4 Digital Patient Engagement Strategies for Behavioral Health

March 4, 2022

In behavioral health, the goal of providing support to a patient across all phases of mental health delivery — prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and recovery or management — can be met through patient engagement. An engaged patient actively takes part in their care, manages conditions effectively, stays in recovery longer, and achieves better health outcomes. Patient engagement reflects a patient-centered approach.

Health care organizations have been meandering toward patient-centered care for over a decade. The pandemic led to job loss, isolation, anxiety, and depression for many people, which created a greater need for mental health services. In response, there was a rapid adoption of digital patient engagement strategies. 

Digital tools designed to improve access to care, decrease stigma, promote awareness, and support treatment and self-management will remain effective long after a “return to normal.” Here are four of the most exciting established and emerging patient engagement strategies in mental health.

1. Teletherapy

Despite hundreds of complex regulations governing telehealth, behavioral health was one of the earliest adopters. And teleconference providers were quick to understand the need and develop HIPAA compliant solutions. Additionally, third-party services have partnered with psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, family therapists, and licensed social workers to provide talk therapy.

According to the American Psychology Association, “Online therapy is here to stay.” Other experts think telehealth will continue to disrupt the health care sector in areas like patient engagement, care delivery, patient outcomes, and cost reduction.

A Deloitte survey of industry executives predicts that traditional office visits for behavioral health will continue to decline as teletherapy visits rise. They see telehealth continuing to improve access to behavioral health and support the prevention and management of chronic conditions. 

How Teletherapy Works as a Patient Engagement Strategy

Effective patient engagement tools meet clients and patients where they are. Whether you use the term telepsychiatry, teletherapy, e-therapy, virtual therapy, virtual care, or mobile therapy, you’re referring to an audio or video interaction between a behavioral health clinician and a patient. Although it has many names, the common factor is the ability to engage with health consumers wherever they are. 

What to Look for in a Telehealth Vendor

A growing number of platforms, apps, and technologies claim to be your one-stop shop for providing telehealth services. Before you sign a contract, look for a system that is:

  • Secure: Protects against hacking, fraud, and misuse
  • Intuitive: Features an easy-to-use interface
  • Compliant: Meets HIPAA plus other state and federal rules and regulations
  • Accessible: Able to be used by people with disabilities
  • Mobile: Has an app or dedicated mobile website
  • Supported: Offers robust customer service for patients and clients

ContinuumCloud’s EHR, powered by Welligent, offers telehealth functionality along with a fully integrated patient portal, including:

  • Welligent Messenger App: Secure messaging with clients and external partners
  • Welligent Chat: Secure instant messaging and internal messaging system for clinicians to coordinate care
  • Welligent Telehealth: Secure video conferencing that provides continuity of care outside the office

This platform supports the secure and compliant remote delivery of teletherapy with an easy-to-use interface for clients.

2. Secure EHR Patient Portals 

Today’s patients desire easy access to their health records. But there are other reasons to use electronic health records (EHRs) and patient portals. EHRs can strengthen clinical collaboration and improve patient care. EHR portals are popular for patients seeking quick answers to low-level complaints. 

Many health care systems delay implementing EHR patient portals because of the cost. As experts at Deloitte astutely point out, this could result in falling behind in areas like patient and provider engagement. 

How EHR and Patient Portals Improve Patient Engagement

According to the American Medical Association, not all EHR portals are created equally. Some portals fail to improve patient engagement and only add to the stress of record keeping. 

However, an EHR patient portal built exclusively for behavioral health and human services can be a game-changer by improving access to records, streamlining workflows and automation, and boosting patient engagement.

Aside from access to records, a patient portal boosts patient engagement in other ways. Secure messaging and live chat allow patients to connect with their clinicians as well as the billing or scheduling teams in between appointments. Not having to wait for a callback reduces feelings of frustration. 

What to Look for in an EHR Patient Portal Partner

According to a recent MACPAC report, behavioral health providers are lagging in EHR adoption. They indicate that this is because many EHR platforms do not meet the needs of behavioral health providers who provide substance use disorder treatment options and other mental health services. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, partner with a company that caters to the needs and criteria that are unique to behavioral health. 

Whether you choose to allow patients to have online access to some or all of their mental health records is a decision for your organization. Therefore, it’s important to find a technology partner that can create custom EHR solutions that meet the needs of your organization and fit in with your own patient engagement strategies.

For instance, ContinuumCloud’s EHR solution offers a variety of features that support patient engagement at behavioral health organizations. Welligent EHR allows you to engage and empower your patient by creating more opportunities for communication and collaboration:

  • Welligent EHR: Cloud-based EHR solution with an intuitive and easy-to-use interface
  • Welligent Express: Mobile-access EHR 
  • Welligent Connect: Patient portal where patients and clinicians can collaborate on their care

3. Wearables as a Patient Engagement Strategy

Patient Engagement Strategies: Woman on a yoga mat

You might imagine wearable technology in health care as step counters for fitness and heart rate monitors. That’s not wrong, but there are other exciting advances. 

Smartphone technology has targeted opportunities to diagnose, monitor, and provide care. Data derived from these emerging digital technologies have the potential to enhance understanding regarding the course of mental conditions and substance use disorders, as well as enable earlier diagnosis and treatment. Some types of wearables include:

  • Sleep management devices
  • Watches, bracelets, and rings that monitor stress and mood
  • VR headsets for augmented reality therapy
  • Stimulation devices
  • EEG monitors
  • EKG monitors
  • Breathing monitors

Examples of Mental Health-Related Wearables

Behavioral health wearables are an emerging technology with many devices in the research and development pipeline. Here are a few examples of wearables mental health professionals may include in their patient engagement strategies:

  • Abilify MyCite helps improve medication compliance in patients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. It’s also used as an adjunct therapy for depression in adults.
  • Touchpoints are wearable bracelets that detect increased stress and respond with bilateral alternating stimulation. 
  • Thync is a neurostimulation device worn on the forehead designed to create feelings of well-being and decrease stress.

4. Mobile App Plus Patient Engagement Platform

Mobile apps are a powerful way to connect with and engage your patients. Today, there are nearly 20,000 mental health-related apps available for mobile download. These range from thought journals, mindfulness, meditation, weight loss, dialectical behavioral therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and hundreds more. 

With so much choice, it’s difficult to know which commercial apps are helpful, safe, and OK to recommend. One option to make apps a part of your patient engagement strategies is to create a branded mobile app as part of a larger patient engagement platform.

Choosing a Patient Engagement App

Like all the digital tools in this list, not all patient engagement platforms are the same. Many are created for health systems, and therefore, fail to address the nuances and complexities of behavioral health and social services. 

Ideally, a patient engagement app would be like a business dashboard for your patient’s mental health. Command central: a place where they can log in and interact with community members and read user-generated content. This provides a better (and safer) option than social media support groups, especially when interactions are facilitated and monitored by a clinician. 

A well-designed patient engagement platform can increase patient activation levels by providing education, surveys, quizzes, as well as by connecting them to outside resources. Activated patients are more willing to take action to manage their health and well-being. Activation is connected to an improved patient experience and better outcomes. 

Before choosing a technology partner for any of your patient engagement strategies, you’ll have to put in some due diligence, including finding the answers to questions like these:

  • What is your background in behavioral health and social services?
  • Are you HIPAA compliant?
  • How secure is your messaging platform?
  • What type of content do you provide?
  • Can you build custom solutions?

One solution to consider is ContinuumCloud’s CaredFor patient engagement mobile app. This app helps you reach, engage, and retain clients seeking treatment for behavioral health, substance use, and mental health. One way CaredFor drives engagement is through outcomes-based microinteractions that help clients set and reach their goals. A few of the many features of CaredFor include:

  • HIPAA-compliant messaging
  • Education and information library
  • Surveys, quizzes, and assessments
  • Peer community for current patients, alumni, and family
  • Social media-inspired private messaging
  • Contingency management tools
  • Appointment reminders
  • Telehealth conferencing
  • Virtual events platform

ContinuumCloud: Your Patient Engagement Strategies Partner 

Integration is a familiar concept to behavioral health experts. It connects multiple disciplines, health modalities, and therapies, thus making caring for the whole patient possible. Integration is also a key part of ContinuumCloud. 

ContinuumCloud was created to serve the behavioral health and social services industries. We believe that empowering patients to be responsible in their own care through shared decision-making leads to better outcomes. Digital health tools like these provide easier access to medical records, promote health literacy through patient education, enable communication with care teams, and lower costs.

ContinuumCloud’s Welligent EHR and patient portal improve access to records while opening the lines of communications to drive engagement between visits. At the same time, the CaredFor patient engagement platform activates and retains your patients through education, communication, and community. 

Book a meeting today to talk about how ContinuumCloud can help you meet your patient engagement needs.

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