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How to keep patients engaged in their healthcare journey

Better patient engagement requires a patient-centric approach. Develop yours with an active strategy to remove barriers, support engagement, and maintain it over time.

two healthcare professionals, one in a wheelchair and one standing, brainstorming how to boost patient engagement

At a Glance

  • Modern patient engagement extends beyond the exam room to include online accessibility and billing.
  • Barriers like inconvenient systems and language gaps hinder patient engagement.
  • Effective strategies for sustaining engagement include communication, shared decision-making, and technology.

Independent practice patients are increasingly taking charge of their own healthcare journeys. A recent study found that 61% of patients seek active doctor involvement as they pursue a clean bill of health. As a healthcare provider, your efforts will directly influence your patients' participation. To increase patient engagement at your practice, here are some ways to help you develop a plan to keep patients actively involved in their healthcare. 

We explore how healthcare providers and practice managers can encourage patients to be active in their own care. Once you understand factors that may prevent patients from being proactive, you can address the problem at its source and deliver the best patient care.

Identifying patient engagement factors

If you’ve been practicing for a while, you’ve likely noticed how patient engagement has changed in recent years. Patient engagement used to refer to the relationship you formed with your patients while in the examination room, but modern patient engagement is more all-encompassing. 

At its core, patient engagement is how likely your patients are to schedule appointments, seek preventative care, and participate in their health.

To increase patient engagement at your practice, develop a thorough strategy to keep patients actively involved in their healthcare. ”

Modern healthcare providers consider the patient experience more holistically in these ways:

  • How patients find your practice online 
  • What is the intake process from the patients' perspective 
  • How easily can patients access their medical information online 
  • Whether your chosen patient portal is intuitive
  • How easy it is to pay their bill

These factors form a patient journey that can be incredibly convenient or cumbersome. 

Engaged patients are crucial to any practice. It's important to ensure that a patient you see on one occasion will return. Patients who trust your services and take initiative for their care are the backbone of any successful practice. 

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Barriers to good patient engagement

Many practices find that inconvenient or outdated systems are the culprit for low patient engagement. If you have an excellent bedside manner, but your patient-facing billing software is challenging to navigate, your patients will have a negative experience. 

Common barriers to patient engagement

1. Awareness and education about healthcare. Your patients may need help understanding what their insurance covers or how to see their projected co-pay. Offer resources available to patients and guide them through processes with which they may not be familiar.

2. Communication issues. If you serve a Spanish-speaking populace, but most of your team is English-speaking, it will be difficult to care for your. It’s crucial to have access to interpreters and translators and to hire a multilingual staff whenever possible. 

3. Patient lifestyle. Patients may have stresses and circumstances preventing them from engaging in their healthcare journeys. They may have children, work the night shift, care for relatives, or have a demanding schedule, leaving very little time for proactive healthcare. You can help mitigate these barriers to care by providing them with flexible options that help meet their busy lifestyle. Offering telehealth consultations, a robust patient portal, and communicating asynchronously can make your services more convenient to busy patients. 

4. Patient finances. In the United States, healthcare costs can directly affect patient finances. You may have patients who are uninsured and unable to afford their co-pays. Others may be underinsured or require expensive treatment that they just can’t afford right now. Being able to offer flexibility at the billing stage can ensure that patients return all the same. 

Proven strategies to keep patients engaged

Even with the multitude of potential barriers to patient engagement, there are some valuable ways to boost patient involvement. Keeping patients active in their healthcare journey is a team effort, and you can train your staff to consider these strategies as best practices.

Enhance communication

Effective communication forms the cornerstone of patient engagement. By fostering active listening and displaying empathy, you create a foundation of trust that encourages patients to discuss their concerns. Coach each staff member on patient communication and emphasize empathy, compassion, and conciseness. 

Provide patient education

Knowledgeable patients are more likely to participate in their health and well-being actively. Take the time to give your patients guidance about their healthcare, especially if they have an upcoming major surgery or other treatment plan. Some patients may hesitate to seek necessary medical care out of fear or lack of understanding. Empowering them with knowledge makes it more feasible for them to get the treatment they need. 

Also, freely talk with your patients about information they may come across online. More patients than ever are doing their own research about medical conditions, and you must dig into precisely what they are reading online in order to address it. You have the power to stop misinformation before it spreads. 

Shared decision making

Your patients understand their own lives best, which makes patient involvement and collaboration in their medical care all the more important. 

If your patients feel they have autonomy in their medical care and aren’t simply following doctor’s orders, they are more likely to seek and return for treatment. Take into consideration your patient’s preferences, schedule, and responsibilities. Collaborating on your decisions for a patient’s care fosters a collaborative relationship where patients feel valued, ultimately boosting engagement and adherence to treatment plans.

Empowering self-care

Guiding patients towards self-empowerment is integral to sustained engagement. Set collaborative goals with your patients to encourage healthy habits outside of the exam room. Then make a point to check in on these goals at follow-up appointments. Each plan should be personalized to the patient’s needs; this way, they’ll know you’re putting their health first. 

Having a goal to achieve can be hugely motivating to some patients; when you can quantify their health goals, you turn a nebulous concept into something tangible. Teaching self-monitoring techniques enables patients to track their progress and promptly address any concerns. Moreover, promoting healthy lifestyle choices empowers patients to make daily decisions that positively impact their health, cultivating long-term engagement through proactive self-care. 

Use technology

Many of your patients expect to be able to communicate with your practice online in some way. This is why having an intuitive patient portal and a seamless digital billing program is vital — but there are many more ways to use modern tech in your practice. 

Online scheduling and messaging systems are a surefire way to get more patients. Eliminating the need for even a short phone call will make your practice more accessible and easy to reach. 

You can also integrate medical device tracking systems; some will even import the data to your patient portal software. This way, your patients can monitor their health and vitals in real time and know that you are doing the same. 

Also, offer telehealth and remote consultations. Your busy patients, those needing short-term care, or those traveling will all be grateful for the flexibility and will continue to return to your practice. One study suggests that over two-thirds of modern patients expect telehealth offerings from their PCP; therefore, implementing remote appointments is crucial if you want your practice to succeed. 

Build trust and relationships

Fostering trust is key to patient engagement. A supportive, non-judgmental environment that respects cultural diversity assures patients that you value their concerns, fostering a sense of belonging and open dialogue. Solid relationships encourage active participation in their care journey.

Feedback and follow-up

Many patients get lost in their busy lives and simply forget to schedule follow-up appointments. Be aware of this possibility, and implement follow-up and notification systems to remind your patients of their needs. You can do this by setting up automated voice messaging systems, text messaging systems, or reminders in your patient portal. 

Actively solicit patient feedback, as well. Use survey programs and online reviews to get candid feedback from your community, and then implement positive change in your practice accordingly. Demonstrating to your patients that you value their opinions and will act on the feedback you receive builds trust quickly. 

Cultivating and maintaining patient engagement

Patient engagement is a multifaceted endeavor that requires a patient-centered and empathetic approach. By embracing strategies that place your community at the center of your mission, healthcare providers and practice managers can effectively cultivate and maintain high levels of patient engagement.

Engaged patients are the most likely to keep making appointments and send referrals your way; hence, taking care of your patients’ wellness journey means they will take care of your private practices’ journey, too.

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Jean Lee, managing editor at The Intake

Jean Lee is a content expert with years of journalism and marketing experience — along with a constant passion to help and engage others through storytelling. She is the managing editor at The Intake, and is excited to support independent practices with content, insights, and resources that help them thrive.

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