- The term “patient engagement” usually elicits images of extensive wellness plans, long patient portal messages, and chronic disease management. However, patient engagement strategies are different for young and healthy patient populations.
Young and healthy populations have far fewer needs than chronic disease patients. This population rarely has more than one (if that many) chronic illnesses and seldom has to visit the doctor more than once or twice per year. These individuals are low healthcare utilizers who do not need constant engagement and guidance from their providers.
However, being a low healthcare utilizer does not preclude a young and healthy patient from needing strong engagement. These patients just need the right kind of patient engagement to use resources wisely.
Healthcare professionals can effectively engage their younger and healthier patient populations by appropriately leveraging health IT, forging deep connections, and making the care process easy and convenient.
It may be unsurprising to find that young patient populations respond well to robust health technology use. From patient portals to mHealth, young patients are using these tools to drive personal wellness goals and keep in touch with their providers.
Patients are using the patient portal to maintain contact with their clinicians and to seek answers to medical questions. These tools also allow patients access to their medical records, which surveys indicate younger patients want, regardless of health status.
A 2015 survey about the emergence of health IT showed that 60 percent of younger and healthier patients support the use of telehealth in clinical encounters, and 71 percent prefer when their providers use a mobile device.
More than half of patients were also interested in wearable devices and mobile health applications.
Educating patients about these tools and leveraging them during the clinical encounter will empower patients – even the healthy ones – to take a bigger role in their own wellness. In the case of wearable and mHealth devices, they may even prolong patient wellness further into life.
Forging deep connections
While young and healthy patient populations do support the integration of health IT into clinical care, they still value face-to-face encounters and personal connections with their doctors. In this low-risk population, clinicians need to drive these relationships wisely.
Results from a 2015 Nuance survey show that younger patients prefer a personal touch during the clinical encounter. About three-quarters of patients say that adequate time for discussion constitutes a positive visit. Other positive visit attributes included strong eye contact, clinician body positioning near the patient, and a handshake or other form of personal contact with the patient.
These actions will make all of the difference in patient retention.
Clinicians must build a strong rapport with patients so that if something does go awry in a patient’s health, the clinician is whom the patient visits.
While it will be important to use strong interpersonal skills with the patient during annual wellness visits, the fact of the matter is the patient will not be in the office all too often.
Clinicians need to leverage patient communication devices – primarily patient portals – to build these relationships with patients at opportune moments. Bombarding healthy patients with weekly or monthly messaging may not be effective and could potentially deter the patient.
However, touching base following appointments, reaching out during flu vaccination season, or connecting prior to an upcoming physical can build the relationship young patients seek.
Clinicians who do this will show their patients that they care and that they are a trusted advisor to visit when more extensive help is needed, according to David Clain, a manager at athenaResearch.
“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,” Clain said in a previous interview.
Making the process convenient
Multiple studies and surveys indicate that younger and healthier patients want a navigable and convenient healthcare experience. This may be a feasible feat considering the low utilization rates for younger patients.
Healthcare professionals can create a more activated patient when they make the system more convenient, ensuring the patient will visit a clinician when she needs or is due for an annual wellness visit. Clinicians can ensure this healthy population stays healthy longer by taking care of these minimal needs.
A 2016 FAIR Health survey showed that younger patients are already tapping into multiple resources to make healthcare more convenient. Fifty percent of patients reported in the survey that they use urgent care and retail clinics for non-emergency care. Patients appreciate the convenience of these facilities, the survey showed.
The survey also revealed that younger patients utilize online resources, such as Google and WebMD. This should raise a red flag, said survey administrator William Curry, MD, because these online sources cannot take the place of a primary care physician.
“Those care providers are convenient, and often they provide exactly the care someone needs,” said Curry, who is Associate Dean of Rural and Primary care at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine. “It’s important to realize they cannot take the place of a primary care provider for the screening, prevention and long-term follow-up that we all need, customized to each of us.”
Instead, providers must find a way to make the healthcare landscape more convenient for patients. Clinicians should educate patients about when it is most appropriate to access an urgent care center versus a primary care physician, for example.
Doctor’s offices can also make appointment scheduling more convenient. Creating more call center efficiency will help patients get in touch with administrative staff to make necessary visits. Enlisting online appointment scheduling software will enhance the process further, allowing patients to make appointments that work for them with the provider that best suits their needs.
Telehealth also proves a beneficial strategy for making healthcare convenient for young and healthy patients. This population can benefit from video conference visits with their providers during a lunch break or before or after work hours. Adding this layer of convenience will prompt more patients to receive help when they need it.
Ultimately, sparking more young and healthy patients to receive medical attention when needed – and when due for an annual physical – should be the end goal of patient engagement strategies for this population.
While young and healthy patients do not need extensive chronic care management strategies, they do need the attention that gets them in the door when necessary. By leveraging technologies, building strong relationships and patient loyalty, and making the process convenient, providers can drive more patient engagement in this low-risk population.