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3/17/2014
09:00 AM
Alison Diana
Alison Diana
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Engage Patients: 16 Creative Healthcare Strategies

Hospitals can go beyond Meaningful Use requirements to make patients happier and healthier and the bottom line better. Consider these ideas.
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(Source: Clear River/Flickr)
(Source: Clear River/Flickr)

Healthcare professionals on a quest to improve patient engagement solely to meet Meaningful Use mandates miss an opportunity to improve consumers' health and their bottom line in lots of other ways.

In 2013, the government began penalizing hospitals based on readmission rates. Penalties and the reasons for these fines will increase over the next few years. Value-based payments encourage providers to embrace patient engagement, too.

But government regulations can go only so far. The Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS), which includes 32 questions across nine areas of a patient's stay, standardizes consumer ratings of care. Patients respond on topics such as pain management, nurse communication, and doctor communication. Many patients are ignorant of why they're in the hospital, the reasons for their prescriptions, or underlying conditions such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol. People with chronic conditions take, on average, only half the prescribed dose of their medications, and 50% don't follow medical advice.

When medical professionals spend more time with patients, their health improves. When a doctor tells a patient to stop smoking, for instance, the patient is 30% more likely to do so. But chronic conditions account for 75% of healthcare costs, with obesity and diabetes dominating the medical landscape. Practitioners are hard pressed to find time for more tasks.

Web and mobile technologies are removing some of those time constraints from busy practices, automating tasks while creating a personal touch that improves patients' lives. Patients feel special and appreciated when they believe that they are being saved time or money, or that the hospital makes the effort to ensure their comfort. Some hospitals have a "no ignore" rule, for example, that mandates nobody passes a room with a nurse's light lit without going in to see what the patient wants. Anybody can grab an extra blanket or ice chips, and the patient is comforted by the immediate attention.

Communication is a critical component of engagement, whether it's during a hospital stay or with healthcare providers. In fact, 82% of consumers want access to medical records, 77% wish to book appointments online, 76% prefer to renew prescriptions electronically, and 74% would like to receive appointment reminders via email or text, a 2013 Accenture study found.

As a direct result of adopting electronic communications, several healthcare providers in the study saw engagement increase. Using surveys and anecdotal evidence, practices determined patients preferred email and online access to more traditional methods of communication. In addition, no-shows decreased, so offices could reschedule other patients or spend more time with those in the office.

Though the majority of consumers want to view their records electronically, only about one-third currently track their diet, exercise, or vitals using apps or personal health monitors. As more providers explore using these tools, especially among patients with chronic conditions, that number is expected to grow, especially if they are integrated with electronic health records or dashboards for easier review.

There are many ways to engage patients that can improve their health and help your medical establishment run more smoothly, too. Click through our slideshow for tips that range from providing patients with tablets to serving bilingual consumers.

Alison Diana has written about technology and business for more than 20 years. She was editor, contributors, at Internet Evolution; editor-in-chief of 21st Century IT; and managing editor, sections, at CRN. She has also written for eWeek, Baseline Magazine, Redmond Channel ... View Full Bio

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