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June 2016

Engage Patients to Boost Preventive Care
By Allison Hart
For The Record
Vol. 28 No. 6 P. 30

When it comes to following care instructions, it's generally agreed upon that a lot of patients don't do a particularly good job of adhering to their physicians' orders. In fact, according to "A Fragile Nation in Poor Health," only one in 20 health care professionals gives their patients an "A" grade for sticking to directions about becoming healthier. This is frustrating for providers who simply want to see patients get healthy and stay that way.

Many physicians wonder how they can not only make patients understand that they are obstructing their own care but also engage and transform them into becoming active participants in the process. The secret to overcoming these hurdles may lie with technology-enabled patient outreach.

Health care consumers can be a frustrating lot. They can walk out of the physician's office and immediately forget the instructions they just received from the health care team. Yet, chances are good that if they are prompted by their Fitbit to take some extra steps, they will get moving.

This seems to indicate that patients often need encouraging reminders to help motivate them to take the actions necessary to improve their health. This is why physicians and other health care providers must devise engagement strategies that patients won't ignore. More specifically, between-visit text messages, e-mails, and automated voicemail communications can offer support and help keep patients on a path to good health.

Health in Hand
Pew Research data indicate that 92% of adults in the United States own a cell phone, with nearly seven out of every 10 of those being a smartphone. People are constantly connected to their phones and other devices that allow them to receive and respond to messages. And not only are patients accessible but they also are receptive to receiving digital communications regarding their health. A West Corporation survey found that 51% of patients who received a voicemail, text, or e-mail from a health care provider felt more valued. In addition, 35% said digital communication improved their opinion of their provider, and 34% felt more certain about returning to that provider for care.

Many providers are unaware they already have technology in place that allows them to create and send automated engagement communications. Existing appointment reminder technology can be optimized and used to send automated texts, e-mails, and voicemail messages that promote preventive services, share information, and solicit patient feedback. For those already using appointment reminders, all it takes to actually make patient engagement a routine part of care is maximizing technology that is currently being used.

Engagement in Action
Health care organizations can use their appointment reminder technology to send engagement communications that encourage participation in preventive care. In fact, providers across the United States are finding that sending automated messages that prompt patients to take action (eg, schedule preventive screenings and immunizations) produces results.

For example, Ochsner Health System called patients with recent orders for a colonoscopy and left an automated message notifying them that they were due for the screening. Ochsner's message—which urged patients to schedule the test—worked. Outreach efforts attracted patients who admitted they would not have taken steps on their own to set up an appointment. In fact, so many screenings were scheduled that in just two months, Ochsner generated nearly $685,000 in additional revenue from colonoscopies.

Scottsdale Medical Imaging had a similar experience when promoting preventive services. The organization sent automated voicemails to patients who were past due for a mammogram. The voicemails resulted in 1,200 mammograms being booked during the course of a year.

At both Ochsner and Scottsdale Medical Imaging, engagement communications prompted patients to act and sparked an increase in preventive care.

Overcoming Hurdles
Consider the reasons patients don't seek preventive services on their own. One of the biggest challenges of trying to expand routine services to healthy patients is that health screenings and services are not top of mind for people when they are not sick. Technology-enabled engagement messages are the perfect solution to this problem because they can bring awareness to preventive care, help patients understand why and how to keep up with routine checkups, ease concerns about the cost of preventive screenings, and more.

One question providers sometime have when it comes to creating engagement communication campaigns is whether they have the resources to support their efforts. Because communications can be automated, minimal investment is all that's required to launch such efforts. Plus, depending on the messages sent and the services promoted, providers can bring in additional revenue that more than pays for the time and resources needed to develop communications campaigns. That's because technology-enabled outreach can help land new patients, book a full calendar of appointments, reduce patient no-shows, secure payment for services, and minimize bad debt write-offs.

Lasting Benefits
In response to a West Corporation survey, 35% of patients (who admitted they don't closely follow prescribed treatment plans from their health care providers) said they would be more likely to follow directions if they received reminders from their physicians via e-mail, voicemail, or text. Providers have the tools in place that they need in order to change that. Health care teams that utilize appointment reminder technology to deliver communications promoting preventive care can drive greater participation in routine care and help improve patient outcomes.

— Allison Hart is an advocate for utilizing technology-enabled communications to engage and activate patients beyond the clinical setting who leads thought leadership efforts for West Corporation's TeleVox Solutions.