CIO commentary: Leaning in to create a culture of patient engagement

Summit Medical Group chief information officer Paul Shenenberger shares three steps to getting everyone, including employees, to own the patient engagement experience. 
By Paul Shenenberger
08:56 AM
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CIO culture patient engagement

Hospitals and medical groups have for years treated the idea of patient engagement as a “nice to have” value-add service. But with the coming titans of consumerism — the super-convenient, uber-transactional urgent care and retail clinics of the world like CVS and Walmart — competition has dramatically changed the game.

I anticipate that many of the laggards will finally acknowledge that engagement and convenience are now baseline expectations for patient consumers and will begin to work toward enabling full access to retain patients, ensure receipt of maximum reimbursement, and reduce total cost of care.

For Summit Medical Group, “patient engagement” not only refers to the engagement of the patient, but to everyone who touches the patient. Though, if you asked a hundred healthcare executives what the phrase means, you would probably receive a hundred different responses. From this you can infer that the definition and, more accurately, the implementation of any patient engagement strategy, is a personalized affair.  

[Also: Summit Medical Group earns 70% portal usage among patients]

While a well-thought out strategy should be tailored for each health system according to its needs and patient demographic, I would argue that any healthcare group that doesn’t work to instill a culture around that patient engagement is hobbling itself.

With the rapid change of care intervention, being multi-disciplined, multi-site was no longer enough for Summit. Three years ago, we decided that a patient portal would play a key component in a larger patient-centric strategy. This was an opportunity go beyond our established EHR workflows to challenge our traditional thinking around the patient portal and what it would mean for the patient experience. We landed on a holistic approach, in which we nurtured a culture of engagement and customer service from within to ensure portal adoption success.

First, we developed a minimum set of standards for all Summit providers around results reporting, portal utilization, and patient engagement through the portal.

Second, we challenged all levels of the organization to become active participants in the overall success of the strategy. Marketing developed a plan to push content and information through relevant channels. Staff members were engaged to make sure they signed up every patient possible. Physicians were encouraged to communicate to patients that the best way to access results would be through the portal.

And third we incentivized every member of the organization to build in patients and build up satisfaction. Up and down the vertical chain, every executive, staff member, and physician is accountable for the “satisfaction” score. In fact, bonuses are tied to this benchmark, ensuring everyone has skin in the game.

As the shift in healthcare moves from volume to value and medical practices place a greater importance on patient satisfaction and engagement to boost quality and efficiency, it will be critical that every last person in the healthcare organization owns the patient engagement experience.

Being intentional about designing a culture in support of the patient is a good place to start.

Paul Shenenberger is the chief information officer at Summit Medical Group.

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