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Debunking 5 Tenacious Patient Engagement Myths

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Through effective and purposeful engagement, frontline caregivers are able to build meaningful relationships with patients, show them that they are seen and heard, and empower them with the information and education they need to be better stewards of their own health.

by Jeff Fuller

Effective patient engagement has long been a cornerstone of high-quality care, with studies stretching back years pointing to the link between engaged, health-literate patients and improved health outcomes. It’s simple math: patients that are more engaged in their health go to appointments, don’t miss screenings, are empowered to ask questions about their care, and stay loyal to their doctors and health systems. Enhanced clinical outcomes naturally follow.

Amid the shift to value-based care and the pivot into overdrive of healthcare consumerism, meanwhile, patient engagement has become a top-down, C-suite imperative. Amid increasing competition and an edge-of-burnout workforce, patient engagement and its transformative power to boost outcomes and experience is table stakes.

Until recently, however, patient engagement was often a manual, tedious, and archaic task that gobbled up valuable time from nurses and support staff that could otherwise be spent on actual patient care. Given its history, certain myths still persist around the practice, which we’re here to bust:

Myth #1: Patient engagement is no more than appointment scheduling and reminders
Appointment scheduling and reminders are integral elements of patient engagement. They reduce no-shows, save hospitals money, and keep patients on track with respect to screenings and preventive care. But patient engagement goes far beyond scheduling and reminders. Effective patient engagement that results in better outcomes requires continuity in engagement that makes it easy to maintain active participation in one’s own health. It spans the entire care continuum: from pre-care outreach to point-of-care rounding and surveys, to post-discharge outreach and family engagement, ensuring that the patient and everyone around them is on track with the plan of care.

Myth #2: Patient engagement isn’t an effective data play
While the EHR is the data powerhouse and central source of truth most hospitals primarily rely on, traditional EHRs can miss a lot when it comes to context. Effective, digitally empowered engagement gathers data that normally fall through the cracks of traditional data collection models, leveraging capabilities like conversational AI to learn patient preferences and histories to inform personalization in future encounters. On a macro scale, hospital leaders can also use engagement data to get faster insights than with traditional metrics like HCAHPS scores, enabling in-the-moment insight and action.

Myth #3: Patient engagement isn’t as important in rural communities
Rural hospitals continue to be squeezed on budget and staff, and serve patient populations that can be particularly at risk. Just like in urban at-risk communities, there are intricacies associated with engaging rural populations. Patients in rural areas are more likely to be elderly, experience poverty, have higher instances of chronic disease, and engage in poor health behaviors. At the same time, their access to technology is lower than that of urban and suburban populations. Given the risk factors, patient engagement remains critically important as a way to provide access and ease the barriers of engagement, but it must be dynamic and fluid, leveraging several different channels to reach patients effectively.

Myth #4: Patient engagement won’t help patient retention
In an era where some patients are drifting from traditional care models in favor of convenient and easily accessible digital models, hospitals who utilize engagement have been shown to improve patient retention. At the same time, they see higher rates of appointment scheduling, decreased no-shows, and higher levels of satisfaction, all of which factor into a patient’s decision to stay with a particular healthcare system.

Myth #5: Patient education exists apart from patient engagement
Engaged patients are healthier patients—so are educated ones. As time and resources among frontline staff grow thin, providers sometimes simply can’t spend all the time they’d like to with patients explaining conditions and care. That’s why documentation and digital communication is so important. Through effective engagement, providers can fill in the education gap, providing resources through post-discharge outreach or personalized voicemails describing plans of care, providing resources patients can reference, revisit, and use to build self-efficacy.

Healthcare leaders face unprecedented challenges in the wake of the pandemic: Staff burnout, never-before-seen competition from digital alternatives, and a wave of pandemic-induced deferred care. Hospitals need to leverage every tool they have at their disposal, but one of the most important ones is the oldest they have: familiarity and empathy. Through effective and purposeful engagement, frontline caregivers are able to build meaningful relationships with patients, show them that they are seen and heard, and empower them with the information and education they need to be better stewards of their own health.

This article originally appeared in MedCity News on December 21, 2022.

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