Why Patient Engagement Is Failing Us — and What You Should Do

By Rick Halton, VP of Product & Marketing

It’s a far too familiar story: A patient — let’s say, Sally — comes to a healthcare provider seeking treatment and ends up feeling frazzled and frustrated by the fragmented, uncoordinated care she receives.

Sally’s primary care doctor refers her to a specialist but leaves it up to her to contact them. The specialist orders some imaging, telling Sally to find an imaging center and make an appointment. During her imaging visit, she is asked to supply her specialist’s contact info to send the images over, which they fail to do, requiring her to follow-up.

Sally’s primary practice knows this should be better and is keen to cultivate better patient engagement. So, they’ve set up a digital front door through which Sally can chat with them. And Sally takes them up on it — with enthusiasm.

She has many questions: What should she do when it turns out the specialist has a three-month wait? Should she tell the imaging people to send the scans to the primary care doctor and the specialist? Will the doctor recommend the physical therapist that the specialist would like her to see?

For patient Sally, the experience of receiving this care feels like far too much work. She is coordinating appointments, directing information-sharing, vetting providers, and figuring out what to do when. She is engaging a lot, but most of it doesn’t feel empowering and confidence-boosting. Instead, being so much in control of the care process feeds her anxiety, making her need to reach out even more for reassurance.

Sally’s experience shows why 65% of patients say they feel like “general contractors” as they work to manage their care journey. And why 91% of healthcare executives see improving patient experience as their top priority.

This example also illustrates the most important lesson on patient engagement: good patient experience is about value, not volume. The volume of the engagement doesn’t matter; it’s the value of the experience that makes the difference.

Patients receive a highly valuable care experience when they feel they are proactively led through a coordinated journey. Patient engagement should be all about taking the load off providers by automating the care journey, reaching out to patients to tell them what they need to know, just at the right time. Proper engagement is not about helping patients ask providers more and more questions, but about ensuring patients have the correct information, appointments, services, and are clearly directed throughout the care process.

While healthcare is substantively different from most other industries, the customer-first orientation in other sectors is deeply relevant. For example, in the travel industry and the banking industry, companies don’t think about customer “engagement” — which suggests a series of fragments of communication — but about a customer’s end-to-end experience map. When traveling, the customer is conveniently guided through every mile of the journey, from buying their ticket to collecting luggage. When getting a mortgage, the bank’s team guides the customer through each step of the process, ensuring that appraisals and underwriting, and signing all occur when they need to.

Healthcare leaders are beginning to follow suit. There’s a significant, tangible value in making customers’ healthcare experience similar to their experience of travel. From improving access, ramping up patient volumes, retaining patients through to revenue optimization, a $5 billion health system could gain some $250–500 million in revenue by improving patient experience.

But the benefits go even further. Creating a proactively coordinated patient experience will help care teams as well. Their jobs are more focused and enjoyable when they aren’t scrambling to coordinate logistics, racing to put out fires, and on the back foot. Healthcare professionals are freed up to do what they do best — spend time with patients providing quality, in-person care. With the pandemic creating the potential for a massive staff shortage, valuable patient experiences will also help retain talented employees.

Find out how to build a connected experience that patients will love, by downloading Reimagining Patient experience: The Guide for Patient Access Leaders.