Patient Engagement: A Tool to Improve Health Outcomes
A growing body of evidence shows that patient engagement is an essential element of healthcare—so much so that patient engagement was called “the blockbuster drug of the century” in the journal Health Affairs. In an international study spanning 11 industrialized countries, researchers found that countries where patients had higher levels of engagement consistently reported a higher quality of care, fewer medical errors, and greater levels of patient satisfaction than countries with less engaged patients.
Patient engagement describes the situation in which patients and their caregivers become active members of their healthcare teams. Regularly communicating with their providers throughout the care process enables patients to better manage their own health. Keep reading to learn more about patient engagement: what it looks like, how it works, and—most important—how to increase engagement in your own patients.
When patients communicate regularly with their healthcare team, they become better educated about their health and treatment options. It’s not just communicating more frequently, though: Greater patient engagement usually results in a higher degree of health information seeking, comprehension, and engagement by patients.
This is critically important because, with the increasing complexity of modern health care, many patients struggle to access and understand even basic health information. Even when patients receive detailed information about their healthcare provider, they are frequently overwhelmed or lack the confidence to make choices. In addition, many patients lack the health literacy required to process detailed information from their providers. As a result, they have difficulty following provider instructions.
Patient education is essential to generate patient engagement for tasks such as management of pre- and post-procedure care; chronic disease management; and increasing patient access to preventive care:
- Patient education post-procedure engages patients by helping them understand how to care for themselves when they return home; this helps reduce hospital readmissions
- Patient education pre-procedure engages patients by helping ensure they prepare correctly for their procedure; which helps prevent problems during the procedure itself
- In chronic disease management, patient engagement helps with improving patient self-management; this helps prevent adverse events
Patient education is key to maintaining patient engagement, because patients who are more knowledgeable about their conditions will achieve better health outcomes.
Patient autonomy, self-advocacy, and self-determination
Patient engagement also supports increased patient autonomy and self-advocacy. In part, this is because increasing patient engagement helps to establish a collaborative partnership between the patient and healthcare team, which can help the patient make better medical decisions. Patients gain a better understanding of the factors involved in making treatment decisions with increased engagement. This enables patients to become active participants in the decision-making process, so they can help select a medical treatment that considers their desires and values as well as clinical information.
Increased patient engagement also leads to increased patient self-determination, or the ability to make healthcare choices without compulsion, so that patients make more healthy behavior changes. This is because when patients are educated about their treatment options and take part in their care decisions, they become more invested in their own health. When patients know the reasoning behind their care plans and receive continuous feedback on their progress, this motivates them to follow their treatment plans more closely and take the necessary actions to improve their health. They become more accountable to both their care teams and themselves, which influences them to make better choices in their daily health decisions.
Highly engaged patients are more likely to:
- Maintain their treatment plans
- Track their health
- Ask their providers questions
These behaviors help prevent the patient’s illness from worsening and requiring more costly or invasive interventions, leading to better health outcomes overall.
One of the key tools providers use to encourage patient engagement is the patient portal. A patient portal is an online website connected to the electronic health record (EHR), structured to give patients secure access to their health data. This includes information such as:
- Lab results
- Physician notes
- Health histories
- Immunization records
- Discharge summaries
Some patient portals provide real-time lab results updates as well.
Research shows that when patients can see their own health data, it encourages them to gain ownership of their health and wellness. Patients are then better prepared to interact with their providers about their healthcare. According to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, nearly 80% of patients who accessed their health data in 2014 found the access to be beneficial.
Patient portals also give providers a way to share treatment plans with patients. This helps to engage patients more effectively in their own care and increases patient adherence to treatment plans—leading to improved patient outcomes. Healthcare providers can share educational materials via the patient portal as well: Research shows that providing patients with educational materials through the patient portal can improve chronic disease management by up to 10%.
Patient portal technology also facilitates patient-provider communication. When patients can contact their providers using patient portal secure messaging, they are able to address concerns immediately rather than waiting for their next appointment or engaging in numerous back-and-forth telephone calls and messages. This feature also allows providers to check in with patients more regularly. This enables providers to offer patients encouragement, reminders, and other forms of support. It helps them ensure that appropriate follow-up measures are scheduled as well as allowing them to make sure patients are healthy and comfortable between visits. If needed, providers can make adjustments to treatment plans via the secure messaging feature, allowing them to work more quickly toward effective, long-term plans. The increased communication also helps patients to feel more valued by and comfortable with their providers. As a result, patient portals are major drivers of patient loyalty.
The result? Research shows that patients with the highest levels of engagement with their patient portals are also those with higher levels of engagement overall.
The Practice Fusion patient portal
The Practice Fusion EHR provides users with a patient portal that offers numerous features to support improved patient outcomes. It gives patients instant access to their health information, including information on diagnoses, medications, immunizations, and procedure histories, with real-time updates to patient records so they can always access their most up-to-date information.
The Practice Fusion patient portal also includes patient engagement tools that enable patients to schedule appointments, request prescription refills, securely message providers, access treatment plans, and more. It also provides tools that help providers to encourage patient engagement, such as:
- Secure messaging from anywhere
- Share test results, medications, diagnoses, care plans and immunizations.
- Allowing patients to log in and schedule appointments
- Online check-in and intake
Research from around the globe shows a consistent correlation between increased patient engagement and improved health outcomes.
See for yourself how the Practice Fusion patient portal and patient engagement software can help you empower your patients to become active partners in their healthcare—and, in the process, improve their healthcare outcomes.