Patients and health care providers today are awash in data. Some of it, like many readings recorded by a piece of wearable tech, may not actually mean all that much. Other pieces however, like a patient’s medical records, can help providers and patients to work together to reach better health care outcomes and lower costs.
A patient engagement platform (PEP) is a piece of technology that helps to encourage patient-centered medicine by involving patients in their own care. If you’re a health care provider, you might be interested in implementing a PEP in your practice—something like the Patient Engagement Platform by Relatient, or another solution used by your peers—but the choices can be overwhelming.
Right now is a good moment to address this. COVID-19 has made patient engagement more difficult than ever before, so it makes sense to look for all the ways in which you can better center your patients in your practice.
Plus, there’s evidence that patient engagement platforms work. A study published in 2020 looked at the use of PEPs in postoperative management of patients who had undergone orthopedic surgery. According to the study, PEPs—which included “portals, mobile health applications, and chatbots”—led to “improved patient satisfaction scores and outcomes.”
The study’s authors did note, however, that for those looking to use these platforms in their practice, it is critically important to “identify what you are looking to improve upon within your health system and choose a platform accordingly.”
So, if you’re wading through a sea of apps and other platforms, this article can help to clarify what you need to look for when choosing a PEP for your practice.
What is patient engagement?
Patient engagement is the process of “providers and patients working together to improve health.” That description comes from the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, and it makes clear how broad a field this is.
Writing in Patient Engagement HIT, Sara Heath argues that you can drill down into this broad definition to find three main areas underlying most patient engagement strategies:
- Access to health data—Patients having access to their own health data is a game changer. Patient platforms and other means of sharing data can help to empower your patients to “coordinate [their] own care.” By viewing their medical records before appointments, patients can better equip themselves for their time with their doctor. On the whole, it makes them better collaborators.
- Communication—This shouldn’t be a surprise, but it bears repeating: health care providers need an open channel of communication with their patients. Face-to-face interactions play a major role here, and providers need to remain empathetic in these encounters; however, patient portals can help with this too. A patient can ask if they need to come into the office over a particular concern—chest pain, a rash, etc.—or not. This can help to prevent a serious condition from getting worse.
- Satisfaction—As Heath argues, the point here is that it’s not enough to give patients access to information, or even to educate them about their care. Doctors also need to make them feel respected. This can be a place where cultural competence plays an important role, something which goes beyond putting materials in the right languages. You might consider spending time developing relationships with relevant community organizations, for example.
As you’re formulating and executing a patient engagement strategy, it can feel like you have too many balls in the air at once; however, if you’ve got a clear plan, the right patient engagement platform can help to make the whole process easier.
How do PEPs help?
If access to health data, communication, and satisfaction are the key components of successful patient engagement, then how can a PEP help you to provide those things to your patients?
In the first case, it can help to sort data. After all, this is not an area where “more is better” applies in any simple way. For instance, with the advent of wearable technology, patients began showing up in their doctors’ offices and presenting them with huge amounts of data, then expecting them to do something with it.
Instead of having patients show up with reams of data from their FitBit, a PEP can help patients to better understand how they could, and should, be involved in their own care. It can also help you as a provider to sift through data in order to see what you need, when you need it; this will help you to be more present for your patients.
According to the study cited above, focused on orthopedic surgery, PEPs can “automate clinician-like tasks” including:
- Delivering educational content
- Sending reminders to patients that they need to follow postoperative treatment protocols
- Allowing patients to report pain scores and mobility reports
- Managing photos of wounds
- Recording and monitoring health outcomes.
On the whole, using these apps can also help patients to feel more connected to their doctors, which can lead to improved feedback and increase referrals.
What to look for when choosing a PEP
With all these benefits in mind, what should you as a provider be looking for when it comes to choosing a PEP for your practice? Some key aspects are straightforward, but they’re worth articulating explicitly:
- Quality and quantity—What the platform offers is important. In terms of educational materials, you want something high-quality and helpful. For its communication features, you want a balance in terms of quantity: it should be efficient, so that it doesn’t overwhelm you or your patients, but it should also feel easy for a patient to reach out when they need to.
- Reach and adoption—It can pay to use a platform that has a wide reach, since it will be easier to find support for it and to get advice from other providers about how best to use it. Looking at the adoption of a PEP elsewhere by patients can also be a promising way to indicate how likely you are to achieve the outcomes you’re after.
- What devices does it work on?—This is simple but important: if your PEP requires patients to use it on a regular basis or to access important information, you want them to be able to get to it in as many ways as possible. A PEP will hardly seem like something that improves communication if it actually makes it harder for your patients to communicate with you.
- Does it support the languages you need?—You know your practice, and you know what languages (or translation support) that you’ll need from any platform you want to implement. This is an especially important consideration for certain providers, but it’s worth thinking about for everyone.
- Intuitive interface—You want the PEP you choose to be as intuitive as possible. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be hiccups, but choosing something that doesn’t throw up immediate roadblocks will help to ensure that patients are more likely to use it. After all, if no one uses a PEP, not much engagement is likely to come from it.
- Accessible training included—You need to make sure that patients with all sorts of technical ability can use the platform, especially if your goal in implementing a PEP is to increase and improve patient engagement. Many platforms include training materials, but be sure to have a look at them yourself, and to ensure that they’re really accessible so that all your patients will have the best chance of using them.
Choosing a PEP and implementing it
As you start to look for a PEP for your practice, be sure to understand, and articulate to others, what your major goal is for the platform. For example, maybe you’re trying to increase patient satisfaction as measured by a particular metric. You may know this clearly from the outset, but unless you let your staff and other stakeholders know, they may see this as simply another piece of technology being added to their workflow.
Instead, make a point of explaining what you want to accomplish. Not only will this help you to find the right platform, it will also help you to bring along the people in your practice whom you’ll need to implement it.
When you’ve started using your PEP, you may be tempted to make sure that it plays nice with all the other technological aspects of your practice. Don’t worry too much about that at first. Instead, focus on getting it fully implemented, then worry about the integration questions.
Finally, remember that you can’t just set up a PEP and walk away. If you’ve chosen well, it will be something that regularly provides new insights, inviting you to consider using it in new ways in response.
As you look for a PEP for your practice, make sure to consider the elements of patient engagement that you’re trying to foster. Then, consider how accessible and easy to use the platform is, and will be for your patients. Finally, make sure that you articulate why you want to implement it in your practice, and be sure to keep working with it as you use it in order to get the most out of it.