News Feature | August 15, 2014

Is"Patient Engagement" Important To Your Healthcare Customers?

By Megan Williams, contributing writer

Patient Engagement For Healthcare Customers

“Patient Engagement” is a big buzzword these days and can come in multiple forms, but too little is said about how to actually achieve it. From patient portals to patient loyalty programs — healthcare is seeing solutions similar to their cousins in the retail and banking sectors, all geared to incentivize patients in various ways to increase their consumption of healthcare. But do they work?

Patient Portals

On of the foundations of patient engagement and incentives is the patient portal. Healthcare IT Outcomes reported on the challenge of enticing patients to connect more and to do so more frequently, and cited the following problems:

  • Patients have no interest. Essentially, healthy patients are too busy enjoying their lives being healthy. They have no desire to tack on an extra trip to the doctor when they’re doing well.
  • Doctors have no interest. …and that’s not just the doctors, it’s their entire office. Many offices lack the support team needed to maintain loyalty programs.
  • Systems can be difficult to use. Systems are cumbersome and high maintenance. Much of this is because neither doctors nor patients are involved in their design, and even if they are, they’re there in disconnected ways.
  • Doctors and staff are using low quality solutions. These solutions cost money, so most providers end up defaulting to systems that are already around and entrenched in an old way of thinking.

Direct Reward Systems

Some systems of reward aren’t as covert as the portal. Some, like the My Health eSupport program covered in a 2014 study, offered rewards that were very similar to ones seen in other sectors. Unfortunately, the results of the study were not as encouraging as expected.

The study (available at the Journal Of Medical Internet Research) consisted of offering individuals enrollment in an Internet-based health intervention after they’d been assessed for their risk of heart attack and stroke. The program was free, self-guided, fully automated and provided encouragement and tips for lifestyle change. It delivered email messages at two-week intervals that were tailored to the participant’s stage of motivation and priority for changing their lifestyle.

As far as completion of an initial assessment was concerned, 51.38 percent of people enrolled (compared to 48.62 percent in the control group). Incentivizing patients to continue to use the program proved more difficult. Ongoing engagement was low in both groups and was found to not be influenced by rewards (older participants, female users, and people with modifiable risk factors did show progress in this area).

Other Approaches

For a Michigan hospital, targeting seniors has paid off. Their VIP (Very Important Patient) program targets their senior population and offers incentives like free valet parking, a concierge to help patients connect with doctors, physician access within 24 hours, and a 10 percent discount at the gift shop and on non-prescription drugs at the outpatient pharmacy. Other perks include health education seminars and a free, one-year membership in the hospital’s social activity program for seniors, according to Health Leaders Media. For the hospital, this has meant better lines of communications with patients, and new methods for cutting back on unnecessary ED visits and readmissions (which they’re sometimes penalized for).

Going Deeper

For insight into the four desires any patient will want fulfilled by a patient portal, take a look at our article, “What Should A Patient Portal Look Like?”