t abandon all the arrows in your quiver.”
Essentially, patient engagement can be a long a drawn-out process that requires a great deal of investment. Short-term returns may not be what practices hope for, but they’ll pay off in the long run.
For the time being, patient portals are designed to fill the patient engagement voice. Unfortunately for some, adding one more system to their roster and another log in to track, there’s more likely the chance that unless it provides some sort of concrete benefit, patients may not be interested in pursuing a relationship with their physicians through it.
Real change in regard to patient engagement is most likely a generational issue that we don’t see manifest for several years. If patients (now or in the future) are going to be engaged, whatever the tool used to reach them will most likely have to fit into people’s daily lifestyles.
Patient engagement tools will need to evolve beyond bill pay and appointment setting systems. Most likely, they’ll have to be along the lines of a Facebook or a Twitter.
Fortin says whatever the tool and no matter its capabilities, it needs to “transcend” and impact the population. For any sort of system or technology to work long term it needs to be “integrated into people every day lifestyle otherwise folks are going to have a difficult time maintaining their interest in using it,” Fortin said.
But the traditional vendors, those that produce the patient portals to compliment their electronic health records are not spending their time focusing on innovation and advancing the technological offers to clients, Fortin said. On the contrary, most vendors are mired, or choose to be mired, in the technological requirements of meaningful use.
In this regard, meaningful use is quite singular in its focus and is restricting innovation of new technology.
Until we’re able to develop or capture new technologies to engage patients (I trust the free market will come up with something), healthcare professionals need to come up real and tangible strategies for action items that they can put in place to create an environment where patients feel safe enough to engage.
In the meantime, maybe your fingers should do the talking and a postage stamp can be employed to save the day.