A patient engagement strategy involves defining and executing long-term goals related to improved patient care and outcomes.
A common strategic goal of healthcare organizations is ensuring patients are more informed and educated about their own care and wellness. More informed patients will have a deeper understanding of their condition & treatment options, make better decisions about their care, and communicate effectively with their clinical team.
Ideally, the approach to any strategic initiative should include the following five steps:
- Vision – your organization’s greater purpose
- Goals – stated goals to support the vision
- Timeline – a clearly defined time horizon
- Tactics – the planned means for achieving the goals
- Outcomes – measuring the success of the strategy
When implementing any strategy, it is essential to differentiate between 1) goals, 2) the means for achieving them (tactics), and 3) desired outcomes.
Progress toward desired results should be measurable. However, data-driven measurement is only possible in some cases.
Let’s look at each of the five steps in more detail.
A vision can be expressed as an overarching goal. A CEO or a team of executives often leads the development of a vision statement. Hypothetical vision statements are:
“To be the region’s most patient-centric health system through highly effective patient care, communication, and education.”
“To serve our patients better, through higher quality care and easier member access to health information.”
The goals are the articulated components that support the vision. Goals are often partial solutions to existing problems as opposed to panaceas. Here are some examples.
Increased prescription adherence
According to an article in U.S. Pharmacist, medication adherence for chronic conditions is approximately 50%, and “patient education and ongoing communication are critical for patient understanding and medication persistence.”
A related goal would be to increase prescription adherence for chronic conditions by a specific percentage.
Higher adoption of recommended lifestyle modifications
A study of 16,259 coronary heart disease patients, published on behalf of the European Society of Cardiology, found that only 29% of patients were on goal for smoking cessation, weight loss, and exercise recommendations.
An example goal in the lifestyle category is to increase the percentage of patients on goal for weight loss by X%.
Fewer unnecessary emergency department visits
As you know, there are costs to patients and your health system when patients unnecessarily visit the ED.
A stated goal may be for more patients to understand what constitutes an emergency and under what circumstances they only need to schedule an appointment.
Improved clinician empathy
While not easily measurable, provider empathy has received much attention as a patient engagement factor. The notion of clinical empathy is widely debated; one perspective is that providers can make patients feel more respected and validated through empathic concern.
The goal may be twofold: settle on an appropriate definition of empathy and then take actions such as clinician training.
There should always be a finite time horizon for achieving the goals of a strategic initiative.
This translates into how long it should take to achieve specified goals. For example, the time horizon for increasing prescription adherence by X% for chronic conditions could be two years.
Tactics are the means of achieving stated goals. A well-crafted set of strategic goals will drive the tactics needed to accomplish the goals.
Tactics of a patient engagement strategy often involve a combination of human and technology initiatives. Examples include:
- Build out more bi-directional communication channels
- Implement a medication management technology
- Create and distribute more online content about healthy lifestyle choices
- Upgrade call center operations and technology platforms
- Provide empathy training to clinicians
The measurable outcomes of a strategy can include patient outcomes and economic gains. Some outcomes are easier to measure than others.
- Improved prescription adherence
- Better patient lifestyle choices
- Fewer unnecessary emergency department visits
- Reduction in hospital readmissions
- Reduced morbidity rates
- Reduced cost of patient care
There should be a method for benchmarking and measuring improvement over time.
The approach to a patient engagement strategy will be unique to each healthcare organization. Following a step-by-step approach to a strategic plan will make desired outcomes easier to attain.