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How Do Patient Engagement Strategies Cut Healthcare Costs?

By preventing catastrophic health events, robust patient engagement strategies can help cut healthcare costs and improve hospital revenue cycle.

Although patient engagement strategies are excellent for improving wellness and satisfaction, they also have a peripheral benefit: cutting healthcare costs and improving the hospital revenue cycle.

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By keeping patients connected with and engaged in their own care, providers can keep their care costs down by preventing catastrophic health events. Below, PatientEngagementHIT.com reviews the strategies through which healthcare providers can cut healthcare costs for both the patient and the hospital.

Maintaining patient health outside the office

One of the fundamentals of patient engagement is facilitating patient-provider communication and patient activity outside of the doctor’s office. Healthcare technology has made this processes easier, specifically through the growing popularity of patient portals, which enable secure direct messaging between patient and provider.

For Susan Wolver, MD, internist and associate professor at VCU Health, being able to communicate through the patient portal has completely revolutionized how she practices medicine. Instead of caring for patients during their, sometimes sparse, encounters in the office, she can fine tune treatment plans remotely through the portal.

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“[The patient portal] has absolutely changed the paradigm and the dialogue from episodic care to care in between those points,” she said in a past interview with PatientEngagementHIT.com. “Different providers take advantage of it in different ways, but for me it really has completely changed the way that I practice medicine.”

This ultimately leads to cost reductions. Because providers can care for their patients remotely and mediate any small care needs, they can prevent their patients from falling seriously ill in the long run. Ultimately, this reduces the likelihood that patients will be faced with major healthcare costs.

According to Heritage Health Systems’ president Mark Wagar, this is the primary goal of patient engagement. Robust engagement and preventative care outside of the doctor’s office is what sets good providers apart.

“It’s not enough to be really good when somebody falls in your door,” Wagar asserted. “It’s in fact as important, if not more important, to be able to figure out how to work with them to improve their general health status so that they have fewer events where they fall in the door.”

Population health management is at the root of that preventative care. When providers properly engage their patients, they can make sure patients receive the right kind of care management, like proper vaccinations.

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One study showed that engaging the patient via the portal helps boost flu vaccination rates. Through the use of patient portal messages and interactive phone calls, researchers from the University of Massachusetts Medical School determined that providers could encourage patients to receive their flu vaccines.

Ensuring proper vaccination could save patients and payers money because it reduces the risk of succumbing to a certain illness, racking up diagnosis and treatment costs.

Engagement strategies can also improve medication adherence, which research shows costs the healthcare industry millions of dollars annually. By engaging the patient at the point of care, while in the pharmacy, and in follow-up communications via patient portal and secure messaging, providers can reduce some of those costs by encouraging their patients to fill and take their prescriptions.

Drive patients into the office for needed care

Of course, there will be times when patients do need to visit the doctor’s office to prevent a bad condition from getting even worse. Engaging the patient to get into the office, and making those appointments readily available, will likely keep costs down by mitigating issues early on.

READ MORE: Low Medication Adherence Negates Medicare Cost-Sharing Savings

With regard to getting patients into the office, the first challenge is getting the patient to want to come into the office. Successfully clearing that hurdle requires continued communication between the patient and the provider.

Secure direct messaging through the patient portal is a critical tool in helping patients determine when they should and should not consult their doctors in person. When they message their provider with a healthcare concern, the provider can respond with the appropriate course of action.

“In a lot of cases patients secure message their doctors and they ask, ‘I’ve had this concern about chest pain or a rash that won’t go away, should I come into the office?’”said David Clain, manager at athenaResearch. “A lot of times the answer is no, and you can address a lot of concerns a patient has just through secure messages and they don’t have to come in.”

When the condition is particularly urgent, the provider can also say yes, making sure they handle the emergency before it gets worse and more costly.

“But in some cases the answer is yes, and sometimes there are rather urgent issues that come up and a cardiologist can say ‘if you’re having chest pains I’d actually like to see you today,’” Clain noted.

When providers and patients work together to identify concerning health issues, they can combat them early on, ensuring costs do not get out of hand as a result of health catastrophes.

Boost patient retention rates

Robust patient engagement has positive financial effects for hospitals, as well. By influencing a health business structure, hospitals can use patient engagement to keep revenue cycles healthy.

While the days of fee-for-service may be waning due to the rise of value-based and capitated payment models, it is important for hospitals to keep their revenue cycle healthy by keeping patients returning to them for their care needs.

Clain says this all comes back to how providers engage their patients. If patients think they have a relationship with a provider at a certain practice or hospital, they are more likely to keep returning.

“If you are a patient at primary care practice or you have some cardiac issue and you have an ongoing relationship with a cardiologist, I think it’s really helpful to be able to continue the conversation outside of the office,” Clain explains.

“And once you’ve done that a couple of times, you feel that connection to your provider, you have a sense that they are committed to your health and to ensure that you have good outcomes.”

Many healthcare organizations are viewing patient engagement as a sort of customer service. My providing patients with the kind of care they want and need, they are boosting their business and patient satisfaction.

MedStar Health recently adopted that approach, reconsidering their engagement strategies and communications with consumers.

“Consumer expectations have really increased,” says Michael Ruiz, vice president and chief digital officer of MedStar.

“Your expectation when you go to a healthcare system is that I should be able to find the doctor I need, get the appointment that I require, be able to get my way to that office in the most effective way possible, see that doctor with the smallest amount of wait, and be able to have an exceptional experience where I walk away from it having my issue resolved.”

In the end, patient engagement means delivering higher quality care, and making sure that care continues outside of the doctor’s office. Whether it be preventing more serious conditions or creating a more loyal consumer, patient engagement strategies have true cost-cutting power, especially as the healthcare industry continues to emphasize value-based payments.

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