Engage: Blog

Melissa McCormack | Nov 2013 | 0 COMMENT(S)

Patient engagement can improve patients’ health outcomes. That’s intuitive – it’s only logical that when you feel empowered to manage your own health, and you have the knowledge and skills to do so, you’ll get better results.

Patient engagement can lower costs. This, too, is fairly intuitive. When you’re taking better care of yourself, you’re less likely to get sick. When you know what questions to ask or what warning signs to look for, you can head off emergency room visits and hospital admissions.

Why, then, aren’t all doctors jumping on board with tactics to get their patients more engaged? Perhaps it’s because the benefits for medical practices aren’t so clear. That’s why the patient engagement discourse needs to address specific benefits for both patients and doctors.

Doctors today are pulled in many directions. Government incentives to adopt electronic health records (EHRs) in 2009 spurred a rash of EHR purchasing. Many doctors rushed into purchases and are now replacing their systems, which tends to be a major undertaking. The government-mandated transition from the ICD-9 medical coding system to the much more complex ICD-10 system by October 2014 also has many practices scrambling. According to one study, fewer than 5 percent have made significant progress. And the Affordable Care Act means there will soon be an influx of previously uninsured patients who are now visiting doctors, creating more patients when a shortage of doctors already exists.

Although I believe most doctors genuinely want what’s best for their patients, the end results of “improved outcomes and lowered costs” is a bit vague. Clearly communicating the benefits of patient engagement for medical practices will surface incentives to spur doctors into action. I had the privilege of speaking with some experts recently who helped me identify those benefits.

As the healthcare payment landscape increasingly shifts to reward the value of care instead of the volume of treatments, health systems will have very real financial incentives to undertake activities that can improve outcomes. As Dr. Judith Hibbard summarizes, “The more that payment models are linked with outcome, the more important engagement is.”

But new payment models are a paradigm shift that will take time to impact the average primary practitioner. So what’s in it for them? Dr. Hibbard points out that better outcomes aren’t just a matter of payment – for doctors, good results are a point of professional pride.

Doctors are also happier at work when their patients are engaged. Every doctor I spoke with echoed that sentiment. Patient engagement helps improve outcomes; the goal of a doctor’s visit is to achieve an outcome; therefore, patient engagement helps doctors achieve their goals. This is professionally satisfying. Because engaged patients tend to be more responsive to doctors’ advice, doctors feel a lot less like they’re spinning their wheels. And just as patients feel empowered when their doctors consider them partners, doctors, too, are buoyed by patients who share the responsibility of managing their own health.

Unsurprisingly, patients are also happier when they’re engaged. They feel empowered, their outcomes improve – why shouldn’t they be happier? Most doctors want their patients to be happy, but satisfied patients also mean returning customers. Additionally, satisfied patients are more likely to refer other patients. These are perhaps the clearest economic incentives for practices not yet involved in value-based reimbursement models.

In time, I foresee the financial ecosystem of U.S. healthcare aligning better and better with the goal of improving health. But even as we make that transition, there are still clear business advantages for physicians who embrace patient engagement. Elucidating those to the medical community will help get patient engagement top-of-mind for physicians and speed up the evolution of the doctor-patient relationship.

Melissa-McCormackMelissa McCormack is Managing Editor for the medical market at Software Advice, where she covers trends in the medical industry, including new software and technology as well as evolving payment models. She is interested in how medical practices can improve relationships with patients to provide better care and achieve better outcomes.