Best Practices for Digital-First Patient Engagement

By Monica Bolbjerg, MD, Founder and CEO, Qure4u
Twitter: @Qure4u

The embrace of telehealth during the COVID-19 response marked a tipping point in U.S. healthcare. The public health crisis ushered in long-awaited regulatory and financial support for virtual encounters, significantly accelerating the pace of digital health adoption. Consensus that in-person care and digital engagement can harmoniously co-exist has been reached. Forward-thinking healthcare organizations are now laying the foundation for hybrid care models that use digital tools to improve the patient and clinician experience, close patient care gaps, and enhance clinical insight between office visits.

As new engagement channels bring a broader view of the patient journey into perspective, it raises important questions for the healthcare community:

  • What are best practices in the transition from telehealth stop gaps to a long-term digital engagement strategy?
  • How can we ensure that digital health tools compliment rather than compete with traditional, in-person care delivery?
  • How do we use the growing patient data footprint to drive targeted clinical action without overwhelming providers?

Best Practices for Digital-First Engagement

In many ways, the adoption of technology in the healthcare industry parallels what we’ve seen in the airline industry. Much of what was traditionally handled face-to-face can now be accomplished online or at kiosks. Digital self-service tools streamline operations while helping consumers feel more connected than ever before.

In healthcare, we have a similar opportunity. At a time when staff shortages are putting unprecedented pressure on provider organizations, digital engagement tools empower patients to field routine tasks, freeing up vital healthcare staff for other tasks. The key is figuring out how digital health engagement gets woven into existing clinical workflows beyond telehealth.

What is on paper today that can be digitized? What provider tasks can be migrated to the patient to drive efficiency and consumer involvement?

Many healthcare organizations are evaluating self-scheduling, contactless check-in, digital forms, online payment submissions, electronic messaging, and remote patient monitoring solutions as they seek to round out their digital engagement strategy. By developing a comprehensive, digital-first patient engagement framework that is mindful of long-term goals, care teams can implement an adoption roadmap that can be rolled out incrementally to avoid overburdening staff.

Driving Provider Adoption
Look for a centralized digital health platform that is capable of growing with your healthcare organization over time. Consolidating solutions into a unified platform saves on infrastructure costs and reduces the risk of IT fatigue. By avoiding solution sprawl, providers will be more apt to embrace tools. Integrated solutions that keep providers in their native environment see higher success rates. Above all, keep it simple for both patients and providers. Payment models spark interest but ease of use is what drives lasting adoption.

Driving Patient Adoption
Enable patients with self-service tools that make them more active participants in their health and are robust enough to keep them engaged. Determine where digital health touch points can be leveraged to add value to the patient journey. Optimize workflows so patients don’t have to come into the office for everything. Allocate resources for both provider tech support and patient tech support and use feedback loops to adapt systems in real-time to continually improve the end-user experience.

When implemented effectively, virtual care can significantly impact care delivery by streamlining processes and opening provider/patient engagement beyond the walls of traditional care. Future success, however, will largely depend on how good we are at presenting data to providers as digital health tools begin to enhance clinical insight.

Preparing for the Pending Patient Data Surge

As virtual encounters, remote patient monitoring (RPM), and patient-generated data become mainstays in healthcare, the industry will possess more patient data than ever before. Our ability to cull actionable insight from that cascade of information will directly impact our ability to influence patient outcomes. Failure to do so runs the risk of overwhelming providers with too much information and alert fatigue, which will undermine trust in digital health tools.

When properly yielded, the influx of patient data can be used to identify risk factors more quickly and proactively drive care coordination. Visibility into real-time health threats through patient generated data, RPM, and similar hospital-at-home models enables earlier intervention. To meet this end, healthcare organizations will need mechanisms to capture patient data between visits and then identify actionable signals in that data.

Virtual care will not replace in-person care. It will, however, be a key part of the patient journey going forward. The push to bring greater consumer convenience to healthcare will continue to drive innovation. Not all patients will embrace digital health tools, but those who do will open new channels for real-time engagement and intervention. This will enable providers to look at trends and adjust care plans much more rapidly to improve the quality, accuracy, and speed of care over the next 10 to 20 years.