female patient in hospital bed with tablet
HealthMarch 24, 2022

Engaging patients at key decision points leads to better outcomes and efficiency

How do you empower patients to partner with providers in a healthcare setting and feel like active participants in their own healthcare journey?

This was the question posed by Shahid Shah, publisher and chief editor of medigy.com, at the start of a webinar on “Patients as Partners: Ensuring Your Health System Is a Partner Throughout the Patient Journey from Prevention to Recovery at Home.” The session, part of Google’s February 2022 HealthIMPACT Live Winter Forum event, focused on the results of multiple case studies conducted by the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB) Medical Center aimed at discovering if patient engagement programs could impact readmission rates, cancellations, overall scalability, staff efficiency, and patient empowerment.

Note: At the time of the webinar and UAB's provided testimonial, the UpToDate Patient Engagement solutions were called Emmi.

Understanding the patient journey

Emily Dumas, LICW, MPH, Manager of Care Transitions at UAB, presented her health system’s findings from three case studies based on UAB patients’ use of and response to Emmi® patient engagement solutions (renamed UpToDate® Patient Engagement as of March 2024).

Dumas explained that health education and outreach has a significant influence on patient adherence. By doing things like suggesting questions to raise with their provider, offering gentle reminders to schedule preventive care, and taking some of the mystery out of the process of an upcoming procedure, engagement programs help secure a patient’s “buy-in” as well as that of their loved ones and caregivers. It can also help them gain a clearer understanding of their “self-care journey,” which can result in better wellness overall. “We want the patient to think about why is this good for me? Why are they sending this to me?” she said. “We don’t want them to feel overwhelmed.”

Partnering with patients and closing gaps

UAB’s goal with its engagement programs is to “support, engage, activate, and ultimately partner with our patients,” Dumas said.

This is achieved through a multi-modal program featuring:

  • Phone calls to collect information, schedule appointments, and close gaps in care
  • Web-based programs to educate patients on conditions and procedures, support shared decision-making, and document educational pathways
  • A combined phone/Web approach to monitor post-discharge progress, coach patients on self-management, and identify risk to reduce readmission and lessen future lengths of stay
  • Program analytics to understand if engagement goals are being met

To illustrate the success of patient engagement strategies at UAB, Dumas discussed an issue the organization was having tracking flu vaccines: Since so many patients receive vaccinations outside of the hospital setting, it was difficult to maintain accurate records. In 2017, with over 54,000 patients showing incomplete flu shot records, UAB launched an outreach campaign to those patients. In less than three months, the health system had managed to update the vaccination status or get flu vaccines to over 13,000 of those patients. Dumas noted that the program continues annually and yields positive results.

She also detailed another outreach campaign launched for patients scheduled to have endoscopy or colonoscopy. Those who engaged with the programs to educate them on the procedures in advance had 75% lower cancellation rates than those who did not.

That educational outreach and engagement affected cancellations at that scale was “a very pleasant surprise,” Dumas told Shah.

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Engagement as a method to preserve resources

With limited resources and limited time for nursing staff to spend with each individual, how does a hospital effectively connect with post-discharge patients?

Dumas and her team at UAB studied patient engagement programming’s overall effect on scalability and efficiency. By employing interactive voice response (IVR) calling programs, Dumas said, UAB was able to save staff time and focus nurses’ efforts. The IVR calls were able to flag patients with issues needing follow-up, so instead of only spending 5.2% of their calls speaking to patients who needed their attention, nurses are now spending 100% of their calls on patients with issues, she explained. That saves UAB the equivalent of 1.5 full-time employees a year.

While Dumas’s case studies show tangible results that will result in cost savings for the health system, Shah posited that, “More important than [cost savings] is increase in trust the patients now have with UAB.”

Dumas agreed: “In providing them education in a more preventive way, we can better connect with patients … We are here for you throughout your care journey.”

There are many ways strategic, integrated patient engagement programs can impact a health system for better outcomes, Dumas explained. “These were just three examples of the power of engaging patients at key decision points for a better experience and outcomes. Our goal from a population health standpoint is to keep the patient well at home and prevent any unnecessary readmissions. We want to meet the patient where they are, where they’re at, wherever they need it.“

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