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How to Increase Patient Activation—4 Areas That Matter

Posted by Debra Zalvan on May 29, 2018 2:05:00 PM
Debra Zalvan
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When my daughter was 2 years old, she was diagnosed with a peanut allergy. At the office visit, the doctor told me, simply, “Avoid ethnic foods,” and scooted me out the door. I left—scared, anxious and thinking there had to be more information that I needed to know. I immediately searched Dr. Google for answers (and changed pediatricians).

Every interaction that patients have with their doctors, nurses and others in the hospital—whether in-person or online—makes an impression. Are you paying attention to what matters to ensure that your impression is a positive, long-lasting one?

The situation I described above happens all the time. One study shows that 72% of Americans search online for health information. And the information they find there may be unreliable or inconsistent with their physician’s recommendations.

Even when physicians do their best to provide patients with as much information as possible, there is often not enough time during a typical appointment to impart all of the knowledge and support patients need to confidently manage their care.

Let’s take a look at what the research shows about meaningfully engaging patients in a way that increases patient activation. We break down the research into four key areas that we believe are critical: Driving patient understanding, building trust, setting patient expectations and providing value-based care.

1. Driving patient recall

An oft-cited study of patients’ memory for medical information shows that patients forget 40%–80% of what they hear at the doctor’s office as soon as they walk out the door. And, nearly half the information remembered is remembered incorrectly.

Another study tested recall after one week. At that point, 51% of patients could not remember recommendations and treatment instructions their physician gave them without prompting. 

These studies highlight the need for patient participation during appointments and effective care reminders after they leave. Technology lets you do just that, by automating patients’ care reminders so that you know your instructions are being repeated and reinforced between visits.

2. Establishing your hospital as a trusted resource

Patients are looking to their healthcare providers for advice and are not finding it.

One national survey of new mothers found they were getting inconsistent advice or, in some cases, no information from their doctors and nurses about certain aspects of infant and child care. In general, most patients do not want to visit Dr. Google, but they will when they don’t get what they need from their doctors.

There is an opportunity here to position your hospital as THE trusted resource that patients want and need.

Give patients evidence-based health information, and do so regularly and in the way they can best access it. Patients today prefer email and text, hoping to integrate their healthcare management into their daily lives, in the same places (laptops, tablets and smartphones) where they manage everything else.

Digital access to care management information can give your hospital or practice an edge that encourages patients to choose you over competitors.

3. Setting patient expectations (to drive satisfaction)

Many aspects of the patient experience impact satisfaction, but one of the biggest factors—and one that your patient engagement efforts can influence easily—is how well you set patient expectations for surgery or other procedures.

One study found that patient preparedness has the biggest impact on satisfaction. 72% of patients who reported that they went into surgery with a good idea of what would come afterward also reported that they were extremely satisfied with their surgery results, and only 8% reported post-surgical problems.

In this same study, however, patients stated that setting expectations and increasing preparedness were the two areas that could use the most improvement—meaning they did not feel ready for their in-hospital experiences.

It’s easier to set patient expectations when you start early. Get to patients weeks or months before surgery— before anxiety sets in. No one will complain about receiving too much education or preparatory advice from their doctors.

4. Driving value-based care

What matters most to your hospital as a business is connecting with patients in a high-quality way that also improves your bottom line. That means providing the care that patients need and keeping costs down by reducing hospital readmissions, complications, unnecessary cancellations and ED visits.

Consider that hospital readmissions account for 1/3 of all U.S. healthcare spending, yet 15%–20% of readmissions are considered preventable. Research shows that simple things such as listening to patients can result in a 32% reduction in readmission.

Giving patients an easy way to feel connected to you outside the care setting helps them feel they will be heard if the need arises. That can be accomplished through a digital connection without barriers like passwords and apps to download.

So, when you’re thinking about how to activate patients, think about how to reinforce your care instructions outside the hospital or practice setting, and how people access health information in their daily lives.

Communicating with and educating patients digitally on their mobile devices is an effective way to strengthen the patient-provider relationship. Promoting recall, trust, expectation-setting and value will help you avoid situations where patients leave the office confused, scared, anxious and ready to replace you with Dr. Google.


Topics: Value-Based Care, Improving Patient Outcomes, Patient Engagement, Patient Experience, Healthcare Technology, healthcare marketing