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Understanding Population Needs to Target Patient Engagement

Target patient engagement interventions are necessary in patient panels with vastly different needs, a new Deloitte report illustrates.

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Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- Patient engagement is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. Instead, organizations should consider the different needs and preferences of their populations to target their patient engagement initiatives, according to a new report from Deloitte Center for Health Solutions.

There are four general categories of patients, the report contends, each with different healthcare preferences. Using survey responses from 4,530 patients, Deloitte researchers segmented patients into groups with common needs.

The biggest segment was the homesteaders, with 40 percent of patients being categorized as “reserved, cautious traditionalists.” These patients don’t have a significant propensity for engagement and are unlikely to adopt patient engagement technology on their own.

The next largest segment was the prospectors. Thirty percent of patients were deemed as somewhat engaged and likely to use healthcare technology. These patients largely rely on recommendations from family and friends when accessing care providers.

Sixteen percent of respondents were categorized as trailblazers, or “tech-savvy, self-directed, engaged in wellness, and willing to share data.” These patients are the pinnacle of patient engagement, report excellent health, and tend to have higher incomes.

READ MORE: Moving Beyond the Portal with Patient Engagement Technologies

Finally, 13 percent of patients were segmented as bystanders, or individuals who are “complacent, tech-reluctant,” and unengaged. These patients, who are likely to be low-income, tend not to engage with the healthcare industry because of feelings of distrust and issues with other lifestyle needs not related to health.

The way healthcare providers engage these patients should depend on the specific profile, the Deloitte researchers suggested. Highly-engaged trailblazers do not need the same services as bystanders; in fact, bystanders may not even want to be on the other side of the same engagement strategies providers use for trailblazers.

Instead, organizations should work to engage trailblazers in data exchange. These individuals are the most likely to use health IT and mHealth wearables to generate their own health data, and are also likely to share this data with providers.

Providers may also wish to revamp their telehealth and other virtual health offerings. Most trailblazer patients have accessed care virtually at least once and are likely to do so again in the future, the report noted.

A better understanding of patient’s preferences when accessing healthcare can help healthcare organizations better target their programs for patients. Delivering on these high-priority items is essential for this patient population. Trailblazers are likely to switch providers if they are not satisfied with patient-provider communication or technology offerings, the report found.

READ MORE: 3 Ways to Incorporate Patient Preferences into Healthcare

It may be helpful for organizations to take similar approaches to prospector patients. These patients, which are in the second highest income group in the survey, are also willing to share patient-generated health data and engage with providers using the EHR patient portal.

These patients are also likely to use other health IT tools and try a virtual visit.

One of the most fundamental differences between prospectors and trailblazers is the reliance prospectors have on their family and friends to make recommendations about care. When seeking a new provider, prospector patients consult with their loved ones, as well was their primary care providers, to make a selection.

This underscores the importance of having a good reputation, the Deloitte researchers said. Organizations may wish to consider making partnerships with social and patient advocacy groups to continue to promote a positive reputation. Additionally, focusing on the patient-provider relationship during each encounter will spur more patients to make recommendations to friends.

For homesteaders, the largest patient segmentation, organizations should focus on offering convenient access to care. These patients are less concerned with the cost of care as they are about convenient access and ample appointment slots.

READ MORE: Patient Engagement Strategies for Young, Healthy Populations

Organizations should also lean on strong patient-provider relationships and the use of shared decision-making strategies to empower these patients.

Although homesteader patients are unlikely to pick up a health technology on their own, organizations can leverage care coordinators and other non-clinical professionals to introduce these tools to patients, increasing the likelihood of full adoption.

Finally, organizations should consider the social determinants of health and the issue of community health when focusing on their bystander segment. This population is the oldest and has the lowest income. In all likelihood, these patients are non-compliant with healthcare because they have other, more pressing healthcare needs.

Leaning on community health partnerships that address the social determinants of health could clear the path for patients to achieve wellness.

Additionally, community health partnerships will help break down the walls between patients and healthcare institutions. Bystanders largely have a distrust of the healthcare industry, casting another barrier to care. By partnering with the community, increasing visibility, and building a positive reputation, organizations can begin to build trust.

Understanding and segmenting patient populations will help organizations increase their market share of patients, the Deloitte researchers said. However, these insights go beyond improving an organization’s financial bottom line.

It will also help organizations empower their patients within the healthcare system, equipping them with the tools to improve their health.

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