James Dias, Founder & CEO of Wellbe discusses how he believes the term “patient engagement” is headed towards passing its expiration date.
There is a point when a word or phrase becomes so overused, generalized and convoluted that it essentially becomes meaningless to its audience. For example, here are the 9 most overused corporate buzzwords and clichés (think outside the box, win-win, team player, etc.) I believe the term “patient engagement” is headed towards passing its expiration date and becoming stale (if it’s not there already).
John Sharp wrote in March on the HIMSS blog that patient engagement was “The Blockbuster of HIMSS14.” Jan Oldenburg, patient engagement strategist, wrote in her blog that “HIMSS 2014 was the year that Patient Engagement finally reached mainstream status at HIMSS, both in the education track and on the show floor.”
I agree that the phrase was heard and seen everywhere, printed on every booth display, promoted heavily in the agenda, and used in every pitch to investors and providers alike. The big EMRs trumpeted that they can do patient engagement. Meanwhile, so did:
- the independent portal designers
- the patient survey providers
- the appointment reminder solutions
- the social media advertising agencies
- the customer service call centers
- the printed patient education publishers
- the video streaming services
- the website programmers
- the mobile app makers
- the telehealth service providers
Patient engagement as a phrase is starting to get as tired as “meaningful use,” but at least the latter has government regulation to back it up. Now that “patient engagement” has been determined as a buzzword, it’s a free-for-all for every company to paste on their advertisements and to try and increase their website’s search engine optimization for this keyword.
Is it all patient engagement… or is any of it patient engagement? How do providers determine if the tools listed above will really lead to the definition of patient engagement as given by the Center for Health Affairs: “Actions individuals must take to obtain the greatest benefit from the health care services available to them”?
Let’s drop the buzzwords and the clichés and get down to it… Instead of “patient engagement,” let’s just call it help. How is this solution going to help the patient? If providers come at their patient engagement strategies from their patients’ point of view rather than their own preferences or the vendor promises that are sold to them, the true outcomes they are seeking are more likely to be realized.
The first key to success is to flip the provider point of view. Don’t ask, “How can we get patients to do what we want?” Getting the participation you need will not come by trying to force patients to interact with you. When it comes to engagement, patients always want to know, “What’s in it for me?” So, here are the questions you should be asking instead:
- What kind of help do my patients want?
- How/when/where do they want this help to be provided?
- How do I make it as easy as possible for them to get the help they need?
Here are four themes that are likely to come back in the patients’ responses to these questions:
- Make it convenient for me to interact with you how and when I want to
For some people, it’s all about removing the middleman. Let me message my doctor directly by email. Let me access the information I need online. For others, they like the comfort of being able to call and speak to an expert when help is needed. Be sure you are catering to the needs of both audiences with multi-channel engagement.
- Extend connections beyond the clinic or hospital
A 15-minute appointment with you once every six months is unlikely to keep me on track. I need ongoing guidance to follow my care plan once I’m at home on my own. Even if check-ins are automated by text, phone or email, it shows that you care and are still thinking of me. Let me link to support from caregivers or other patients like me when you are not around.
- Give me the tools, resources and support I need to be successful
A folder full of paper is not enough. Instead, break down information into easily digestible pieces of information. And make the information actionable so I know what to do with it. If I don’t understand something, I’m not going to do it. Some people are text learners, others respond better to video or audio. Can you offer both?
- Treat me like an unique individual
No one likes to be just one of the masses. How can you customize the patient experience to make me feel like a valued individual? This will strengthen our patient-provider relationship and increase the likelihood that I will follow your plan of care. Use my name, and please don’t make me repeat myself multiple times, whether in filling out paperwork or in conversation.
Oldenburg, primary editor of HIMSS’ Engage! Transforming Healthcare through Digital Patient Engagement, says, “Patient engagement is a long-term journey and a new way of doing business, rather than a destination with an end point. The most important part is taking the first step, and providers should pick a starting point from which to begin.”
Use the four themes as a litmus test for any solution you’re investigating. If a patient engagement solution can provide benefits in the areas above, you will know you are on the right track. If it provides real value from a patient point of view, the patients will be more likely to adopt any technology needed and use the tools provided to better their health. If it doesn’t align with their needs, you’ll find out quickly and be seeking a new solution.
With the momentum as seen at HIMSS, it is likely “patient engagement” will continue to be used as a buzzword in the healthcare arena for some time going forward. Hopefully the industry will start to sort itself out and figure out what truly qualifies as patient engagement and what doesn’t fit in this category.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Is “patient engagement” overused? Where can we go with it from here?
James Dias is the Founder & CEO at Wellbe where he leads innovations program to empower people and providers with new tools to improve health. He is also the co-inventor of the Patient Guidance System.