Three ways physician groups can build success into a patient engagement center

Health care lags behind other industries when it comes to delivering a patient-centric experience. Change is on the way as patients’ out-of-pocket spending has increased — up 12% in 20181  — and so has their desire for easy access to care, scheduling convenience and a clear understanding of their responsibility throughout the care continuum.

A critical piece of this experience is a digital front door strategy that engages patients with technology they have already adopted for everyday use. A strong digital strategy does not hinge on a single solution but leverages a multi-channel approach to expand access and drive higher patient satisfaction.

If you want to stay competitive, your patient engagement center must centralize patient intake and outreach, elevate practice productivity with digital engagement and improve the timeliness of care delivery. There are three strategies that can help your engagement center stand out in a crowded field.

1. Start at the beginning: Create a centralized and consistent front door. 

A McKinsey’s Consumer Health Insights survey asked more than 3,000 health care consumers which criteria mattered most to them when choosing a primary care provider. Out of 20 options, respondents chose “appointment availability” and “appointment times that meet your needs” as the top two factors.2 Increasingly, leaders are turning to engagement center optimization that includes a single point of access phone number, centralized pod structures that handle all specialty scheduling inquiries and outbound calls, and improved staff scripting. 

Appointment scheduling is often the first impression a patient has of your practice, so a centralized strategy is critical. Well executed, centralized scheduling improves patient access and satisfaction on multiple fronts while boosting practice productivity and helping drive revenue. For a winning approach:

  • Establish group-wide goals and institute scheduling reforms across specialties
  • Reduce friction through technology investments, scheduling protocol changes and staff realignment 
  • Engage your physicians early to mitigate natural resistance to change, and address any concerns they may have about maintaining control of their own schedules and front-office relationships 
  • Utilize scheduling templates and standardization, including best practice appointment times and
    measures to prevent double-booking
  • Establish performance benchmarks specific to appointment fill rates and physician utilization

2. Make it modern: Apply technology and digital engagement outreach. 

Successful patient engagement is more than appointment convenience. In today’s digital age, it also means connecting through the latest technologies. While improving the consumer experience is a stated priority for many medical groups, few offer real-time self-service scheduling, accurate price estimation and two-way communications. Practices need a cultural shift to embrace new and innovative tools to learn more about their patients and deliver the information they need through the channels they prefer. A successful digital engagement approach:

  • Uses mobile-first access for routine tasks wherever possible
  • Offers two-way text communication to secure appointments, reschedule and make payments
  • Provides access to accurate cost-of-care estimates based on individual health plan coverage, deductibles and copays
  • Sends text reminders for appointments, payments, real-time office visit waits and missed wellness checks

3. Make it meaningful: Deliver a single touch point that can also help guide patients to the appropriate levels of care.

Being able to speak directly to a nurse or knowledgeable agent within seconds of placing a call builds trust and creates an opportunity to ensure patients the appropriate level of care — instead of escalating out of exasperation. 

Access to clinical care in a leading-edge engagement center doesn’t end with taking after-hours patient calls. Dedicated care management teams fill the gaps in each patient’s health journey by engaging them between office visits and ensuring preventive and chronic care appointments are not missed. This is especially meaningful to patients with multiple chronic conditions who see an average of 14 different physicians, fill 50 prescriptions and make 37 office visits annually.3 Patients and caregivers can become frustrated when they need assistance with complex care but can’t access the resources they need to make their lives more manageable. 

These questions can help determine your readiness for patient engagement center optimization:

  • Are your patients experiencing long hold times?
  • Do you have high patient no-show rates? 
  • Are your physicians experiencing burnout?
  • Do you have capital constraints that prevent investing in innovation?

Reimagining your patient engagement center is a big job, but you don’t have to undertake it all on your own. The right engagement center partnership takes a 360-degree view of operations to see the whole picture, pinpoint areas of improvement that can accelerate care access, improve physician and patient satisfaction, and drive financial performance.

For more information on how Optum helps physician groups provide their patients the care and access they need, please visit


  1. Out-of-pocket costs rising even as patients transition to lower cost settings of care. TransUnion Healthcare Analysis. June 25, 2019. Accessed March 31, 2020.
  2. Rao N, Foo L, Sutaria S MD. Revisiting the access imperative. McKinsey & Company. May 2018. Accessed March 31, 2020.
  3. Benjamin RM MD, MBA. Multiple chronic conditions: a public health challenge. U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. 2010 Sep–Oct;125(5):626–627. Accessed March 31, 2020.

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