Patient Engagement vs. Patient Education: What’s the Difference?

Posted on June 3, 2014 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Jamie Verkamp, Chief Speaking Officer at (e)Merge.
Jamie Verkamp
Healthcare organizations often see attesting to the Measures included in Meaningful Use Stage 2 as a burdensome checklist which results in a massive resource drain in exchange for inadequate financial compensation. MU Stage 2 Measure 7 is one such oft-maligned requirement for attestation. This Measure requires that online access to records is provided to 50% of patients and that 5% of patients execute the viewing, download, or transmission of their online health information.  Organizations should not see Measures regarding patient engagement as intimidating or inconvenient. Instead, these Measures seeking to improve patient engagement should be seen as an opportunity to create more loyal, involved, and empowered patients.  The importance of engaging our patients in their own health shows itself in current statistics relating to personal health.  According to a study by TeleVox, roughly 83% of Americans don’t follow treatment plans as prescribed by their physicians.  Adding to that, 42% of Americans feel they would be more likely to follow their care plan if they received some form of motivation to participate.  By giving patients a channel to monitor and participate in their own health, organizations can develop a more educated population capable of producing greater outcomes.

Understanding the reasoning behind the Measures driving patient engagement is the first step; now, we must educate our patient population on the value of logging in and connecting with their information. While the frequency of patients physically visiting their provider’s office is somewhat inconsistent, this is often the most successful way to encourage electronic patient access. Patient facing staff members should be well educated on electronic patient access and be prepared to answer questions as they arise. Physically walking patients through the engagement process of maneuvering their electronic access, or providing video tutorials with simple instructions in the office lobby can increase patient engagement substantially. Consider setting up a station in the waiting room to allow patients to sign up for the service, thus solving the issue of forgotten motivation.

However, organizations must seek to include in their engagement plan the younger and healthier population who may not enter the physical office space outside of unforeseen emergency visits or more often than their annual checkup requires. Looking online to relate with these patients can be beneficial, as this has been found to be where this demographic spends the majority of their time and communication engaging with brands and services.  Providing information and education on an organization’s website, Facebook, Twitter, or even YouTube page through video promotion can assist in sparking an interest with this patient population.  Many times, those likely to engage in a patient engagement offering remain unaware of its availability due to a lack of communication from the healthcare organization.  From the practice standpoint, we must understand our work is not done once the portal is merely completed; rather this is when the real challenge presents itself.

In today’s society, consumers are bombarded with promotional emails and routinely asked for their contact information so further communication can be established.  With this in mind, consumers are more cautious as to what and how much information they provide to companies.  Unfortunately, for the healthcare industry, this includes a cautious nature toward information shared with healthcare organizations.   With this barrier in place, administrators must actively engage with their patients to educate them on the benefits of becoming involved in electronically managing their care.  Before consumers choose to willingly hand over their personal contact information, they will likely need to understand the reasons for doing so and what advantages they will receive.

Convenience has become one of the most desired aspects of communication and buying behaviors in consumers today.  As a society, we have adopted a “need it now” expectation.  With the ease portable technology has brought to our information search, patients and consumers count on service when they desire it.   This is especially true when it comes to customer service; consumers are becoming less patient and beginning to expect service when they desire.  In a recent study, it was found businesses offering a “Live Chat” option online saw a 15% increase in conversions. Explaining to patients the ease of communication with physicians and key staff members through the portal can be a helpful start in creating buy in.  Communication via the portal includes direct messaging, appointment reminders, and more. Informing patients of potential time saving factors in appointments down the road and quicker access to lab results can also establish and pique interest.  In many instances, finding the optimal moment to address the patient portal can create successful outcomes.  Patients burdened by numerous prescription refill requirements or those frustrated with waiting in line to pay a bill can be directed back to the convenience of a patient portal to handle all of these items at their own computer at home.

As a whole, those looking to meet this Stage 2 requirement must focus their attention on creating personalized communication with patients.  Standardized information will not entice patients and may easily be looked over.  Begin to examine which staff members may be the best fit for providing patient education and focus on educating patients on what they will get out of participating, not just simply meeting your Measure 7 requirements.   Potential touch points can be found within your signage, billing communications, appointment reminders and especially on your practice website and social sites.

According to HealthIT.gov, Meaningful Use Stage 3 will continue with the goal of driving patient engagement and improving outcomes.  This will include, “patient access to self-management tools”. The options for healthcare organizations are clear:

1. An organization can meet the bare minimum for the Stage 2 requirements using a patchwork of initiatives which produce minimally satisfying results while have no significant effect on the patient experience. Then repeat the entire process for the applicable Measures in Stage 3.

2. An organization can have a well-articulated and executable plan. In doing so, the practice, hospital or healthcare organization can commit to utilizing technology for the optimization of patient care, get a full return on investment from the Patient Portal, and simultaneously grow their business through the competitive advantage of a successful online presence. Initiating this push now will further develop readiness for Stage 3 as the implementation date approaches and with productive workflows in place, administrators can free themselves to focus on other Measures for attestation.

So which option will your organization choose? It’s not going to be easy, but change seldom is. Every industry experiences social and digital evolution, now it is healthcare’s turn.

About Jamie Verkamp
This article is a result of a partnership between (e)Merge, a medical growth consulting firm and DataFile Technologies, an outsourced medical records management and compliance company. Jamie Verkamp leads (e)Merge as Managing Partner and Chief Speaking Officer, she works shoulder to shoulder with medical professionals the healthcare industry to improve the patient experience and see measurable growth in clients‘ customer service efforts, referral volumes and bottom lines. DataFile Technologies is led by Janine Akers, CEO. DataFile’s passion for compliance allows them to be thought leaders in HIPAA interpretation while executing innovative medical records workflow solutions on behalf of their clients. Our companies produce white papers, speaking engagements, and videos to keep health professionals up to date on the latest industry topics.