As dental practitioners, we want to ensure the patient’s oral health as well as overall wellbeing. However, the fact is that a large part of the patient’s wellbeing is determined by how invested they are in their own health. It is by working on patient engagement strategies that can offer lasting results for patients. Let’s take a look at what patient engagement is, what it entails, and importantly what are some patient engagement steps I’ve found helpful based on my experience.
What is patient engagement?
Essentially patient engagement makes sure that the dental health provider and the patient work together for the patient’s wellbeing. Patients who become involved with their treatment, care and play an active role in their recovery are said to be engaged patients.
It ensures that the patient is actively engaged in gathering information as well as making decisions about treatment options and overall have a voice in the health care experience.
Benefits of patient engagement
Patient engagement offers a wide range of benefits, including but not limited to:
- The patient feels respected and heard. In turn, this leads to them being more loyal to the health care provider.
- It improves the long-term health of the patient. Engaged patients tend to make better choices related to their health.
- Once again, engaged patients tend to follow aftercare instructions which reduce the possibility of preventable readmissions.
- With engaged patients decreasing the no-show rates, it reduces overall costs. It is the unengaged patients that are likely to delay care and to have unmet medical needs.
Strategies to Improve Patient Engagement
Here is an 8-step patient engagement model that can go a long way in improving health outcomes. These are based on years of experience of dealing with innumerable clients & determining what works in keeping them involved in their overall well-being. While typically patients tend to underestimate their own role in the recovery process, these strategies keep them motivated through their journey.
There is no doubt that patient engagement can prove to be extremely time intensive. It is thus recommended to leverage technology for the purpose. Technology offers a wide range of advantages. From improving effectiveness to helping you stay connected with the patient, and dealing with staff burnout and shortages, there are a wide variety of benefits. A potent example of the use of technology includes the use of a CRM software such as Salesforce for Customer Relationship Management. Salesforce Health Cloud is a highly beneficial adaptation of CRM for healthcare. Patient portals can also offer patients 24-hour access to data on their personal health.
#2. Segmenting Patient Population
Whether or not you use technology, you need to treat every patient as an individual. An engagement strategy that works well for one patient may not work for the other. It is therefore important to follow the process of segmentation for your patients. I recommend these parameters when doing segmentation:
- By demographics: age, sex, ethnicity.
- By psychographics: such as motivations, opinions, beliefs.
The right segmentation can help craft messages that speak to each segment and ensure that engagement rates improve. For instance when I am dealing with a young working professional who is extremely busy in his or her job and who tends to skip regular checkups, the frequency of reminders may be more. In fact the use of text messages may work well as they would likely put the appointment on their calendar.
#3. Begin engagement pre-visit
Beginning the engagement process once the patient checks in to the clinic might be too late. The patient engagement process is best begun with simple pre-visit procedures such as appointment reminders, intake forms and more. By resolving the paperwork before the appointment, the intake can be streamlined. Also as a dental care provider, you have the information and full medical history to be able to address their needs accurately. It would be in rare case that you attend a patient for emergency dental care, and in that case, you won’t have their medical history available in advance.
#4. Shared decision making
Traditionally we are taught to think that it is the health care provider who can use their knowledge and training to make a diagnosis and fix the problem, and that the patient isn’t qualified to talk about their illness. Shared decision-making turns this model on its head. It democratizes health care and puts the patient on an equal footing. The patient and the health care provider work together in discussing treatment options. Inviting the patient to participate increases their engagement and patient satisfaction.
Aftercare is an important aspect of the treatment plan and it is here more than ever that patient engagement is required. This is because non-adherence to aftercare instructions can lead to poor health outcomes and complications. Aftercare engagement can mean following up on medication, symptoms to watch out for, and more.
#6. All-round care
You need to ensure that patient care does not end once they have recovered. Instead, engaging with your patient on an ongoing basis is a valuable tool in building trust. When patients hear from their health care providers when they are not in the throes of a dental problem, they are more likely to come to you, when they are. In addition, through continuous care, you can also offer preventive care measures.
#7. Using the right channels
In doing all of this, it is imperative that you go with the patient’s preferred channel of communication, be it email, social media, phone, or text messages. It is best to, at the time of onboarding, include the option to opt-in for communication. Also, due care has to be taken to ensure that the patient does not feel overwhelmed by the quantum of communication.
#8. Ensure you track metrics closely
It is only by tracking the right metrics that you will be able to understand the efficacy of your patient engagement program. Some of the metrics to track, include:
- Patient satisfaction
- Response rates
- Health outcomes
- Preventable Readmissions
To Sum Up
By inviting patients to work closely with the health care team, you can ensure that you take that important step in making health care better. COVID-19 has in many ways brought about a dramatic shift in what patients expect from their health care providers and how they prefer to engage. The right steps can go a long way in improving both patient health outcomes as well as health care provider loyalties. In fact, the next wave of health care innovation is bound to rely strongly on patient involvement and engagement. It is imperative for health care providers, therefore, to not miss the bus when it comes to devising the right patient engagement strategies well in time.
Dr. Sharda Patel runs a family dentistry in Pleasanton, California. She is a graduate from the Tufts University of Dental Medicines. She is a member of the American Dental Association, California Dental Association, and the American Dental Education Association. She is thorough, caring, and dedicated to patient satisfaction and comfort. You may find her reading a paperback on weekends.