Patient Engagement: The 21st Century Is Calling, Texting and Sending Video

Updated on September 28, 2023
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The healthcare industry is notoriously resistant to new technologies. If you’re reading this, you likely know more than one doctor still carrying a pager – a technology that has not substantially advanced since the 1980s. It can’t deliver rich information or context. It can’t help doctors set priorities on their time. It is simply the spark that sets the flame for a game of phone tag.

Contrast that with the technology adoption of the patients. While there are no doubt holdouts among them, the average patient is tech-savvy today. They carry a smartphone that delivers constant updates on a variety of topics they care about. They’ve grown accustomed to ordering goods that can be delivered in an hour with those devices. Someone can reach out to them in various modes – text, voice, social media – and they can immediately gather information, exchange views and take action when necessary.

Patients are consumers in their lives outside of the hospital or in other care situations. They expect information at their fingertips. So, the level of frustration that can build up from being in the dark about their own health situation is significant. It’s no fun being sick or injured. That lack of information has implications for their anxiety level, potential negative impacts on outcomes and certainly degrades their satisfaction with the care experience. 

Patient engagement suffers from fragmented communication overall

Patient engagement challenges stem from the fragmented communication environment many hospitals suffer from. Physicians, nurses and support staff often struggle to share information effectively, impacting clinical workflow efficiencies and patient care. 

It’s not just doctors’ pagers at issue. In some cases, there are too many communication tools, some of which are favored more by one staff person than another. Some of those tools are actually built for other things, like Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems, but they have an adjunct texting feature that might appear to be convenient while you’re in the EHR, but it doesn’t reach the right people at the right time or doesn’t cross department barriers. Overhead paging systems create alert fatigue, adding to the frustration that is leading to staff burnout across the healthcare system.

Patients are often at the tail end of these dysfunctional systems, waiting for a consult, a lab result or any information at all about their status. Patients will benefit substantially from a more unified – rather than fragmented – communication experience for everyone in the hospital. Incorporating patients into secure communications not only reduces their anxiety but, in many routine cases, it can be done through a secure message without staff having to dedicate time to standing in a room.

The hospital also benefits from incorporating the patient into the communication experience. At discharge, many patients are sent home with instructions, medications and follow-up appointments. If the hospital can incorporate that patient into the communications environment, it can assist the patient with adhering to instructions and making follow-up appointments. 

Ensuring patient follow-up means additional revenue and avoiding readmittance with its potential implications for reimbursement rates. The hospital further benefits from any patient satisfaction metrics that insurers and other institutions keep on quality of care. Patient satisfaction will be based on the totality of care, including what happens to them after discharge.

The answer is in the palm of your hand

The unified communication experience that connects the patient involves the smartphone that patients, doctors and nurses carry in their pockets.

A unified communication platform for all can leverage the smartphone by using an app connected to a larger system that’s potentially in the cloud. Hospital staff can securely communicate in the course of managing workflows. Patients can be incorporated through secure texting. For those who need additional help, family members can be added to the system. 

Such a platform modernizes patient engagement. It unifies communications by leveraging a ubiquitous tool that everyone already possesses. In some cases, a text can be turned into a phone call with the push of a button. The combination of the overall platform and the smartphone can supply a wide range of information, some of which can be automated. Educational information about the patient’s situation could be incorporated into this exchange, utilizing video and other media. And yes, the platform I’m describing can easily replace pagers. We can all move forward together: doctors, nurses, and patients.

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Will O’Connor, M.D.

Will O’Connor, M.D. is TigerConnect’s chief medical information officer. He’s an industry-known physician executive with more than 20 years of healthcare experience focused on operations, strategic planning, consulting, client delivery, and thought leadership across the healthcare industry. As an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. O’Connor has significant provider experience as well as deep commercial experience, having worked for multiple companies, including McKesson, Allscripts/Eclipsys, and PriceWaterhouseCoopers. He specializes in assisting large health systems, academic medical centers, community hospitals, and payers leverage healthcare information technology and operational improvements to advance their clinical and financial outcomes.