MedCity Influencers, Patient Engagement

Patient engagement: 5 items to consider before you select a platform

My experience working with dozens of health systems to implement patient engagement software has led to invaluable lessons learned.

Female doctor explaining reports on digital tablet to patient with nurse writing notes in background

As health systems increasingly seek out ways to improve the experience and inflect the outcomes of patients no matter where they are, patient engagement software platforms have flooded the market. Yes, the number of options can be overwhelming and, yes, if you haven’t identified a platform yet, now is the time to get started.

Data indicates that when health systems invest in patient engagement they can expect better patient adherence, improved patient experience scores, and fewer unexpected costs. Additionally, some patient engagement platforms offer the ability to collect a wide array of patient reported outcomes (PRO) data offering a simple way to maximize reimbursement under Alternative Payment Models (APMs) and the Merit-based Incentive Payment System (MIPS).

My experience working with dozens of health systems to implement patient engagement software has led to invaluable lessons that I’ve summarized below. Before embarking on your journey to address, improve, or increase patient engagement, take a step back and consider what our partners have learned along the way. As you move through your process, our customers recommend circling back to these every few months to stay focused.

Start with “Why?”

Before journeying too far down the path of possible platforms, consider your ‘Why.’ What is your primary reason for implementing  patient engagement software? Are you most interested in elevating patient experience and increasing your HCAHPS score or patient “likelihood to recommend” response rates? Or, perhaps your interest lies in completing improvement activities to maximize performance under MIPS. Once you’re crystal clear on your ‘Why,’ use it to shape the specific goals, objectives, and plans that will lead to success. Additionally, having a concrete ‘Why’ will allow you to communicate to stakeholders, team members, and clinical staff, gaining buy-in and alignment.

Alignment is key

You know your ‘Why’ and maybe you’ve begun to consider a plan for implementation. Now it’s time to gain alignment between care management, physicians, and operational leadership. If your key performance indicators (KPIs) are related to elevated patient experience and improved HCAHPS scores, who are the key players you need to bring to the table to agree on next steps and create a framework for implementation? If you’re looking to establish common ground, start by communicating a shared purpose, e.g. the patient. Discussions should focus on how a new platform can improve care management, elevate the patient experience, and automate care delivery, among other things.

In addition to alignment, it’s also ideal to have full commitment around strategy. What I mean here is that while piloting new programs can sound appealing to health systems, pilots often don’t serve the interests of your organization well. They encourage only half commitment, when you really need everyone aligned, engaged, and on board to achieve your goals.

In 2016, our client Froedtert Health went from contract signature to launch in 67 days. How did they do it? Well, the Director of the Joint Preservation and Replacement Program took ownership and managed the physicians and nurse navigators to gain alignment and consensus on the ideal patient experience and educational course. The IT project manager owned coordination of training and workflow discussions. Through a clear vision, sense of responsibility, and governance they achieved a go-live date in record time. Change can be enabled by your software partner, but it must be driven by your own leadership.

Focus on implementation first, then integration

Since you’ve made a significant investment in your electronic medical record, you’re likely to prefer that any new platform integrates with the technology you already have in place. However, IT resources are highly sought after in any health system, and focusing too many resources on integrating your new patient engagement software with your existing EMR may put a strain on your team and stall the implementation. In this case, it’s better to focus resources on implementation, and then address integration. Ensure that the platform you’ve selected is web-enabled for rapid implementation that is not dependent on immediate IT resources. But also ensure that it will integrate with your EMR, and create a second phase that centers on integration, once implementation is complete.

Preparation is paramount.

The notion that patients aren’t interested in engaging in their healthcare is pure fiction. The reality is that it’s been incredibly hard for patients to engage in their health up until very recently because they have lacked easy tools with which to engage. Most patients are eager to connect with their providers outside of the care setting and will do whatever it takes to get better quickly and return to normal life. For this reason, it’s imperative to be fully staffed and prepared for the level of activity that will likely follow once a platform is implemented.

So, how do you prepare for this? Well, since we know that 79 percent of patients’ questions or concerns can be addressed by non-physicians, re-allocate a portion of your staff that currently responds to inbound phone calls — which will be shifted to secure messaging within the platform — to serve as first responders. This staff can help triage questions, address patient front-line issues, and send concerns that are not in their scope of practice up the chain of command. This enables each of your clinical team members to practice at the top of their licenses and be more efficient.  Furthermore, asynchronous communication through the application is dramatically more efficient than traditional synchronous modalities such as “phone tag.”

Smart use of data = Improvement

Lastly, keep in mind that patient engagement isn’t a software solution you launch and walk away from—it requires active participation and presents an incredible opportunity for improvement. For example, from a sample of thousands of patients, we have found that 28 percent are at risk for developing blood clots post-operatively because they had either forgotten or had not appreciated the importance of ongoing prevention activities. Gentle reminders through tools like digital patient engagement platforms are invaluable in helping close silent gaps like this. With the right platform, you’ll gain access to real-time data allowing your system to actively iterate and optimize to improve both care pathways and the patient experience.

This post appears through the MedCity Influencers program. Anyone can publish their perspective on business and innovation in healthcare on MedCity News through MedCity Influencers. Click here to find out how.