How to Expand the Use of Appointment Reminder Systems to Engage and Activate Patients
Vice President of Marketing
West-Televox, Mobile, Alabama
Physicians know there are limits to what they can do if patients don’t follow care instructions, make healthy choices and take responsibility for actions that impact their health. Achieving optimal health for patients requires effort from both medical providers and patients. But the truth is, many patients are not engaged in their care. Instead, they tend to view their role as being that of a “recipient” rather than a “participant” in healthcare. Physicians and other providers understand that this needs to change, and they are beginning to realize that they are the ones positioned to drive that change. As a result, many healthcare organizations are working to expand outreach efforts to engage and activate patients—and they are finding success by leveraging their appointment reminder systems to do so.
A study conducted by the Center for Advancing Health examined attitudes toward patient engagement and found that healthcare leaders believe even the most active, capable individuals require support in order to engage in their health and healthcare. In a report on the study’s findings, Steven E. Weinberger, American College of Physicians suggested that “To get better engagement, a push needs to come from both the clinician and the patient side— each interact with the other.”
It isn’t just providers that feel patients need to be coached on how to become more involved in their care; healthcare consumers share this sentiment. According to research findings from West Corporation, 83 percent of people say they don’t always do what their doctors tell them, yet more than 40 percent of those individuals say they would follow their doctor’s orders if they received some reminder or nudge between visits. This is encouraging and shows that outreach can engage patients and influence actions.
A majority of hospitals and physicians already have tools in place they can use to conduct outreach and drive engagement. In fact, for the approximately three-quarters of healthcare providers that currently utilize appointment reminder technology, creating digital outreach campaigns for expanded communication purposes can be done effortlessly using existing systems.
Connecting and Engaging With Patients
Today, most patients can easily be reached by text message, voice message or email. That is because patients are seemingly always connected to the device that connects them with any of these types of messages … the cell phone. According to 2015 Pew Research data, 92 percent of adults in the United States own a cell phone, and nearly seven out of ten of those are smartphones. Additionally, Americans are very attached to their devices and tend to have them nearby at all hours of the day and night. Around half of surveyed Americans say they can’t imagine living without their cell phone.
Not only are patients accessible, but they also respond well to receiving digital, between-visit communications from their medical team. A West survey found 51 percent of those who had received a voicemail, text or email from a healthcare provider reported feeling more valued as a patient because of the communication. Also, 35 percent said digital communication improved their opinion of their provider, and 34 percent felt more certain about returning to that provider for care. This feedback reinforces the idea that tech-enabled communication effectively increases patient engagement.
Turning Engagement Into Action
Automated outreach is useful for connecting with patients, but getting patients to take actions to improve their health is the ultimate goal. These examples show a few of the ways healthcare providers can use outreach to help patients get healthy and stay healthy.
Preventive care is essential for long-term health—but it is underutilized. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 100,000 lives could be saved in the U.S. each year if everyone simply received the appropriate clinical preventive care. Unfortunately, many patients do not seek preventive care because they aren’t sure which screenings they need nor are they accustomed to requesting these types of services. Plus, patients often don’t realize that some preventive services are available for free—they assume preventive care is expensive.
One way physicians and other providers can mitigate confusion and educate patients about recommended screenings and coverage benefits is by using their appointment reminder system. Healthcare providers can use appointment reminder technology to do things like:
- Send personalized voice messages to notify individuals that they are due for preventive exams (like mammograms or colorectal screenings) and encourage them to schedule appointments;
- Send timely text messages in the fall to prompt patients to get flu shots;
- Share information that educates patients on the Affordable Care Act and the availability of no-cost preventive services; and
- Deliver healthy lifestyle reminders to motivate patients to exercise and eat balanced meals.
These are just a few of the opportunities medical providers have to use their existing technology to encourage participation in preventive care. The point is, it takes effort from providers to propel patients into action. That provider effort can be accomplished efficiently and effectively by leveraging an appointment reminder system.
Chronic Disease Management
In some ways patients with chronic conditions have similar needs to healthy patients. They require preventive services and can benefit from appointment reminders that are part of the routine of managing their conditions. But in other ways, caring for patients with chronic conditions poses some unique challenges. For example, patients with chronic diseases may require more involved monitoring between visits. They may need medication reminders, follow-up tests and more comprehensive support.
Healthcare providers that want to use automated messages to help patients better self-manage their chronic diseases should follow these practices for maximum effectiveness:
- Deliver communications in the form that patients want, at the time that suits them;
- Make sure messages can be easily understood by non-professionals; and
- Include a call for patients to take a particular action and an option for them to easily respond.
Improving medical care outcomes require innovating healthcare treatment protocols, exploring technological advancements and creating new medicine applications. These components are not the only keys to maintaining a healthier population. Those receiving care must take responsibility and can no longer rely on their medical provider to be the sole driver of their personal health.
It’s clear that active provider to patient communication that encourages self-care can drive the type of actions that lead to better healthcare results. Technology-enabled outreach strategies, such as the expansion of appointment reminder technologies, are likely to push more patients to participate in their healthcare. And that will drive better health outcomes and reduce care costs. It’s a win-win.