By Rick Halton, VP of Product & Marketing, Lumeon

As healthcare moves toward a consumer model, there’s much talk in the field today about how to increase patient engagement, as well as much misunderstanding about what that really means. Most health systems are not set up to embrace true patient engagement, but in many cases those leading institutions don’t realize they are insufficiently prepared.

Many people in healthcare conflate patient engagement with patient experience. They think of patient experience as something that only happens inside the institution, applicable once the patient arrives and ceasing when the patient leaves. However, patient experience is really the sum of all the interactions (or lack of interaction) a patient has across their care journey.

Discussion about patient engagement often centers on managing and sharing data, like electronic health records (EHRs), and doesn’t take other factors that influence the patient’s experience into account.

True Patient Engagement

In reality, true patient engagement starts before — sometimes well before — the patient enters the doors of the institution and continues long after they leave to recover. This requires digital tools that are able to account for the entire patient journey and connect teams in the common project of coordinating care. It requires communications capabilities that allow providers to easily keep in touch with patients, their other providers, and even their family members. And more than anything it requires a perspective that sees the patient as a partner in their own ongoing care.

With an almost obsessive focus on EHRs, leaders at healthcare institutions often believe they are modernizing their patient engagement capabilities when they are really only updating their data storage capacity and sophistication. Without instituting orchestration and taking ownership of the entire care process, health systems will quickly be overwhelmed when patient demands go unsatisfied by underdeveloped engagement efforts.

For progressive healthcare providers with ambitions to really deliver on the engagement demands of patients in an increasingly consumerized environment, there are 5 key steps to success.

1. Think of engagement broadly as first contact to full recovery and beyond

Empowered patients who are being encouraged in many ways to approach care as consumers require much higher levels of interaction with their providers. What the healthcare industry lacks to help respond to these new volumes of patient-initiated contact is an operational platform to better manage patient flow. The solution, in other words, is to provide an automated digital care plan that connects patients with providers along their entire care journey. Beyond this, engagement can be used to launch campaigns to remind patients to come back in for health checks, periodically screen them for health risks, or provide education and advice.

2. Take a platform approach that scales with your needs

Lumeon is helping make deeper and relevant engagement a reality through Care Pathway Management (CPM), a technology solution that designs, orchestrates and automates care pathways so that care is coordinated across all care settings, rather than in siloes. It means, for instance, that patients can be automatically guided from their online booking system to digital pre-appointment questionnaires, then sent personalized education materials and appointment reminders, followed by automated outcome tracking and recall after their appointment.

3. Ensure engagement is in sync with your patient data 

By taking real-time data from disparate systems and aligning it with the patient’s care journey, Lumeon is able to do what doctors have longed to achieve: ensure that every patient is following the right protocol at the right time, and in the case of variation, intervening to prevent problems before they get worse.

4. Automate and personalize engagement 

Automation is fundamentally changing the way we deliver the digital care experience, and by doing so is reducing appointment no-shows, facilitating appointment rebooking, helping monitor high-risk patients, tailoring care to preferences, preparing patients for appointments before, and following up afterwards.

5. Use engagement to ‘fast-track’ healthy patients 

Patient engagement via CPM also has many larger advantages for systems and for patients. CPM puts emphasis on the first point of contact, which is when a care provider can assess if an in-person appointment is required, decide which service is most relevant, and fast-track those healthy patients that have lower acuity or risk. CPM provides continuity in communication, helps patients maintain a relationship with providers over time, and allows providers to promote branded services.

With automated care pathway management in place, health systems can move from struggling to manage the operational demands of increased engagement to proactively driving exceptional engagement and experience, with the ultimate goal of providing better care.