Guest Column | January 21, 2016

The Path To True Patient Engagement

HITO Colin Roberts, West Corporation

Best practices and standardization are critical for meaningful communication

By Colin Roberts, Senior Director, Healthcare Product Integration, West Corporation

Value-based healthcare has myriad moving parts, but the clear through line is the efficacy of provider-patient communication. Greater financial obligations have given patients greater power when it comes to choosing a healthcare provider, and the mandate to reduce costly readmissions and provide patients a retail-feel to healthcare encounters has incented providers to incorporate more — and more meaningful — touchpoints with their patients.

While communication technologies abound to make this level of personal, specific communication possible, patient engagement and activation remains a mish-mash of solutions implemented haphazardly throughout the continuum of care, leaving in its wake glaring communication and care gaps.

Most hospitals have some system in place to communicate outbound messages to their patients — appointment reminders, biometric data collection, wellness surveys, etc. — but it is often not as proactive or as automated as it could be. In the scramble to stay ahead of the engagement curve, too many hospital departments are trying to cobble together disparate technologies and business rules, or awkwardly jam new technologies onto a creaky engagement and activation infrastructure.

At this point in the journey to value-based healthcare, what hospitals most need is a deliberate plan — a pathway by which their departmental managers can leverage an enterprise-grade, secure healthcare communication platform solution to improve staff workflows and ultimately drive more holistic patient engagement. But what exactly does such a platform look like — and what specific benefits does it deliver?

Forging A Pathway
If the desired result is better patient outcomes and improved engagement and activation, then the best pathway toward achieving that goal is to standardize how departments within provider organizations communicate with patients.

Communication strategies and tactics vary from hospital to hospital, which is to be expected. A problem occurs when strategies clash, overlap, or fail to merge at all within departments of a single organization. There is a distinct lack of consistency — how one department manager goes about educating patients about flu shots can differ dramatically from other departments that perform outreach to patients regarding appointment reminders, discharge, or follow up with populations enrolled in routine, transitional, or chronic care management programs.

A standardized and consistent communication pathway gives every department manager a more productive, contextual, and consistent way to seamlessly engage with patients on any issue and at any point within the continuum of care.

An optimized platform should be calendar-based and automated, helping patients to manage their conditions, treatments, and day-to-day wellness in a way that is condition-specific and outcomes-focused.

Automation plays a role here, as it can establish a cadence for those reminders including duration, frequency, time of day, and how patients want to be contacted. By curating patient data through scheduled, automated communications, the patient record can be continuously updated with granular trending information on the efficacy of interventions and engagements.

The term automation carries with it a negative assumption that the future of patient engagement is bending toward a model that removes human interaction from the equation. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the automation of routine communication — scheduling, reminders, patient preferences, etc. — alleviates administrative burdens, freeing team members to focus on complex interactions in a more meaningful way. However, with today’s technology, even automated processes can be personalized — both in messaging (i.e., specific to the individual patient) and how the messaging is communicated (i.e., the patient’s preferred communication channel).

The true pathway to optimized patient engagement and activation lays in establishing and utilizing standardized best practices, and featuring the right mix of technology, automation and human touch. Learn more about the pathway to optimized patient engagement by visiting the West Corporation booth at HIMSS16.

About The Author
Colin Roberts, Senior Director, Healthcare Product Integration at West Corporation, has over a decade of expertise in health analytics, patient engagement and payment integrity. Reach him at