10 Keys to Designing an Effective Patient Engagement Strategy

As part of the effort to encourage a more patient-centric care model, the federal government is implementing new Medicare reimbursement strategies that hold healthcare providers accountable for encouraging patient engagement in their care, both inside and outside hospital walls. Healthcare providers are therefore recognizing the need for solutions that effectively convert patients from passive bystanders into active participants in managing their health. Hospitals and health systems that desire to improve patient engagement should consider the following ten objectives and work to develop a strategy that successfully promotes care quality, safety and cost efficiencies.

1. Address patient engagement regulations.
Four federal programs (value-based purchasing, meaningful use of electronic records, avoidable hospital readmissions and the creation of accountable care organizations) will significantly impact hospitals through the use of Medicare penalties and incentives. In order to qualify for the incentives and avoid penalties, hospitals will have to go beyond simple "check-box" processes and employ new patient engagement strategies that actually work to improve outcomes and the overall patient experience.  

2. Leverage existing investments. A number of solutions are available to help hospitals meet their patient engagement goals, but many are cost-prohibitive. Hospitals should consider deploying a solution that allows them to leverage their existing investments (i.e., technology infrastructure and high-definition televisions) to deliver interactive tools, information and education to patients.

3. Define the patient's role. In order to effectively engage patients and their families, hospitals need to clearly communicate what their roles are, provide them with tools that facilitate collaboration and explain the benefits of participating in the care process.

4. Assess individual patient needs. As part of the admission process, hospitals should incorporate a brief needs assessment that captures baseline information critical to patient engagement. This survey tool can help determine a patient's health literacy, identify the need for assistive devices and alert the care team of any additional factors that may impact comprehension and, subsequently, clinical outcomes.

5. Tailor information to the individual. Hospitals should use information gleaned from a needs assessment to deliver information about a patient’s condition or hospital stay in a format they understand. The more relevant the information is to a patient's circumstances, the greater the probability that the information will be reviewed, remembered and acted upon.

6. Educate the patient. The more patients know about their conditions, what  treatment is needed (and why) and the consequences of not following instructions, the more likely it is that they will actively participate in their care, adhere to treatment plans and make healthy lifestyle decisions.

7. Grant control to patient. The care experience must be tailored to meet the individual needs of each patient. Some prefer to operate independently, with minimal non-essential interactions, while others expect frequent interactions with hospital staff. A patient engagement system can provide information and tools patients need to help manage their own experience. This flexibility and guidance helps reduce anxiety, makes them more comfortable interacting with their providers and encourages dialogue about health-related issues.

8. Deliver information at the right time. Research has shown that even under the best circumstances, patients forget half of what a physician tells them almost immediately. An effective patient engagement system provides easy-to-understand, conveniently accessed, relevant video content at appropriate times throughout a hospital stay. Following discharge, hospitals can maintain patient communication by delivering additional videos and information to a patient's smartphone, computer or Web-enabled TV.

9. Track patient comprehension. Quality, safety and financial improvements will result if patients understand the information and instructions they are given. Hospitals can easily ascertain whether individuals comprehend the educational content they watched through automatically triggered targeted questions. The tool can alert care team members if responses suggest a patient needs additional intervention prior to discharge.

10. Support care transitions. It is critical that hospitals educate patients about their inpatient treatment, but they also need to start preparing patients for discharge as soon as they are admitted. This gives patients — as well as their family caregivers — an opportunity to absorb information and ask questions while they are still hospitalized. A patient engagement system can not only assess an individual's readiness for discharge, but it can also capture patient-provided information during the hospital stay and document in the EMR, where it can be accessed by additional providers and the patients themselves throughout the care continuum.

Gary Kolbeck is president of LodgeNet Healthcare, the leading provider of integrated patient engagement solutions.

More Articles on Patient Engagement:

Survey Shows Wide Variation When Defining "Patient Engagement"
Patient Engagement's Critical Role in Post-Reform Success: 6 Steps to Improve Patient Centeredness

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