- Increasing patient engagement strategies in follow-up care is critical in maintaining the health of patients beyond the scope of care within the hospital.
Improving follow-up care, and ensuring that the patient is engaged with that care, has benefits across the entire healthcare spectrum. From keeping up with patients managing chronic illnesses to checking in with patients who just underwent surgery, follow-up care is important in making sure patients transition to home care easily and do not succumb to a relapse and eventual hospital readmission.
Administering follow-up care can pose its challenges, however, especially as patients claim busy schedules and other various barriers to care.
Technology appears to be helping this problem, introducing patients and providers alike with several opportunities to connect outside of the doctor’s office to stay on top of follow-up care.
Connect to the patient portal
Patient portals, a patient-facing add-on to most EHRs, gives patients the opportunity to look at their care and have access to their health information. While patient portals mostly improve patient access to health data, they have several other capabilities that can help with follow-up care.
Through direct secure messaging with providers and online appointment scheduling, patients can take charge and mitigate their own illnesses. Direct secure messaging can enable patients in contacting providers whenever they are having a problem with their follow-up care, and can help them book an appointment if an issue proves to need more direct attention.
The key to ensuring patients actually use the patient portal and engage with it enough to work as a part of follow-up care is to make sure they know how to use it before they leave the facility. According to a patient portal guide from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, this is the key to ensuring effective portal use.
“To simplify the portal registration process, have staff assist patients with the process, and consider providing a registration kiosk in the office,” ONC wrote. “Staff can educate patients about how to use the portal’s features, and can offer guidance about the kinds of communication that are appropriate between providers and patients.”
Use telehealth technology
Although patient portals can often be effective in helping providers keep up with follow-up care, it is important providers implement additional strategies.
Telehealth technology has shown itself as a game-changer in follow-up care, as it allows patients and doctors connect remotely after the patient leaves the hospital. Putting to rest issues about rural locations, busy schedules, and abilities to get time off from work, telemedicine helps physicians conduct follow-up appointments with their patients from the convenience of their own computers.
Research from JAMA Surgery shows that patients may even prefer telemedicine follow-ups compared to traditional appointments. In a study involving 23 post-operative veterans, researchers found that the veterans enjoyed the convenience of telemedicine follow-ups.
With the veterans choosing telemedicine follow-ups more than other forms of follow-up care, this opens the door for more telemedicine care and increased care availability.
“These kinds of methods are really important in the climate we're in now,” said the study’s lead author Michael Vella, MD, of Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “So I think anything you can do to save money, see more patients and improve access to care is really important.”
Set up digital reminder systems
Technology also offers opportunities for physicians to set up automatic, digital reminders for their patients to engage in certain healthy behaviors following care encounters.
These reminders can serve several purposes, like reminding patients to take vital medications, reminding them to do certain exercises, or even simply asking how the patient is doing.
Recently, researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina have been experimenting with digital reminder messages to patients. These messages remind kidney transplant patients, who are often responsible for taking about 15 medications each day, to stay adherent to their treatment plans.
Although these digital reminders aren’t stand-ins for follow-up appointments, they do a lot for engaging with patients after their transplant, helping them prevent adverse conditions.
"Unfortunately, we also know medication non-adherence and the resulting uncontrolled hypertension are predominant risk factors for premature graft rejection, graft loss and death,” said study leader John McGillicuddy, MD. “With this study, we're looking at ways to keep patients on schedule with a computer automated monitoring system using mobile technology to improve patient outcomes."
Other hospitals are employing similar tactics. At Sharp Rees Stealy Medical Group, patients are being sent message reminders to take their medication, to perform a certain action, or to just heed some important wellness advice.
These approaches, along with other simple, digital follow-up care approaches, go far in helping engage the patient in their care. By tapping into patient engagement strategies and simplifying the follow-up care process, providers are better able to make sure their patients are quickly on the road to recovery with few hiccups along the way.