Health experts suggest that patient engagement can lead to better health outcomes and increased participation in the healthcare decision-making process. Patient engagement means that patients become active members of the care team, regularly communicating with the care team throughout the entire care process to better manage their own health. When care teams inform patients about treatment options and involve them in care decisions, patients become more invested in their health and more accountable to the care team and themselves.
Because each patient has a different level of health literacy and willingness to participate in the care process, engaging patients can be difficult. However, care teams can improve patient engagement by using actionable data to overcome these barriers. Data empowers providers to implement systemwide shared decision-making processes, identify and reduce health disparities, prioritize the patient’s voice, and provide relevant patient education early in the care process.
The best approach to healthcare includes extensive patient-provider collaboration from start to finish. Four data-driven tactics can foster this two-way communication and help health systems deliver patient-centered care and improve patient engagement:
A key part of patient engagement includes providers and patients making decisions together. To make the most informed decisions, clinicians should consider the patient an active member of the care team. With this collaborative approach, the care team and patient share their perspectives and feedback about the patient’s goals and care plan before making any decisions. Health systems can promote patient engagement through shared decision making systemwide by implementing processes and analytic indicators to measure how often providers utilize the decision support tools.
Access to data about decision support utilization allowed Allina Health to identify variations in its shared decision-making process. Although Allina had shared decision-making, analytic insight revealed that clinicians and providers weren’t using the strategies and missing key opportunities to improve patient engagement.
To take advantage of these patient engagement opportunities and increase shared decision-making conversations, Allina’s leaders modified decision-making processes and updated workflows. They then implemented the changes in a pilot program with the help of an oversight committee of diverse clinical leaders. Allina monitored the success of the pilot with data to identify areas that were working well and those they could improve. The standardized and optimized shared decision-making process resulted in better patient engagement with 749 patients participating in a shared decision-making conversation across the system.
Healthcare disparities prevent vulnerable populations (e.g., low-income groups) from equal access to quality care. With a duty to ensure equal access to care for all individuals, regardless of race, socioeconomic status, or gender, health systems must identify access barriers for certain groups of people and the impact these barriers have on patient engagement.
Patients cannot actively engage in the care process if they cannot access basic care needs. Fortunately, organizations can leverage data to identify health inequities, their root causes, and the appropriate interventions to eliminate gaps in care. For example, to start the conversation about health equity, a health system can gather outcomes data by ethnicity (e.g., Latino, white, or African American). With this information, organizations can identify the outcome differentials, then dig deeper to understand the cause of the disparities.
One healthcare organization leveraged an analytics application to collect data about healthcare disparities within the system, revealing opportunities to increase patient engagement and, therefore, outcomes. For example, colorectal cancer (CRC) screening data highlighted disparities among non-white, non-English speaking groups. Leaders at the organization used race, ethnicity, and language data, combined with data from the EHR, to understand different causes of the disparities including patients’ religious beliefs and understanding of health practices.
The disparity findings allowed the organization to better engage the patient groups with low CRC screening levels by creating interventions specific to the group’s patient engagement barriers (e.g., language). The modalities included at-home testing kits and phone call appointment reminders in native languages. With a customized approach to care delivery, patients had the tools they needed to participate in the care process and engage in care decisions. Coupled with the analytic insight about the interventions’ effectiveness, the organization saw a 3 percent improvement in CRC screening rates for targeted populations.
With an abundance of data in healthcare, it can be easy for providers to focus on metrics over a patient’s voice. However, the metrics don’t always provide the patient’s feedback about care, a critical piece of patient engagement. Patient feedback is valuable because it allows the patient to be part of the care team and have a voice in care decisions. Although patient commentary is a vital part of keeping patients engaged in their care, many organizations don’t have a way of collecting this information, meaning providers relay feedback anecdotally or don’t at all.
To increase patient engagement, organizations can ensure patients’ voices are heard with programs like Patient Reported Outcomes Measures (PROMs). One health system used PROMs to collect information directly from patients about their care, health education, resources, facilities, and more. This comprehensive information revealed that patient reported information included valuable insight regarding a patient’s quality of life that the initial outcomes data lacked. The health system collects approximately 12,000 PROMs per month across 20 specialties that has led to more honest, frequent discussions between patients and their providers.
Care teams can engage patients early in the care process and mitigate the fear and stress of dealing with a new diagnosis by providing effective patient education. Unfortunately, many health systems miss this critical patient engagement opportunity because of inconsistent, misaligned, or outdated patient education programs that lack the data infrastructure to measure the program’s effectiveness. With subject matter expertise and analytics support, organizations can develop an optimal patient education program unique to patient needs and measure the program’s success, increasing patient and family engagement throughout the care continuum.
For example, a children’s hospital in Texas created an interdisciplinary team of experts to evaluate and improve their diabetes patient education program. The analysis revealed opportunities to align pediatric diabetes education with regional and national diabetes standards, tailor education delivery to patient needs instead of using a one-size-fits-all approach, and measure patient education initiatives.
To ensure that every child and their family received the updated diabetes education throughout the care process (and not just at the end), the leadership team integrated patient education into the workflow. With patient education part of the care process, providers could use data to identify which patients have not received diabetes education and work with their care teams to understand why. A comprehensive approach to patient education allowed Texas Children’s Hospital to standardize its pediatric education program, increase interactions between diabetes educators and patients and their families, and improve overall patient engagement. In the first year of its diabetes engagement campaign, more than 70 percent of Texas Children’s patients with diabetes had at least one visit with a certified diabetes educator.
When patients engage in care decisions, they understand the role they play in the care team and their health, increasing accountability. Health systems can turn patients into partners with access to comprehensive patient data to identify areas in which providers can improve patient engagement. Complete data sets allow healthcare leaders to apply data-informed tactics to improve patient satisfaction and health outcomes. Activating patients throughout the care process not only sets up care interventions for success but also every member of the care team, including the provider, patient, and family.
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