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Updated Apr 08, 2024

Patient Engagement and How to Improve It

A high level of patient engagement can lead to better healthcare outcomes and a more successful practice.

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Carlos Soto, Contributing Writer
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This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

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How patients engage with their healthcare is changing, largely due to the advent of medical software solutions and their ability to streamline secure communication between healthcare providers and patients. High levels of patient engagement can improve healthcare outcomes and keep practices functioning smoothly. When patients are engaged, their information stays current, reducing the need for staff to ensure accuracy. This guide offers everything you need to know about patient engagement in modern healthcare.

What is patient engagement?

Patient engagement is the process patients undergo to proactively participate in their own healthcare and within the healthcare system. The Center for Advancing Health reinforces this view by expanding the definition to include individuals’ actions to gain the most benefit from a healthcare provider or healthcare services. A study published in the Journal of Patient Experience deepens this definition by looking at patient engagement as patient activation, a process in which healthcare organizations play an active role.

Specifically, the study states that patient activation – which it defines as an underlying urgency to monitor and proactively take measures to manage one’s holistic well-being – can also be seen as a push toward a deeper level of involvement that only occurs when a person understands their importance in the care process. The same analysis also discusses the importance of understanding patient perspectives to improve patient participation in the healthcare system.

FYIDid you know
The best medical software can help you improve patient engagement by introducing patient portals and secure messaging between patient and provider.

Why patient engagement is important

Patient engagement is an essential aspect of quality healthcare for the following reasons:

  • Patient engagement reduces healthcare costs. Research shows that patient engagement may reduce costs. An often-cited New England Healthcare Institute study estimates the potential savings at over $290 billion in the U.S. 
  • Patient engagement improves the quality of care. Active participation in the healthcare process can improve patient outcomes and possibly extend lives. When patients are actively engaged in their healthcare journey, they become more informed about their conditions, treatment options and self-care strategies. When involved in their healthcare decisions, they’re more likely to share their perspectives, experiences and preferences. Their providers can use this information to offer personalized care.
  • Patient engagement optimizes healthcare resource usage. As noted in the Journal of Patient Experience study, implementing patient engagement solutions, such as telehealth services and remote patient monitoring, enhances patients’ overall well-being. These enhancements can decrease readmissions, the utilization of emergency department services and the overall strain on the healthcare system.

How can healthcare providers improve communication?

When exploring patient engagement, the focus is often on the measures healthcare professionals take to deepen their involvement with patients. Yet effective patient engagement requires a shift in how healthcare professionals understand and approach the patient process and experience. Communication is key.

Consider the following ways healthcare providers can improve communication:

  • Involve patients in decisions. Effective patient engagement involves reassessing the decision-making approach and general attitude toward healthcare systems. Providers can improve communication by involving patients in their healthcare decisions and focusing on sharing clear, straightforward information to better inform their choices.
  • Seek to understand patient perspectives. The Journal of Patient Experience researchers found that it’s crucial to ensure patient perspectives are at the forefront of healthcare decisions. Providers should look to patients for a foundational understanding of their experiences, preferences, values and priorities. They must also try to identify any barriers or challenges patients may face in accessing or receiving care.
  • Confirm patients’ understanding of procedures. A study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that 22.4 percent of patients took a mostly passive approach to medical decision-making. The researchers noted that, in most cases, when a physician believes a patient has received adequate information about treatment, the patient does not feel they are well informed enough to make decisions about their treatment. Connecting with patients and asking about their understanding of treatments and procedures helps them feel included in decisions.
  • Simplify healthcare information. The above study points out the need for providers to educate patients and explain their options and procedures in simple terms. Physicians must take great care to clearly explain patients’ medical conditions, treatment options, and the potential risks and benefits of their choices. This approach ensures that patients are not passive bystanders in their care.

Achieving effective patient engagement can pose significant challenges, responsibilities and risks for healthcare providers. Still, driving higher proactivity is well worth the trouble.

Explain patient charts thoroughly when possible, highlighting the most relevant sections in clear, straightforward language.

Strategies to improve patient engagement

Several key risk management strategies can improve patient engagement:

1. Create a welcoming environment. 

Begin patient engagement by providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for patients and their family members. Try to imagine where the patient is coming from and what they feel like at the moment of care, and use empathy in your approach. 

2. Educate patients about their healthcare.

Clinicians and doctors should assume all patients need a better understanding of the information shared with them – especially as it pertains to maintaining and improving their health. Within this approach, it is essential to use plain language and easy-to-read fonts in documentation. 

3. Encourage self-service and tech tools.

Encourage patients to use the patient portal to view their lab results and send additional information about their medication via a secure inbox. This accessibility can empower patients to become more engaged with their health care.

Additional tech tools that can boost patient engagement include the following:

  • Health tech: Access to easy-to-use EMR and EHR tools, including patient apps and information resources, drives interest and communication. 
  • Secure messaging: Additionally, email and secure messaging options promote communication between patients and providers and can boost patient interest in treatments.

4. Encourage peer support resources.

When facing health challenges, patients can feel overwhelmed. Introducing a support group provides additional information and support by connecting them with those who have firsthand experience with their condition. It’s important to provide access to both online and local, face-to-face support groups. 

Did You Know?Did you know
You can better understand the most common issues affecting your patients if you maintain thorough records of their patient demographics.

5. Use images and charts when communicating with patients.

Clinicians and healthcare professionals should strive to use visual aids whenever possible. Diagrams, images, pictures and even videos can help make complex concepts easier to understand. Once these visual aids are leveraged – specifically in the decision-making process – patients can more easily work with their family members and doctors to choose the best treatment options. 

Some medical software makes it incredibly easy to share visual images of lab results, health trends over time and more with patients. These platforms can also make visual information readily available in patient charts and notes. For a closer look at medical software that includes visual tools, consider our DrChrono review, our AdvancedMD review and our athenahealth review.

A better healthcare environment and patient experience

The swell toward advancing patient engagement may sound fairly straightforward, but digging deeper highlights the challenges that remain. Yet providers, healthcare professionals and patients are more satisfied with their healthcare once they are all aligned on the risks and benefits of their treatment options and decisions. Leveraging the tools and tactics we mentioned can drive patient engagement, helping patients feel that you understand their needs and preferences.

Shayna Waltower contributed to this article.

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Carlos Soto, Contributing Writer
After an award winning career as a technology writer with the Washington Post Company, Carlos received his MBA from Rice University and graduated from the prestigious Bank of America/Merrill Lynch Executive Leadership Program, as Vice President within Global Technology and Operations. Throughout his executive career, Carlos has led initiatives geared towards integrating customer facing and employee facing technology solutions within finance, oil and gas and the high tech sectors.
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