How to improve Digital Patient Engagement to streamline workflows

12 March 2024

Until a few years ago, patients navigated passively through the pre-established pathways of the healthcare system. However, digitization has transformed this paradigm – now, individuals can swiftly search for a provider with available appointments for the next day, access lab results within seconds without phone calls, schedule immunizations through a mobile app, and consult about health problems without the hassle of commuting.

Digital health solutions empower patients to better manage their health and integrate care into their daily lives. Research indicates that digital engagement leads to increased satisfaction with treatment, as patients no longer feel like passive participants in the healthcare system but can take an active role.

What is digital patient engagement (DPE)?

Digital patient engagement (DPE) relies on digital technologies to streamline patient access to care, medical services, prevention, and rehabilitation. It facilitates continuous communication with patients across all stages of the care pathway – from promoting healthy living advice to scheduling appointments, managing billing, issuing e-prescriptions, handling inquiries, and conducting follow-ups.

To establish a DPE, a healthcare facility can deploy software integrated with mobile apps for patients, self-service kiosks for registration, educational portals, wearable devices for monitoring health parameters and disease management, and health surveys for tracking treatment progress at home.

Providers are transitioning from a traditional "point of care" role, where patients only interact during appointments, to being available 24/7 through digitization. This transformation positions them as trusted partners in healthcare, offering support and guidance whenever patients require it. Importantly, this increased provider involvement isn't expected to result in additional workload, as process automation enables more efficient operations without added burden.

Benefits for patients and providers

Such a care model may appear ahead of the curve as it does not generate additional revenue – healthcare providers are reimbursed for the number of services, not their quality or preventive measures.

However, hospitals and clinics stand to benefit in numerous ways beyond offering a range of paid services without added administrative burden. They gain trust within the community, foster long-term patient relationships, and improve patient outcomes. Additionally, they can reduce costs by delegating some activities to patients, thereby benefiting both parties.

Digital patient engagement (DPE) presents an appealing care option, particularly for younger patients accustomed to managing tasks online. This evolving philosophy of medical facilities is becoming increasingly accessible due to the proliferation of electronic health records (EHR) and mobile apps, decreasing prices of wearable devices, and their wider availability, such as smartwatches capable of measuring various health parameters.

Some patients are embracing the digital care pathway for pragmatic reasons, such as locating a nearby pharmacy, securing a quicker appointment with a doctor, monitoring chronic diseases more conveniently, accessing teleconsultation services, or saving time on commuting and waiting in a doctor's office.

Key benefits include:

  • Automated workflows streamline with greater patient control. Registration over the phone can be frustrating for medical facilities and patients, whereas e-registration allows patients to schedule and cancel appointments conveniently. With mobile apps, the patient manages tasks such as paying for appointments and receiving test results rather than the facility's staff.
  • Improved patient outcomes. Digital engagement replaces fragmented care with coordinated and continuous care. Patients have access to all their data, enabling them to make more informed health decisions while the facility maintains constant communication with them.
  • Enhanced patient experience. Patients benefit from new, flexible forms of care, such as teleconsultations or prescription renewals, without needing to visit a doctor's office. Consequently, they can balance managing their health with their other responsibilities.
  • Enhanced reputation of the medical facility. Patients seek continuous care and may seek alternative options, including online sources if they feel neglected. Maintaining constant contact and providing convenient services help build trust and loyalty.
  • Greater operational efficiency and cost savings. The seamless data exchange among doctors, medical facilities, and patients reduces the time needed for administrative tasks, decreases the volume of patient inquiries, eliminates organizational bottlenecks, and ultimately increases profits through improved throughput.

How to improve digital patient engagement

Building a Digital Patient Engagement (DPE) strategy requires creating a plan to digitize a medical facility and consistently integrating IT solutions toward a unified data ecosystem with options for patient access to information. Here are the critical steps in the process:

1. Create a digital front door.

The website serves as the initial point of contact with the patient. Upon visiting, patients should easily locate options for making online appointments for in-person visits or teleconsultations, find guidance on appointment preparation, access facility plans (including directions), and even receive a preliminary assessment of their condition (built-in symptom checkers). Many medical facility websites are cluttered with unnecessary information, and online registration is often either unavailable or difficult to find. A single application that serves as an appointment book, health diary, teleconsultation tool, and lab results checker aims to replace the current frustrating experience of dealing with a medical facility via telephone.

2. Integrate all digital solutions within one ecosystem.

Seamless information exchange requires connecting different IT systems. Ideally, a single, integrated system handling both administrative and clinical aspects ensures the best interoperability. The goal is a unified database to launch more e-services for patients and analyze collected data, which is crucial with the introduction of AI-based tools.

3. Expand virtual health services.

Teleconsultation, widely adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic, will play an increasingly significant role in the health system. In cases of no-shows, vacant slots can be quickly transitioned to online consultations to prevent loss of appointment volume.

4. Utilize data to automate the patient journey.

Implement registration kiosks, automatic appointment reminders, and nudges about additional offerings such as seasonal immunizations and preventive screenings. A structured database enables proactive appointment coordination, departing from the passive approach of waiting for patients to initiate doctor visits. Explore lesser-known solutions like online educational offerings or chatbots for basic patient queries.

5. Track patient data.

Automate workloads by monitoring patient data; for instance, typical follow-up results may only require a nurse's phone call or information sent via an app to the patient. Identify opportunities for interventions, such as reminding patients aged 65+ about flu vaccinations. For chronically ill patients, introduce options to record self-observations and exam results in the app to be discussed during the following visit or remote assessment.

6. Invest in information security.

Securing patient data is crucial for fostering trust and encouraging the use of e-health services. Implement patient education initiatives, maintain a secure cloud database, conduct employee training, perform cybersecurity audits, establish an information security management system, and ensure compliance with GDPR to mitigate cyber threats.

Implementing digital patient engagement is a multi-layer process that requires a new mind-shift, treating digitalization not as an additional cost but as an investment in organizational efficiency and patient experience excellence.