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    Jim Higgins
    Jim Higgins

    Patient engagement is one of the hottest topics in practice management, but it is also one of the most perplexing.

    While physicians are well aware of the benefits of engaging patients — better outcomes, fewer missed visits and subsequent revenue losses, and higher retention, to name a few — providers are still missing the mark when it comes to actually engaging them. In fact, less than half of all healthcare providers polled in one recent study characterized their patients as “highly engaged.”

    Patient engagement will become more important in the future as regulatory requirements evolve and practices deal with smaller margins, so there’s no time like the present to ramp up efforts to connect with patients on a more frequent and personalized level. Doing so can improve patient-provider relationships, satisfaction levels and patient retention rates.

    The evolution of communication

    The first step to doing this is recognizing that as communications technology evolves, so do patient preferences.

    The recent Patient-Provider Relationship Study, which included interviews with more than 2,100 consumers ages 21 to 70, found some important generational insights when it comes to patients, their communication preferences and how they use technology to interact with their providers.

    Millennials, in their mid-20s to late 30s, are known for their high comfort level with all things digital. They seek convenience and are not afraid to switch practices if they don’t get it. In fact, 43% of millennials said they are at least somewhat likely to switch physicians in the next few years. Among the biggest factors they look for when choosing doctors are greater connectivity, online tools and texting capabilities.

    This positive sentiment around using technology to communicate with providers rings true for older generations as well: 72% of boomers consider text-based follow-up appointment reminders “very or extremely appealing” — about the same percentage as millennials.

    To stay relevant, practices should consider ways of adjusting to the communication expectations and preferences of the patient populations they serve. This includes looking at new ways to use health information technology and communications technology to reach and engage patients through patient relationship management (PRM).

    Finding new ways to engage patients

    To some practices, the idea of adapting to new ways of communication may seem overwhelming. When practice leaders take a fresh look at their patient population to better communicate with them, they should ask these questions:

    • What types of patients am I serving?
    • How do they want to be communicated with?
    • How well is my practice reaching its patients with outreach efforts?
    • What does my practice not have in the way of communication methods, and what effect is that having on the practice and the patients?

    As practices explore new ways to improve how they communicate with their patients, they should take a closer look at PRM strategies, which help providers personalize their communications with patients in a scalable, cost-effective way.

    One of the most visible examples of a PRM tool is actionable alerts, such as appointment reminders, delivered in the way most patients prefer (text or email). This delivery method, which is becoming increasingly common, allows patients to confirm appointments easily or add them to their smartphone calendars. This tactic helps to reach patients and limit no-shows more effectively.

    That said, PRM extends much more broadly, including email outreach via weekly, biweekly or monthly patient newsletters, email marketing campaigns and patient satisfaction surveys. Such an approach enables personalized outreach efforts to ensure patients feel their providers are true stakeholders in their health and well-being. In helping practices personalize messaging and communications, PRM can help increase efficiencies while fostering a culture of openness and engagement.

    PRM in action

    Even as practices learn to change the overall approach to patient relationships, each has its own challenges and unique patient populations to consider. Successful practices will need to address these unique aspects when leveraging PRM tools to personalize communication.

    Take young, healthy millennials, for instance. For these patients, PRM tools can help a practice improve no-show rates through automated appointment reminders and help practices create visually appealing, timely and personalized messaging. A practice could use its PRM tool to create a monthly newsletter filled with educational resources and relevant announcements (e.g., reminders to get flu shots or instructions on using a portal to access lab results). Simultaneously, a practice can use the same PRM tool so that certain messaging (such as education about disease prevention or family planning) only reaches patients in a given age range. If practices send the right messages to the right patients in the right way, patients are more likely to pay attention.

    Similarly, PRM can help practices in addressing the needs of the sickest patients with chronic needs (such as those who qualify for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ Chronic Care Management Program) without overutilizing resources. PRM solutions can help providers do a better job of reaching these patients through targeted messaging and engagement tools, from digital appointment reminders and self-scheduling tools to educational email campaigns.

    However a provider chooses to use communications technology to improve patient engagement, it is important to remember that adapting to changing patient demographics and communication preferences is essential to providing more targeted and effective care.

    Engagement through PRM

    Using the right PRM strategies can help patients stay healthy, committed to and engaged with a practice, benefiting both physicians and patients alike. Promoting more personal and longer-lasting relationships with patients can help practices set themselves apart from other practices, partner with their patients for better outcomes and improve retention for a healthier bottom line.

    Jim Higgins

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    Jim Higgins

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