Patient Engagement: The Cure for Health System Revenue Woes

Updated on June 2, 2023

Americans aren’t the only ones getting sicker — our health systems are ailing as well.

A report published last September by the American Hospital Association and KaufmanHall projected multi-billion-dollar losses for U.S. hospitals and health systems in 2022, with close to 70% of them potentially ending the year in the red. The outlook for 2023 isn’t looking much better.

Escalating labor and supply costs and relatively flat reimbursements are some of the reasons why hospitals and health systems are struggling financially, but the decline in patient revenues overall is an equally significant factor. Even after the COVID crisis has passed, hospitals are continuing to experience a notable decrease in patient volumes, largely driven by individuals delaying or forgoing care altogether. As of 2021, almost 20% of patients hadn’t seen any healthcare provider during the past year. In its recent Trends in the Health Economy report, Trilliant Health noted that 61.7% of markets in the U.S. experienced sustained declines in primary care visits from Q1 2019 to Q1 2022. 

Do Americans just not like going to the doctor? Maybe they’re just sick of the hurdles they must jump through to do so: the endless waits for appointments (and then waits at appointments); the confusion about what type of care they need; and the brevity and impersonality of their interactions with healthcare professionals. According to a recent Time magazine article, “In 2019, even before the COVID-19 pandemic rocked the foundations of health care, an Ipsos survey found that 43% of Americans were unsatisfied with their medical system, far more than the 22% of people in the U.K. and 26% of people in Canada who were unsatisfied with theirs. By 2022, three years into the pandemic, just 12% of U.S. adults said health care was handled ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ well in the U.S., according to a poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs research.”

It is clear that healthcare institutions need to focus on improving the patient experience to protect themselves from further revenue leakage. Adopting new patient engagement strategies is key to this effort. True patient engagement isn’t simply delivering digital communications – it goes beyond sending a one-size-fits-all text or email message. It requires recognizing each patient’s individuality and tailoring the engagement to his/her unique needs and motivations. Research has confirmed this: recent studies indicate that what patients are looking for are more personalized connections in their healthcare interactions. In fact, 61% of patients in one recent industry survey found that they wanted better patient engagement to help them with preventive screenings and wellness checks.

Our work with health systems has shown that adopting effective patient engagement strategies can benefit a hospital’s bottom line in a number of ways, including: 

More activated patients: Personalizing the healthcare experience engages the patient in their medical journey, leading to more meaningful interactions and higher patient satisfaction. One healthcare system found that patients engaged via personalized outreach versus general marketing campaigns resulted in 55% more scheduled visits and 44% more completed visits. Because activated patients are more likely to schedule healthcare visits, providers enjoy steadier income.

Better health outcomes: Patients who are activated and informed utilize preventive care more often — from annual visits to cancer screenings to medication management – which can help prevent or manage chronic conditions and promote overall health and well-being. One Academic Medical Center saw a 77% increase in patients actively participating in their care (e.g., setting goals and completing care management programs) as a result of personalized communication outreach. 

Stronger, more sustainable health systems: Patients who take an active role in their own care have better health outcomes, reducing the need for expensive medical treatments and procedures. Engaged patients are also more likely to use healthcare resources in a more efficient way, leading to cost savings for both patients and the healthcare system. Another healthcare system found that patients engaged in a personalized journey throughout an episode of care had two times the rate of patient-reported outcome measures (PROMs) and 50% fewer emergency room visits within the first two weeks of discharge – resulting in an estimated half million dollars saved in avoided penalties. 

In the end, what patients want most is to be understood, respected and feel like their care is tailored just for them. Health systems that want to stem their revenue losses would do well to adopt engagement strategies and tools that not only reach, but activate, patients with personalized and connected communications at every phase of their health journey. 

Carrie Kozlowski
Carrie Kozlowski
Carrie Kozlowski is COO and co-founder at Upfront Healthcare, where she leads strategy, operations and talent development.