What Can Patient Engagement Software Do for You?


Mobile apps can push alerts to your patient that are easily accessed with the touch of a finger.

Your everyday focus is to improve patients’ lives through superior care while providing an experience that’s as pleasant and safe as possible. But what about engaging patients through an entire episode of care — before and after the day of surgery, when they’re not at your facility — and beyond? Enter the rapidly expanding universe of patient engagement software and apps. When implemented properly, these systems can improve patient outcomes, create stronger bonds between you and your patients, save time and improve your bottom line. As we shift to value-based episodes of care and bundled payments, clinically and cost- effective digital engagement will become even more important.

With patient engagement software and apps, your patients gain a handy tool that can enable them to take more proactive control and ownership over their health while feeling more connected to your facility. The episode of care becomes even more collaborative and personalized between patient and provider.

“Many times, patients see themselves as patients only when they’re with us, and when they leave, they see themselves as everyone else, just a human being,” says Neil Gomes, BSc, MBA, MMS, MEd, chief digital officer and executive vice president for technology innovation and consumer experience with Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health in Philadelphia, Pa., which has both internally developed apps and worked with third parties to enhance the patient experience. The goal is to bind the patient, their continued well-being, and their providers on a continuous basis — for life, essentially. But patients and staff “have to see the value in it, or they won’t use it,” notes Mr. Gomes.

There are many patient engagement platforms out there promising to manage various aspects of the patient-provider relationship — and freeing up staff to do more important things than taking and making patient phone calls. Chances are, there’s a product or platform with the right cost-to-features mix for your facility.

Beyond the portal

EASING CONCERNS The EASE app enables surgeons to send video messages to friends and family of the patient straight from the OR after the surgery.

The most common example of patient engagement software in the field right now is the web portal, where the patient logs on and looks up test results, discharge summaries and other information specific to their health. Portals can offer patients the ability to securely message clinicians, request prescription refills, schedule appointments, fill out forms, access educational materials — even pay their bills.

The problem, though, is that the patient needs to make a conscious decision to visit and log on to the website. Portals are usually good resources for patients, but in terms of patient engagement, much more consistent, ongoing communication is possible, particularly via mobile apps that can push alerts to the patient and always be easily accessed with the touch of a finger. That more lively communication can get patients even more engaged with their health and your practice. An app can guide patients through an entire episode of care, sending reminders of upcoming appointments, when it’s time to take medications, how to prepare for surgery, do their rehab and much more. An app might connect to a wearable device that sends rehab data back to a monitoring physician. The patient might enjoy the ability to chat with or message a clinician straight from their phone. Of course, privacy and HIPPA compliance are mandatory; these safeguards should absolutely be baked into the patient engagement software you choose.

Patient engagement technology can provide the following functions:

  • Filling out preadmission forms. No patient enjoys sitting in a waiting room, balancing a clipboard on their legs while their hand cramps up writing endless information on page after page of forms. Providing the patient with a tablet to fill all of that out might save them some aggravation, but that’s still wasted time in the facility. Using an app or website to fill out all of those forms beforehand is a convenience that patients will likely appreciate, especially when their minds are so heavily focused on their surgery the day they visit you.
  • Appointment reminders. Keep your schedule moving with automated patient reminders via text message, email, app alert or automated phone calls.
  • Direct communication. No more phone tag; apps can enable patients to directly and securely message surgeons and other clinicians. You might even introduce a telehealth component that might be useful for cutting down on unnecessary in-person pre-op or follow-up appointments with surgeons or care managers, especially for recovering patients who are weak or immobile. “The patient might say, it only took me 20 minutes to do this instead of spending 3 hours and taking a half day off,” says Mr. Gomes. “That’s a tremendous value proposition.” He adds that digital interactions can lower readmission rates because the patient’s health is more closely monitored, with more chances for interventions if something’s going wrong.
  • Pre- and post-op instructions. By digitally guiding the patient through — and monitoring — the entire episode of care, you can potentially improve patient compliance and outcomes. With an app, you could ping patients with alerts when they need to consume their pre-surgery nutrition drinks, do rehab exercises, take medications and more. You can provide information and education, even videos, about the surgery, rehab, the clinicians and more.
  • Patient-generated data. Any data you gather is valuable from clinical and marketing perspectives, as well as for negotiating with payers. With an app, you can facilitate and expand that data collection process. And patient satisfaction surveys can be filled out digitally at the patient’s convenience — no more mailings or phone calls. Mr. Gomes notes that patient-generated data will really explode when apps are paired with medical devices and monitors embedded in our bodies. He adds that it’s important to determine how all of the raw data flowing into your facility from patient engagement software can be turned into meaningful insights for clinicians. They don’t have the time or desire to perform raw data analysis.
  • Online bill payments. For patients paying their co-pays or deductibles, the ability to easily pay online can shorten and simplify your billing cycles.
  • Marketing beyond surgery. You don’t want patients to become repeat customers, but a patient might someday want to come to you for a different surgery, or to refer friends or family. In the for-profit world of American health care, patients are actually consumers who become customers of yours. In the broader business world, there’s an ever-increasing push by companies to use digital technology to foster more “sticky” relationships with their customers through deeper, ongoing engagement — to create “customers for life” who also serve as influencers that attract and refer friends and family to the business.
  • Competing in the competitive market of health care. When you’re digitally connected with patients, you have the ability to toot your horn about positive outcomes, the services you provide, what makes your facility the best, and provide news, information or other content (which you can also source from third parties) that might be of interest — even send birthday greetings. Patients can read or view all of this and even share it with others. Used judiciously, and always providing the ability for the patient to opt out of marketing communications, you can strengthen your bonds with the patient and the community that surrounds them. OSM

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