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How to Use Digital Patient Engagement Tools

There are tons of digital patient engagement tools to choose from, but let's face it - their potential is often squandered. Correctly using these tools should always start with a clear, documented strategy.

A well-crafted patient engagement strategy from the bottom up will attract new patients, delight existing patients, foster meaningful patient-provider relationships, and improve healthcare outcomes. And given the challenges COVID-19 has created for clinics, hospitals, and pharmacies, solid engagement strategies are critical for patient health and safety.

In this post, we'll discuss:

What digital patient engagement is
How to use engagement tools correctly
Tips and tricks for patient engagement

But what makes for good digital patient engagement?

Most providers agree on at least one thing – the evidence shows that patients who are actively engaged in their healthcare see better outcomes. But what exactly is patient engagement and what does it look like?

Simply put, it’s patients and providers working together to improve health outcomes, reduce costs, and enhance the patient experience. Providers who craft patient engagement strategies share their knowledge, skills, and recommendations through targeted communications that promote healthy habits and inform good health decisions.

Not sure where to start? Here are five best practices for how to use digital patient engagement tools by developing a patient engagement strategy

1. Know your audience

No two patients are the same, but demographics can help you segment your audiences and tailor your communications to these groups. You can even determine how they prefer to be reached (for example, email, SMS texting, or phone calls), what time, or how often. (Tip: Segmenting an audience is also the foundation of how to get more patients.)

Examples of audiences include:

  • New patients
  • Existing patients who are actively engaged in their care
  • Patients who have recently had a new plan of care
  • Patients who are exploring additional care options, such as nutrition or weight loss programs

2. Provide relevant, timely information

Health-related news can be overwhelming. Providers can cut through this by providing their patients targeted, valuable healthcare information. Not only does this encourage patients to take a more active role in their healthcare, it establishes you as a trusted partner.

This communication could start with a simple welcome email or a note detailing how to prepare for the first appointment. Once the patient is established within your practice, send communications regarding trending healthcare topics, information about any changes or updates to your office, and appointment reminders. Providers can also benefit from sending surveys asking how the visit went and gauging interest in complementary care offerings.

3. Be the go-to resource

Many healthcare systems have online healthcare portals where patients can schedule appointments, refill prescriptions, or message providers. However, having a provider website, blog, or practice newsletter goes a long way to humanize the healthcare experience, while also serving as a useful resource for promoting health awareness.

Share information related to your care specialty, as well as topical healthcare information that is trending. For example, focus on the importance of preventive care (flu shots, anyone?); seasonal ailments, such as allergies; or the benefits of a balanced diet with recipes featuring produce that is in- season.

Not sure how to find trending information? Google alerts are an incredible, free way to start. Just enter topics of interest and you’ll get a daily digest of new content related to it. It’s literally endless inspiration for content.

Patients also trust and value reviews and feedback from others. After all, referrals are a popular method of patient acquisition! To encourage this, include testimonials and experiences from other patients on your website and in your direct patient communications. This can help build trust, engagement, and community within your practice.

4. Draw patients in through omni-channel outreach programs

Many people don’t go to the doctor unless they are prompted, which is why outreach programs are so important in patient engagement strategies. Educational outreach also helps to build your brand as a thought leader and go-to resource.

Outreach can be as simple as a reminder call, or as in-depth as a digital campaign. For example, you may plan an email campaign focused on flu shots and deliver a series of email reminders informing people when and where they are available. Include links to your website with information detailing the importance and benefits of flu shots, as well as the ease of getting one.

Outreach programs like this have resulted in measurable improvements in patient compliance, but don’t limit yourself to email. Outreach works best when it utilizes a variety of communication methods, such as email marketing, phone calls, and social media.

You can also meet patients through in-person community outreach. Hosting a meet-and-greet at a community center or library is a great way to share knowledge and invite questions in a comfortable, casual environment. Providers can speak on a topic related to their practice, focus on seasonal health tips, or discuss current healthcare news.

5. Ask for feedback

Patient satisfaction surveys, such as the Press Ganey, are often sent to patients after an office visit or a hospital stay. However, they can look and feel clinical, and patients may not feel their feedback is having a direct impact.

Sending patients a survey directly from your office gives you the opportunity to personalize this experience. You can include a note from your office staff or provider saying they appreciate the visit and ask what they can do to improve. What kind of additional information would patients like? What type of correspondence would they prefer? This demonstrates a true partnership with patients and a commitment to their health.

HIPAA compliant options like Formstack online form builder are a great place to start creating user friendly, responsive surveys.

Next Steps

Building a meaningful patient engagement strategy by correctly using the digital patient engagement tool may sound simple, but it’s not a one-and-done process. It requires a variety of communication methods (and a great healthcare platform) to help ensure patients receive the right information, when and where they need it. By offering relevant, consistent communication on a variety of platforms, providers can nurture patient engagement, reassuring patients that they have continual support and access to information only a tap, click, or phone call away.

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