By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer
While many businesses long for a return to pre-COVID normal, savvy healthcare organizations and health systems embrace virtual and digital services that champion a patient engagement future that exceeds expectations in our new reality.
Has your business embraced virtual and digital patient experience trends, or are you still waiting for things to “get back to normal?”
Increased adoption of virtual and digital services combined with a rise in healthcare consumerism means patients aren’t waiting. They’re living a “new normal” and demanding frictionless access to care and the ability to engage with relevant, timely, educational content to make informed decisions about their health.
According to a 2021 survey by NextGen Healthcare, 83% of respondents believed patient engagement solutions played an essential role in organizational financial success and patient outcomes. Engaged patients are three times less likely to have unmet medical needs and twice as likely to seek prompt care than unengaged patients.
It’s time to attract a wider audience, increase engagement, and grow your business by implementing patient experience trends that cater to a “new normal” and promote engagement across all touchpoints.
In today’s blog post, I share:
- What patient engagement is,
- Why it matters,
- And nine patient engagement trends to watch in 2022.
What is Patient Engagement?
Patient engagement is sometimes defined as patients who are motivated to gather the information that allows them to take charge of their health and make healthcare decisions about their symptoms, illnesses, and treatment options.
However, I’d argue patient engagement also includes patients motivated to go beyond mere learning and instead take action in their own lives to make healthy lifestyle choices, prioritize wellness, and take advantage of preventive health services. Of course, hospitals and health systems are motivated to help patients achieve their best possible health (in part by insurance incentives) and out of hospitals or emergency rooms.
But, before we dive into patient engagement trends, there are two related terms I’d like to clarify:
- Patient-centric care says a patient’s specific health needs and desired health outcomes are the driving force behind all health care decisions. With patient-centric care, patients are not only partners in their clinical health but also their emotional, mental, spiritual, social, and financial health.
“The goal of [patient-centric care] is to bridge some disconnect or discordance between physicians and patients. [It] focuses on communication techniques like shared decision-making, building empathy and trust, practice efficiency, and adherence,” says Fasiha Haq, a global medical education leader at Eli Lilly and Company.
- Patient experience includes every online, offline, and in-person interaction a patient has with a health care system (from brand awareness, their first inquiry, and how they’re treated during the admissions process, to provider communication, overnight hospital experiences, aftercare services, and billing).
Success with “patient experience” is far deeper than just making patients happy. It’s about building the groundwork that keeps them motivated and engaged. My friend and leading authority on patient experience, Dr. Jim Merlino, notes, “Over the last ten years, the healthcare industry has advanced from an idea that the patient experience is about happiness and satisfaction to an understanding that it’s much more transformative than that. This is about how we deliver quality care.”
I’ve been a speaker, writer, and consultant in healthcare marketing for over two decades, long before these terms were commonplace. But even back when I started, many doctors and healthcare professionals wanted to enhance the customer buying journey, target disengaged patients, and motivate them to build the knowledge needed to manage their healthcare. This continues to be a challenge for populations in certain geographic locations, demographics, and those managing chronic disease.
A Deeper Look at Patient Engagement
Today, patient engagement has become increasingly important for all patients as healthcare shifts more readily into virtual care experiences, like telehealth and remote monitoring.
The good news is many younger patients are seeking out and engaging with digital resources to gain the knowledge needed to make informed decisions about their health.
In a recent blog post, I shared how healthcare consumerism has changed how hospitals and health systems market their products and services. Today’s patients have more access to comprehensive information about physicians, hospitals, and patient reviews than ever before. As a result, many are “shopping” for healthcare providers that meet their medical needs and prioritize a patient-first philosophy in line with other service sectors (e.g., retail, hospitality, eCommerce, etc.).
Better patient engagement comes with value-add patient experiences, like easy access to information, timely appointments, and high-quality communication with healthcare providers. It’s baked into every experience they have with your brand, whether intentional or not.
Understanding and emphasizing the importance of curating a positive patient experience is key to building more engaged patients and brand loyalty.
Brand loyalty improves brand recognition, allowing your health system, multilocation practice, or healthcare organization to increase market share and revenue.
Why Patient Engagement Matters?
Consumers in every sector expect more—and healthcare is no exception. Patients want more information to make educated decisions about their healthcare, more transparency regarding costs and options, more in-office amenities, more education and resources, and more open communication with providers. If your healthcare organization isn’t paying attention to patient engagement trends, your patients will shop around until they find one that does.
Which means you lose business.
Engage existing patients and attract new ones when you combine strong clinical outcomes with exceptional experiences for each touchpoint along the customer journey.
Healthcare organizations that keep pace with patient engagement trends and embrace change will stay on the leading edge of patient acquisition tactics and continue growing their businesses.
Most patients or caregivers are digital-centric and self-reliant with technology. In fact, 72% of Gen Xers (ages 41-56)—quickly becoming the dominant voice in healthcare as they care for themselves, their aging parents, and children—use internet resources like Healthgrades, Vitals, Google My Business, and even Facebook to research doctors and physicians.
Top 9 Patient Engagement Trends for 2022
Here are nine patient engagement future trends to watch:
1. Healthcare consumerism continues to reign.
As frequent digital interactions become the norm, out-of-pocket medical costs continue to rise, and patients use information and technology to make informed decisions, healthcare organizations must provide value and convenience. This means driving patient engagement and loyalty through increased access to high-value communications, price transparency, high-quality amenities, and robust online capabilities, such as:
a. A helpful website and local directory profiles
b. Educational content on your social media and blog
c. Easy, online appointment scheduling
d. Accessible and responsive physician-patient email communication
e. Secure, online access to medical records
f. Digital bill pay capabilities
g. And more
2. Health equity gets prioritized.
Organizations that integrate health equity into their core strategies, budgets, and business operations will lead the way in 2022. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has spotlighted the persistent and significant inequalities in health outcomes for various patient populations, geographic locations, communities, and individuals. This means healthcare organizations must prioritize health equity and address systemic barriers to access by partnering with patients and communities of color through more effective mechanisms, programs, and digital tools.
Common barriers include:
a. Access to health care
b. Health care quality
c. Patient education and empowerment
d. Health care infrastructure
e. Health care policy
f. Program administration
3. High-quality patient-physician communications have become the norm.
Today’s healthcare consumers expect deeper connections, including more accessible, responsive, and strategic physician-patient communications. As other industries prioritize on-demand customer service tools (e.g., live chat and social channels), robust website content, and personalized drip marketing tactics, healthcare organizations must also rise to meet these changing expectations. Here’s how you can get started:
a. Hire experienced healthcare writers to develop and post accurate website content consistently. This ensures your website ranks high on the Google search engine results page (SERP), attracting a wider audience and increasing thought leadership.
b. Start and manage your Google Business Profile to take up more space on Google’s SERP (increasing brand awareness), guide first impressions, and establish (and maintain) credibility.
c. Keep patients informed about new or important information with regular email and social media campaigns.
4. Mobile healthcare shapes the patient experience.
COVID-19 quickly changed how non-urgent healthcare was delivered and compelled innovative hospitals and health systems to adapt to new strategies, processes, and technologies, embracing mobile solutions like telehealth. Mobile devices like tablets and smartphones will continue empowering clinicians, enhancing patient care, and improving patient outcomes as more hospitals and health systems embrace available technologies and software programs. Here’s what to expect in 2022 and beyond:
a. Smart hospital rooms
Empower patients with bedside tablets that provide access to medical records, test results, treatment schedule, care team, hospital services (e.g., fresh linens, meals), lights, and thermostat. These tools improve patient engagement and education, allowing nurses to spend time answering informed, specific questions about a disease, condition, treatment, or procedure.
b. Hybrid care models support better accessibility
Remote patient monitoring, lower-care outpatient services, and telemedicine will continue transforming home healthcare. These patient-first, lower-cost experiences will continue paving the way toward greater health equity and accessibility.
5. Automation supports more engaging patient experiences.
The healthcare industry continues prioritizing automation and digital technologies to enhance the patient experience. From clinical trials and routine doctor visits to surgical procedures and rehabilitation, virtual health care and automated digital systems encourage deeper patient engagement with physicians and boost patient satisfaction across the care continuum. Here are just a few ways automation continues to reshape the patient experience:
a. Faster online appointment scheduling
b. Complete, consistent, and error-free digital health records
c. On-demand access to digital health records
d. More timely and accurate medical interventions
e. Faster physician response time
f. Automated record-keeping
6. Emphasis on physician-patient care collaboration continues.
As healthcare consumerism continues to nudge the industry into a more accessible future, physicians must encourage patient engagement and shared decision-making during each phase of their care journey:
e. Diagnostic testing
g. Post-surgical recovery or rehabilitation
h. Continued self-care
A 2017 study from the University of Oregon showed actively-engaged patients were nine times more likely to feel their treatment plans reflected their values, four and a half times more likely to tolerate side effects, and three times more likely to initiate a healthier diet.
7. Access to affordable patient care expands using real-time virtual diagnosis.
On-demand telehealth appointments are convenient, timely, and affordable—meaning they’re no longer an option but a must-have. Developing a robust virtual care network that’s easily accessible to remote care centers or patients in rural areas is essential for enabling providers to deliver more proactive care in lower-cost settings—further bridging the health equity gap.
8. Patient wellness improves with augmented reality.
The healthcare industry also leverages augmented reality devices and immersive VR technology to encourage patients’ engagement in next-generation fitness experiences and activities.
9. Robust retention strategies support deeper patient engagement
Providing improved access to care through mobile solutions, hybrid care models, automation, and other digital technologies helps healthcare organizations develop deeper patient relationships. Attract and retain patients with these retention strategies:
a. Provide outstanding care
b. Deliver personalized patient experiences
c. Build more automated processes
d. Respond to feedback positive and negative reviews quickly
e. Build patient trust
f. Stay on schedule to reduce wait times
g. Train your front-office medical staff
h. Provide effective, clear, and consistent communication
Whether you embraced virtual and digital resources at the start of the pandemic or temporarily altered your operations, it’s time to reexamine patient engagement trends and implement digitally connected, patient-centric, and virtual care experiences that promote engagement across all touchpoints.
Today’s patients are empowered, and they expect greater value, quality service, timely and convenient care, transparent information, and an excellent patient experience.
Organizations must embrace these changes and meet their patient’s expectations or risk losing them to the competition.