Engage Your Patients Where They Are … Not Where You Wish They Were

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Doc &IpadWith all the hype about the patient engagement “potential” of patient-facing health information technologies one would think that HIT is the best if not only way to approach to patient engagement. 

But that would be incorrect.

In fact there is another way – a easier, less expensive and much more effective way of engaging patients.  And it has absolutely nothing to do with patient portals,  SMS texting, smart phone apps or CMS’s Meaningful Use requirements.

Engage Your Patients Where They Are – Your Doctors’ Exam Rooms

Every day the average physician sees an average of 20 patients a day or about 4,200 patients a year.   For a hospital with 500 physicians on staff, this comes out to 10,000 patient visits a day…or 2.1 million visits over the course of a year (210 days). 

Now factor in the 3-4 complaints each patient brings to the visit along with a myriad of beliefs, fears and expectations for service (tests, referrals, new medications, and so on).   I hope you are starting to realize that each patient visit is pregnant with opportunities for clinicians – your clinicians – to engage, empower and excite patients…. sometimes by doing nothing more than listening to what the patient wants to say.   Remember these are real opportunities that exist in the here and now…not some promise or dream of possibilities to come.

3-4 Complaints

+  2-3 Service Requests

  +  4-5 Expectations

Lots Of Opportunities To Engage Patients

 At this point you might be thinking that your physicians are already leveraging these exam room opportunities to build your organization’s brand, to refer patients to your specialists and ancillary services, and to direct patients to health information on your their/your patient portal.   You would probably be wrong.  

The reason has nothing to do with the limited time available during the office visit.  Rather, the problem is that most physicians – including your – have never been trained to recognize or respond to these kinds of opportunities.   

Ostensibly, many of the new smart device health apps will address some of these engagement developers can figure out how to get patients to use them.   

Greater Engagement Opportunitysmaller

The Patient-Facing HIT Opportunity

Now consider the opportunities in HIT’s brave new world.

Let’s take a hypothetical hospital system called Wonderful Health that has 5,000 physicians on its collective medical staff.s   Assume that each physician has a panel of 2,300 adult patients.  Let’s also assume that 10% of these people use their respective patient portals or smart health apps 5 times per year (a generous assumption).  This comes out to approximately 15.76 million digital opportunities for Wonderful Health to engage, empower and excite patients/consumers per year.

It’s highly doubtful that the opportunities for meaningful engagement afforded by a patient portal or health app compare qualitatively to the opportunities possible with a face-to-face physician visit.  Being able to check one’s lab tests, schedule an appointment, or refill a prescription while convenient are do not afford the same therapeutic benefits of a listening ear or the touch of a clinician’s hand.

The Take Away

The real opportunity for engaging patients, enhancing patient care and improving patient experiences lies behind the closed exam room doors of physicians’ offices.  That is the most frequent point of contact health care consumers have with the health care system.  It is also where truly meaningful patient engagement and memorable patient experience take place.

Engaging patients, enhancing care and improving patient experiences is not an either or choice between more health IT or better physician-patient communications. Providers will need both in the long run. HIT will enable clinicians with good patient communication skills to touch more patients and get more done.  Physicians in turn will recommend that patients go to their patient portals and smart apps for health information.

Imagine the ROI that organizations like Wonderful Health could realize from their investments in patient portals and health apps if all 45.7 million annual patient visits were given a tailored information therapy prescription directing them to one or the other or both.

Now that is what I call IMMENSE POTENTIAL!

That’s what I think….what’s your opinion?