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“Nonstop” Patient Engagement Requires More Provider Outreach

Providers can drive value through robust patient engagement and outreach efforts. In order to do this, Mark Wagar from Heritage Medical Systems says providers must develop a strong understanding of patient needs.

By Sara Heath

Patient engagement is often touted as a key to driving value-based healthcare, but determining how to conduct patient outreach can be difficult.  As the healthcare system moves away from “sick care” towards a wellness-driven approach, providers need to gather information on patient lifestyles and preferences in order to make effective care and outreach decisions.

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While the fee-for-service model does not do much to reward patient outreach and engagement between office visits, Mark Wager, President of Heritage Medical Systems told PatientEngagementHIT.com in an interview, the transition to value wil start to prioritize the communication strategies that encourage preventative care.

“One of our problems with our traditional healthcare system is that people go through too much build-up of their health problems before they seek care,” Wagar said. If patients fail to seek care in a timely manner, healthcare can become more costly and patients can suffer more long-term healthcare issues.

“We’re moving far faster than ever before away from a system that is designed to be excellent for the patient when they present themselves because they are sick or injured to a system that basically envelopes them and engages with them non-stop,” Wagar explained. “I think the challenge is going from reactive to proactive.

As the healthcare industry begins to tip toward a value-based model, it will be important for providers to communicate with their patients and adjust course of treatment where necessary, ideally preventing a buildup of medical conditions.

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Providers are eager to make this shift toward stronger outreach, Wagar said.

“Most physicians, most offices, most providers have always wanted to have this information,” he asserted. “They’ve thought, ‘if I had this information I could do a better job for Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but I just don’t have it.’”

“[Changing financial incentives are] what makes the lightbulb go on and say, ‘maybe I can do this and not just have to spend more money doing things that I’m not paid for. I’ll get paid for it,’” he added.

In order to face these new care models, Wagar said providers must adjust their workflows.

Instead of waiting to work with patients when they come into the office for care, providers need to set up a vast network of patient connections, opening multiple touchpoints in different facets of patient life.

READ MORE: Does Shared Decision-Making Support Value-Based Care Models?

“We learned early to gather as much information as we can, not just from when the patient presents, but information from insurance companies, from databanks, and, if the patient will permit you, family and other community members,” Wagar said. “You need as much of that information as possible.”

Patient information not only informs better care decisions, but it also helps providers develop other outreach strategies. When providers learn about a patient’s life circumstances, they can determine a better way to interact with her, such as home support, digital or mHealth tools, or patient portals.

Although providers spearhead patient outreach, they can also lean on other organizational relationships to support patient-centered efforts. Practices should forge relationships with community organizations to better understand their patients or help in patient education and outreach.

“There are community organizations that we try to work with that may be closer to certain populations who are able to provide them with services that don’t require a license and don’t require a particular medical discipline,” Wagar explained.

“They just require common sense and compassion and listening and understanding and getting that information in the hearts of the delivery that can help.”

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These organizations can also inform providers of a patient’s life circumstances. For example, did the patient recently experience a setback that discouraged her from communicating with her doctor? That patient’s community service group may know about that and can inform the provider, prompting outreach.

“You need to get this completely round view of their entire life circumstances, not just their physical health condition aspects, and then figure out what the best way to communicate with that person is,” Wagar said.

When it comes to patient preferences, providers must also ensure they are consulting with the patient. After all, patient engagement relies on patients as a part of the care team.

“We have a lot of meetings and discussions about what we think [patients] would and would not like. Well, ask them,” Wagar said.

“Patients are not nearly as fragile or unaware of health circumstances or incapable of talking about health issues, so talk to them. The vast majority of the time that becomes a positive source of information and you can sort of develop that individual profile.”

Although patient outreach can give rise to complex challenges, Wagar says it’s important to keep strategies formulaic. Ultimately, providers need to keep their approaches simple to be effective.

“More is better, but don’t be a nuisance,” Wagar concluded. “Get the right kinds of information you want to engage with them about. Collect it from as many other sources as possible so you make it easy for them. Act on what you learn.”

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