Implementing Effective Patient Engagement Programs

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The accountable care model attempts to fix healthcare in the U.S. by striving to meet the triple aim of lowering healthcare costs while improving population health and care quality. However, accountable care organizations cannot truly achieve the goals of the triple aim alone — they need the help of their patients. "At the end of the day, the only way to fix healthcare is by having patients play a key role," says Jordan Dolin, the founder and vice chairman of Emmi Solutions. "Patient engagement is critically important to the future of healthcare."

When patients are engaged and involved in their care, they tend to be healthier, more compliant with physician instructions and consume fewer healthcare resources in the long run. "Engaging patients in their care will bend the cost curve and improve outcomes," Mr. Dolin says.

Some ACOs take patient engagement to mean implementing simple solutions, such as appointment reminders and follow-up calls. However, successful, outcomes-driven patient engagement requires much more, according to Mr. Dolin. "At Emmi, we define patient engagement as imparting actionable information to patients, prompting them to take action and then measuring the impact is has." Here, he shares steps necessary to implement a patient engagement program that gets results.

Be all in

Many hospitals and health systems tout being patient-centered, but not all of the organizations live up to the sentiment, according to Mr. Dolin. "Implementing patient engagement projects is not easy because [they] involve cultural changes," he explains. Therefore, leadership buy-in is essential when it comes to being successful in patient engagement.

Supply information in a familiar way

Patient engagement involves providing information with patients on "their" terms, not bombarding them during a phone call or office visit. "Simply putting something in front of the patient isn't engaging them," Mr. Dolin says. "Engagement is presenting useful information in a way they understand it and will take action on it."

According to Mr. Dolin, one of the most effective ways to give patients information is through online interactive programs. Physicians can "prescribe" videos to patients that contain information related to their care, such as how to manage a chronic disease or steps to take prior to a procedure, which they can then access anywhere, on their schedule. Patients can also share the programs with friends and family members who may need to understand disease management or help the patient prepare for a procedure.

Use accessible technology

Technology is absolutely necessary when it comes to engaging patients, because it allows patients to easily access information on their terms. In that vein, any technology programs used in patient engagement must be accessible for all patients, regardless of platform or device. "Technology is at its best when it is ubiquitous and goes unnoticed," Mr. Dolin says. For instance, patients should be able to access programs on a computer, tablet or mobile device that run on any operating system. "Patients have become accustomed to getting the information they want, when and where it's convenient for them."

Measure the impact

Since the point of a patient engagement program is to drive positive outcomes, it is important to measure how the program is affecting patient health and the bottom line.

In an effective patient engagement program, organizations should be able to track program use on an individual patient level and leverage that information to see if certain patient populations, such as diabetics, are managing their care more effectively due to the program.

Results

Mr. Dolin has seen patient engagement programs achieve excellent results. Organizations have improved efficiency by lowering consult time, length of stay and appointment cancellations, all of which help keep costs down as well. Additionally, patient experience and satisfaction scores have increased due to outcomes-driven patient engagement programs.

Programs can also produce clinical improvements. "They have a documented ability to improve compliance with screenings," such as colonoscopies and mammograms, says Mr. Dolin.

Even though putting together and following through on a patient engagement program takes an investment of time, energy and money, it is a proven way to both improve care outcomes and lower costs — essential goals of an ACO.

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