Digital Patient Engagement: From Concept to Reality

January 4, 2023

Digital patient engagement: person happily working at home

Long before patient engagement became a buzzword in healthcare administration, it was a tenet of behavioral health. Behavioral health professionals continuously seek ways to engage with their patients, understanding that better outcomes hinge on a stronger personal connection. Today, the term has a broader context. It’s important for behavioral health professionals to embrace new philosophies and take advantage of new and emerging digital tools.

In this article, we’ll talk about digital patient engagement as a way to improve the health and well-being of your patients through enhanced communication, heightened quality of care, and lowered costs. We’ll also discuss how digital solutions may positively affect providers and other stakeholders. But first, let’s demystify what patient engagement means today, and get some clarity around other terminology.

What Is Digital Patient Engagement?

If you Google this question, you’ll get thousands of varying answers. However, here’s a good working definition of digital patient engagement: a digital experience that supports the patient’s ability to be an active participant in their care by providing access to records, education, and communication tools. 

Digital patient engagement always focuses on better health outcomes while addressing obstacles like siloed care, health equity, and economics.

What Is Meaningful Use?

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) created an EHR incentive program called Meaningful Use. It was initially used to provide financial rewards to accelerate the adoption of patient engagement strategies like electronic health records (EHRs), e-prescribing, and patient portals. 

The rollout of a digital patient experience couldn’t happen overnight, so CMS created multiple stages of Meaningful Use objectives. In 2018, CMS renamed the program to Promoting Interoperability (PI).

While the CMS Meaningful Use and Promoting Interoperability programs are geared toward Medicare and Medicaid compliance, they provide excellent guidelines for any patient engagement platform.

Who Is the “Patient”?

“Patient” can include many stakeholders such as the patient, their caregivers, and family. The term can also refer to a prospective patient who’s looking for a new behavioral healthcare provider or a former or inactive patient (alumnus).

Who Are the Stakeholders?

Patient engagement is also a partnership between patients and their behavioral health providers, pharmacologists, nutritionists, primary care team, public and private third-party payers, and others. This is important when you’re thinking about how specific patient engagement tools and strategies may benefit the various stakeholders.

Digital Patient Engagement ObjectivesDigital patient engagement: employee working at an office

CMS found that meeting specific objectives resulted in better outcomes for Medicare and Medicaid patients. There are many real-life examples that correlate with the objectives, as well as digital engagement tools that help accomplish them. We’ve included a few in the following sections.

1. Improve quality, safety, and efficiency through communication and coordination.

As patients come into a new practice, they often are not able to bring their healthcare records with them. This can mean starting from scratch. Because memories fade and important details may get lost with time, errors can be created in the new record that could lead to patient harm down the road.

This point is especially critical for behavioral health patients. Due to the stigma surrounding mental health treatment, behavioral health patients may leave out important details regarding illnesses or medications when seeking emergency and primary care. 

A partial solution to this problem is to provide patients a portable version of their personal health records, so they can give these records to any provider who needs them. For this reason, the availability of a summary record in a portable format was a key priority in Meaningful Use. Interoperability offers the missing piece. Healthcare providers and behavioral health providers must have access to the patient's EHR to provide complete and safe care with continuity. 

2. Engage patients and families in their healthcare.

Of all types of patient health information, patient-generated health data (PGHD) have a greater ability to engage patients and improve the patient experience. Online questionnaires are a very useful digital health tool for gathering patient input in an organized way, and they can be used for a variety of purposes. 

For example, a questionnaire sent out by email before a visit can gather information in a way that is more efficient for the office and the physician. It allows them to triage patients who need to be seen urgently and spend less time gathering basic information when the patient arrives for care.

Follow-up questionnaires after treatment or a visit provide an opportunity to clear up misunderstandings about the treatment plan, which can lead to safer care. When patients contribute critical health data, their providers receive a more complete picture of their health and conditions and potentially detect hesitancy or resistance to care. 

Engagement solutions that provide automation of PGHD entry not only streamline the patient experience but also improve workflow and functionality.

3. Lower healthcare costs and improve outcomes.

The use of telehealth has exploded, and healthcare consumers are happy about it. Studies show that patient satisfaction scores are highest for telehealth visits. In fact, during the pandemic, behavioral health and social services were some of the earliest adopters of teletherapy and virtual visits. Not only does virtual care improve patient access and address health equity, but it also lowers costs which is a good thing for all involved.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), multiple studies show that engaging patients through health literacy, education, and activation have better outcomes, including lower healthcare costs.

Another way an integrated patient engagement platform can reduce costs is through streamlining scheduling, billing, and administrative workflow and processes. Appointment reminders, online check-in, and SMS messaging may help prevent no-shows and automate rescheduling.

Before the digital transformation in healthcare, the phenomenon of patient activation was found to improve outcomes. Today, many digital tools boost a patient’s activation levels through accessing and contributing to their health records, learning, connecting with others, and communicating with their providers.

4. Engender trust through adequate privacy and security.

Trust is the cornerstone of the patient and provider relationship. When choosing a digital engagement platform, it’s critical to ensure the patient’s privacy and security.

ContinuumCloud’s Digital Patient Engagement Platform and EHRPerson waiting for the train to arrive

ContinuumCloud provides ONC-certified health information technology and software as a service (SaaS) that enables the secure exchange of electronic health information. Our EHR solution allows complete access, exchange, and use of all electronically accessible health information for allowed use under applicable state or federal law. This cloud-based EHR features mobile functionality, a patient portal, and secure messaging. It’s designed to enhance the patient experience and improve outcomes. 

Additionally, we offer a HIPAA-compliant patient engagement app that patients can access from their smartphone, tablet, or through their computer browser. This platform offers a way for behavioral health practices to improve patient engagement at all stages of the healthcare journey.

Features of the platform include:

Digital Patient Engagement Stakeholder Impact

A digital patient engagement platform and EHR software from ContinuumCloud address CMS objectives that impact all stakeholders in positive ways.

  • Patients: A platform like our CaredFor patient engagement app helps patients better understand their own health, facilitates informed decisions, and provides convenient ways of accomplishing healthcare tasks. Patients who are empowered in communicating with their providers through a patient portal and through telehealth — as well as tracking and understanding their health conditions through their EHR — are more likely to become activated and engaged patients.
  • Providers: Digital tools like patient portals, EHRs, and digital engagement tools can help providers keep patients healthy by educating and informing them. By enlisting the patient in spotting potential mistakes, avoiding disruptions in care, and ensuring that information is shared during care transitions, providers ensure quality, safe care. Patient engagement tools are designed to delight patients, increasing their trust and loyalty. Integrated EHR and scheduling tools may also reduce administrative costs by supporting workflow efficiencies.
  • Healthcare systems: Engaged patients may help find opportunities for quality improvements and cost reduction. Streamlined workflows and quality improvement may reduce waste and redundant activities. Patient engagement offers many opportunities for feedback and system learning at an individual or provider practice and can impact the system as a whole.

It’s Time for Successful Digital Patient Engagement

Research shows that patient engagement is essential for delivering better treatment outcomes, improving quality, increasing trust, and lowering costs. But we’re not telling you anything you don’t already know. 

Patient engagement has always been an important part of behavioral health. Today, you can make a bigger impact and reach more patients than ever before through a well-planned digital patient engagement strategy. 

ContinuumCloud offers a range of patient engagement solutions designed for the behavioral health and human services space. Want to learn more? Get started customizing a patient engagement strategy to meet your precise needs by scheduling an appointment online.

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