Contributor: The Role of Patient Engagement in Creating Active Patients

As health care shifts reimbursement models from fee-for-service to value-based care, new terms and phrases have been surfacing across the industry. Two of the terms emerging with increased usage are “patient engagement” and an “active patient.” But what do they mean? And why are they important?

The business of health care has changed dramatically over the last 2 decades. For patients, the shift to higher-deductible plans has necessitated they take a more active role in their care—and they’re looking to their health care providers for convenient, self-service solutions to facilitate this new role. For health care organizations, the shift to value-based care comes with payer expectations of better health care outcomes and the rewards and penalties associated with specific metrics and performance.

The trends of patient-as-consumer and value-based care have been ongoing for some time and will continue to merge into the future. A consequence of these trends is our challenge of communicating about them in a way that is universally understood.

With the goal of improving the patient experience and health outcomes, health care organizations must align on the meanings of patient engagement and active patients. The 2 concepts go hand in hand and are crucial to communicating about the link between patient engagement, active patients, and how the concepts work together to achieve health care’s Quadruple Aim.

Defining patient engagement

A study published years ago in Patient Education and Counseling concluded that “patient engagement is both process and behavior and is shaped by the relationship between the patient and provider and the environment in which health care delivery takes place.”

Over the last decade, we’ve continued to understand and refine what it means to truly engage patients. Today, we can narrow that definition even further to include these learnings, which would look something like this: Patient engagement is an established communication pathway that connects patients to their providers with the goal of streamlining care and creating better health outcomes.

The key phrase in the definition proposed above is established communication pathway because it focuses on the exchange of information. It’s this 2-way exchange that is the basis for the relationship with the provider and empowers patients to have more control over their care.

It is also the exchange of information where the patient-as-consumer trend comes into play. Patients expect their health care providers to use modern, convenient communication pathways and tools such as patient portals and online scheduling.

Defining an active patient

As value-based care initiatives evolve and population health comes to the forefront, we’re hearing more about active patients.

The University of Rochester Medical Center defines an active patient as someone who “participates as a partner in their health care… They don’t make health care decisions on their own, but they’re in charge of the process. They schedule appropriate visits… (and) follow through on treatments and lifestyle changes.”

As with patient engagement, we can refine this definition even further based on our observations over the last few years to: An active patient is someone who uses technology to proactively manage their care, leading to better health and a higher quality of life.

Without technology, the effort required to be an active patient in today’s world can become a barrier to care. Following up on referrals, managing medication refills, and scheduling appointments are labor intensive and frustrating without digital tools.

Put simply, patient engagement technology is the key to active patients. When patients are constantly engaged, they lay the groundwork for better health outcomes and providers realize value-based care advantages.

Using patient engagement to create an active patient

Access to patient engagement tools increases the likelihood that patients will take the initiative in their continued care. Fortunately, today’s health care organizations have many patient engagement tools to choose from, and more will be available in the future.

A good foundation of patient engagement technology includes:

  • Patient portals: By giving patients direct access to their health records and history, they have transparent access to the information they need to participate in their care while achieving better outcomes.
  • Intake: Simplified intake solutions enable patients to check in and complete forms anywhere, anytime. This allows for a seamless check-in process while avoiding long waits, making a follow-up visit more attractive to busy patients.
  • Scheduling: Digital technology allows patients to conveniently secure a doctor’s appointment 24/7 at their convenience—at home, in between meetings at work, or while running errands—as well as schedule needed follow-ups for post visitations.
  • Notifications and reminders: To err is human, and in today’s busy lifestyle, patients will often miss an appointment or fail to fill prescriptions. A platform that can automate pre- and postvisit communication can help patients stay on top of their care and remain engaged.
  • Surveys: Feedback on care, effective treatment, and process evaluation helps improve operations and further engagement, providing an opportunity to enhance a patient’s experience and empower them to express opinions.

Patient engagement, active patients, and the Quadruple Aim

Technology is the key to patient engagement, active patients, and realizing the promise of the Quadruple Aim. Sustained engagement with patients will ultimately be the catalyst for successful value-based care, and health care organizations have all the necessary tools at their disposal.

When health care agrees on standard definitions of patient engagement and active patients, communicating about moving forward with initiatives that benefit patients, providers, and the industry as a whole will be easier for everyone.