Five Strategies for Empowering Your Patients

June 16, 2014
James Cowan, MD

More engaged patients are more likely to follow your advice. Here are five ways to jumpstart your practice's efforts.

Before physicians can successfully transition their practices to value-driven care, they must first enlist the help of one of their greatest assets: the patient. Even with the right technologies and care management programs in place, practices won't be able to positively impact outcomes or influence costs without an involved and engaged patient population.

Engaged patients are more likely to receive recommended screenings, follow treatment guidelines, and lead a healthy lifestyle. They are more loyal as well. A patient base that is both loyal and engaged is a major advantage for practices.

So what does an engaged patient look like? Simply put, engaged patients are ones that:

• Understand their conditions;

• Understand the treatment and what it will do for them; and

• Believe the treatment will make a difference in their lives.

The last point is of particular interest: When a patient trusts that a treatment will be effective, there's a much higher chance it will work for them and produce the desired results.

According to a study conducted by Gallup Research and IMI Healthcare for the AARP, more activated patients are:

• 19.2 percent less likely to experience a medical error

• 12.8 percent less likely to be readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of discharge

• 12.6 percent less likely to have poor coordination among providers

• 15.1 percent less likely to lose confidence in the healthcare system.

In other words, when a patient trusts a treatment will be effective, there's a much higher chance it will work for them and produce the desired results.

Patient engagement is becoming a strategic priority as more revenue becomes tied to engagement levels through the Stage 2 requirements of meaningful use and outcomes-based reimbursement models. A National eHealth Collaborative survey found more than 85 percent of healthcare stakeholders believe patient engagement is very important to their organization.

Patient-centered strategies

Involving patients in their care is essential to improving outcomes and lowering costs. But where should a practice begin? Here are five strategies physicians can employ to jumpstart their engagement efforts:

1. Start a dialogue. The best way to know what patients need is to ask. Find out what challenges patients face when it comes to seeking care, managing their health, and following treatment plans. Town hall meetings and online forums are both excellent ways to start a dialogue with patients and encourage more open communication. Secure messaging and other online tools help keep conversations going, leading to stronger relationships and increased satisfaction.

2. Put patients in charge. Consumers rely on self-service tools from banks, airlines, and retailers. Likewise, they are turning to their doctors for the same level of convenience and control. A 2011 Deloitte study found 50 percent of consumers want the ability to access their medical record online and 81 percent want the ability to make appointments online. The right combinations of self-service and self-management options allow physicians to partner with patients and make strides toward better health outcomes.

3. Go mobile. Healthcare's mobile audience grew by 134 percent last year, the most of any sector. Early adopters can differentiate their practices by offering patients mobile options for accessing lab results, personal health records, condition-specific information, and more. Mobile apps help facilitate shared decision making between patients and their care team. Convenient access to information and interaction can result in more effective and collaborative care.

4. Embrace social networking. An April 2012 survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers reported nearly one-third of patients are using Facebook, YouTube, blogs and other avenues for healthcare-related purposes. Some of the ways social platforms help physicians keep engagement levels high include:

• Providing educational materials about health and wellness;

• Pointing patients to credible resources about conditions; and

• Connecting patients with similar health issues.

5. Be proactive. Patients who exercise, eat right, and follow preventive care guidelines have better outcomes than those who don't. Doctors can help motivate patients to adopt healthier habits and educate them about the importance of following evidence-based care recommendations. This increases engagement and helps prevent chronic disease and costly complications. Personalized care plans, wellness programs and health coaching are just a few of the ways physicians can connect with patients outside of a traditional office visit and promote positive behavior change.

Collaborative transformation

Practices can put their accountable care goals within reach and provide more patient-centered care by encouraging patients and their families to be active members of their care team. It starts with meeting patients where they are. Easy-to-use, tailored, and convenient options empower patients to be more involved and engaged. By working together and taking advantage of the latest health management, wellness, and communication tools, patients and physicians can drive better outcomes, lower costs, and create a more positive care experience.

James Cowan, MD, is senior medical director of Accountable Care Solutions from Aetna. E-mail him at

This article originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of Physicians Practice.