Advancing patient care through technology
By Scott Zimmerman, October 2011
Engagement communications help medical practices tailor the type of information their patients receive, as well as when and how they receive it.
No one would deny that technology has had a significant impact on the healthcare industry. From new testing techniques to surgical equipment, today’s medicine is very different from that of just 10 years ago. And now, with the explosion of the Internet and other digital communications, a wealth of health-related information is more accessible to patients than ever.
Patients seek information immediately and often research both disease and cure on their own. In many cases, this results in better-informed patients and makes it possible for them to take greater responsibility for their healthcare. But in other cases, when patients access inaccurate information, physicians have to ensure their patients unlearn what they have learned.
Like it or not, the Internet and other communications technologies are here to stay. Physicians must recognize this fact and leverage it in such a way to engage their patients and help their practices. They should be proactive and recommend Web sites to their patients, or perhaps even develop Web sites, blogs and social media pages of their own to provide accurate medical information – as long as they are careful not to violate restrictions and laws related to patient privacy.
One way to do that is through a new patient communication strategy called engagement communications.
Engagement communications utilize advances in communications technology – such as voice messaging, SMS text messaging, e-mail and Web portals – to help medical practices tailor the type of information their patients receive, as well as when and how they receive it.
These communications create many points of engagement with a patient rather than just a simple connection. A connection might inform a patient, but it doesn’t necessarily motivate them to take action. Create engagement points and the path is opened up for activation – or in this case, patients taking a greater, more-informed role in their healthcare.
For example, engagement communications allow an OB/GYN clinic to send e-mail messages to expectant mothers reminding them to take their pre-natal vitamins and to attend childcare classes at the local hospital. Patients with chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure, could receive a series of text message reminders to renew their prescriptions. Or a patient struggling to quit smoking could be encouraged to enroll in a smoking-cessation program or purchase nicotine patches and gum.
Before engagement communications, there was simple message notification – standard, impersonal voicemails or e-mails blasted out to patients issuing orders or directives. Engagement communications, however, involve campaign-based outreach, which encourages two-way dialogue. It’s no longer just about appointment reminders and collections. It’s about building relationships by providing patient care between visits to help patients live healthier lives.
These outgoing messages can be delivered en masse to hundreds or even thousands, but each is experienced in a tailored, personalized manner and has the potential to deliver transformational benefits in overall health outcomes. By effectively engaging in a dialogue in which information and concerns can be shared, physicians are better able to assess the situation, and patients become motivated to take a more active role in their course of treatment, which results in increased levels of compliance.
The technology also enables medical practices to utilize custom patient satisfaction surveys to keep tabs on the overall patient experience with regular two-way communication. Once a physician establishes a dialogue with patients, the possibilities open up, giving the physician the ability to understand and react to their motivations and needs in real time. And by incorporating newer communication resources with the physical exam and patient history, physicians can personalize the medical experience to provide a human touch, but with some of the high-tech elements that today’s patients have come to expect.
These actions lay the foundation to advance patient care and improve the overall patient experience through technology.
Scott Zimmerman is president of TeleVox Software.
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