Contributor: 6 Myths to Avoid About Patient Engagement Solutions

Patient engagement solutions facilitate active care participation, but several myths persist that hinder their adoption and implementation.

Patients have come to expect their health care providers to deliver the same level of convenience they experience shopping online with consumer brands that lead the charge in driving personalization, choice, and loyalty. With increasing patient expectations, innovative patient engagement solutions are a must have, not a nice to have. Patient engagement solutions provide incentive and ability to actively participate in care in a way uniquely appropriate to the individual. Barriers and misconceptions about patient engagement persist, however. Here are 6 myths that are preventing provider organizations from committing to patient engagement solutions, debunked:

Myth #1: Patient engagement solutions have an “unclear” benefit for patients

Patient engagement solutions have many clear benefits for patients, the most valuable being better patient outcomes. According to the Agency for Health Research and Quality (AHRQ), patient engagement has a positive impact on emotional health, symptom resolution, functioning, pain control, and physiologic measures such as blood pressure and blood sugar. These solutions help providers to engage patients by helping them stay informed of their care options, adhere to treatment plans, increase education, and experience less friction during the care journey.

A good patient engagement solution encourages patients to take informed actions related to their health care journey by providing them with the tools they need to easily connect for care, ask questions, remind, and reengage. For example, in a 2021 patient engagement survey conducted by Stericycle Communication Solutions, 71% of respondents said that multiple reminders help them keep track of appointments. The platform should take this a step further and allow the patient to ask directions or for other important information easily via texting to help them adequately prepare for the appointment. This reduces the chance a patient might miss their appointment or need to reschedule due to being unprepared. These solutions are directly responsible for shepherding patients on their journey to much-needed care, improving health outcomes over time.

Myth #2: Patient engagement solutions have an “unclear” benefit for providers

From the provider perspective, patient engagement solutions help to optimize providers’ schedules, reduce no-shows, and aid in increasing revenue. The most effective solutions activate patients and encourage them to take the next step in their care journey, potentially adhering to treatment plans long term. Those next steps include everything from scheduling and attending additional appointments, seeing a specialist via referral, getting an MRI within the hospital system, or attending a class to learn how to manage their diagnosis—all actions that bolster patients’ long-term health outcomes.

By leveraging tools to encourage and help patients take these steps, providers can acquire new patients and encourage existing patients to stay within the health system, optimizing revenue, reducing no-shows, and filling out provider schedules. Upon implementing one such solution, Ascension, a Missouri-based health system, saw a 72.5% increase in urgent care visits scheduled online, along with 100,000 additional visits in 1 year vs the previous year. Beyond revenue, growth, and retention, patient and family engagement can improve multiple aspects of hospital performance such as quality, safety, patient outcomes, and employee satisfaction, according to a guide from AHRQ.

Myth #3: Patient engagement solutions are not HIPAA compliant and secure

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) concerns are the go-to excuse among health care’s slowest adopters. To a point, these detractors are right to be cautious, because health care’s 2-way communication and data flow among a multitude of users and end points requires rigorous cybersecurity and digital hygiene practices. But patient engagement solutions that are worth their salt vigilantly meet and exceed the legal and ethical obligations to keep patients’ data and privacy secure.

There are many best practices when it comes to security, but the most critical features include utilizing 2-factor authentication to access sensitive information, ensuring data is encrypted in transit and at rest, and implementing a rigorous entitlement review process that ensures people only have access to information that is required for them to do their job—not broad access to sensitive data. It’s also important to keep personal health information off less secure channels. This information should be securely housed and encrypted but still easily accessible through gated links for only authorized users.

Myth #4: Patient engagement solutions are not available as “off-the-shelf” tools

Although this may have been truer in prepandemic days, innovation and integration of engagement tools have proliferated in the industry in the last 2 years. Not only do standardized off-the-shelf tools exist, but they are also relatively straightforward to plug into a health system’s existing technology ecosystem, tying into the electronic health record as a single source of truth. Additionally, health systems have the option for deep customization through configuration if standard off-the-shelf tools don’t suit their system’s needs. Configuration also allows for personalization without requiring additional staff to write the code.

With engagement options as diverse as their patient populations, health systems can meet their patients where they are to effectively activate them on their care journey. These engagement options include multilanguage and multichannel communications, such as email, live voice calls, text messages, web chats, and online scheduling. Natural language processing and cognitive search, among other artificial intelligence and machine learning integrations, can enhance the versatility of these solutions as well.

Myth #5: Patients don’t care about online scheduling

According to the "Healthcare 2030: The consumer at the center" report by KPMG, 58% of millennials and 64% of Gen Xers value online booking and would switch providers to do so. Not only do patients care, but they will health care “shop” to find providers who offer the convenience of online scheduling. Additionally, a recent Stericycle Communication Solutions survey highlighted that patient friendly scheduling (via patient engagement solutions that integrate both online and live human call options) drives overall patient satisfaction and access. Online scheduling options—and the patient engagement solutions that leverage them—allow for the level of customization that addresses language barriers, long wait times, and more to improve patient satisfaction.

Myth #6: Patient engagement is one-size-fits-all

Patient engagement is important, but it’s time to focus on patient activation. According to the CDC, patients with greater activation have better health outcomes. While patient activation is a subset of engagement, it requires patients to have the right tools, information, and confidence to adhere to their health care journey. With patient knowledge and comfort in managing their health varying, a one-size-fits all approach will leave some patients behind. Additionally, the pandemic had a dramatic impact on delayed care, with as many as 1 in 3 Americans skipping treatment due to fear of COVID-19 exposure. The effect of delayed care on early detection and intervention has had dire consequences for some patients and potentially caused preventable deaths.

It’s not enough to just implement a patient engagement solution. To increase patient activation, health care providers should focus on tailored outreach designed to meet patients where they are and improve their willingness and ability to take actions to manage their health. Choose a solution that allows you to personalize content, context, cadence, and channel. Then build a prescriptive outreach plan that empowers patients and encourages activation. Offer education sessions and other classes to improve health literacy, make it easy to connect for information by offering support in multiple channels, communicate frequently with health and practice information, and make engagement convenient and easy.

Health organizations that drag their heels on patient engagement will find it difficult to retain patients against their more tech-friendly health care competitors and the big technology companies making forays into the health care sector. Big box retailers and tech giants have an edge in the engagement, personalization, and convenience departments, making them formidable opponents when it comes to giving patients what they want.

Health system executives would be wise to dismiss these 6 myths and find the right patient engagement partner for them to get started now, because their patients aren’t going to wait. Patients are ready to engage meaningfully in their care—they just need the invitation and clear access point to do so. With modern patient engagement solutions, it’s easy for health systems and providers to extend that invitation before someone else does.