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Helsemars 17, 2022

A new paradigm for engaging patients

The switch to comprehensive digital patient engagement is accelerating. On the road to the new care experience, here’s what organizations should tackle first according to new studies and surveys.

Patients are reconsidering the role of the in-person visit as their first point of contact with their care team, and physicians are increasingly on board. A 2020 Accenture survey of 2,700 patients in six countries found that 60% want to use technology more frequently to communicate with their healthcare providers or manage their conditions remotely. Another 2021 survey by EY found that 83% of physicians are more comfortable using digital health technology today than prior to Covid-19.

In the white paper, Patient Partnership Maturity Model, our experts emphasize the need for education, engagement, and partnership efforts to be a strategic priority at the institutional level, and for health systems to look beyond the traditional physician-patient relationship when developing this strategy.

Now is the time for health systems to consider which digital-first encounters implemented during the pandemic will have a place in their long-term care delivery and patient engagement strategies.

Room for improvement on providers’ websites

As patients continue to seek alternatives to in-person encounters, hospitals and health systems’ websites take on added importance as a source of information, a way to schedule virtual visits, or a place to request medical records. A 2020 review of websites of 32 leading hospitals suggests that many organizations have room for improvement. Many sites direct patients to take action elsewhere, whether it’s downloading a telehealth app, faxing a records request, or completing a form to request an appointment. This creates a disjointed patient experience and can have a negative impact on overall satisfaction.

An opportunity for greater patient partnership

A 2021 literature review concluded that most health systems emphasized clinical consultations in their shift to virtual care during the first six months of the pandemic. This was understandable given the pressing need to see patients remotely, researchers noted, but it left little room for encounters that were more participatory in nature, such as working with patients to discuss and design new care pathways or engage in shared decision-making. The limitations of this experience can make care seem transactional — a clear obstacle to the larger goal of patient partnership.

Ongoing disparities in telehealth access

Many health systems have devoted time and resources to encouraging physicians to participate in telehealth, but these efforts alone may not be enough to reduce disparities in access. A 2021 review of video visits for the Massachusetts General Hospital Corrigan Minehan Heart Center found that providers who conducted more than 70% of visits over video were less likely to see patients who were Black, Hispanic, older, or covered by public insurance. In addition, patients seeing providers via video were more likely to be users of the system’s patient portal, suggesting that digital literacy affects access as much as racial, ethnic, age, and socioeconomic disparities. Researchers highlighted the importance of patient-focused design in efforts to increase access to telemedicine.

A vital role for health coaches

As the novel Sars-CoV-2 spread, it became clear that certain populations faced a higher risk of contracting Covid-19 due to social determinants of health, like socioeconomic status and age, as well as specific comorbidities like chronic diseases. Similar factors influenced the likelihood of individuals to receive Covid-19 vaccines, and they impacted the extent to which patients received adequate treatment for Covid-19.

A 2021 research paper highlighted the valuable role of health and wellness coaches in engaging with these populations, particularly due to the coaches’ trusted role in encouraging self-autonomy and independent decision-making while maintaining a non-judgmental tone. However, the author added, health systems need to take two additional steps to truly meet the long-term needs of these patient populations: Recruit health coaches from more diverse backgrounds and provide coaches with the skills and resources to address social determinants of health.

Learn how to empower patients to become active partners in an optimized care experience in our white paper, The Patient Maturity Model: Five steps to better care.

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