To help small practices, vendors need to think like patients

'While small practices can shift their processes more easily than a large enterprise, they have fewer resources to invest in technology'
By Tom Giannulli, MD
01:50 PM
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At HIMSS15 earlier this year, patient engagement was everywhere—sessions, booths, interviews. It was the topic of the week. In fact, HIMSS even showcased a new national study at one of the sessions, Three Perspectives of Patient Engagement.

One of the interesting things that was shared from the study was that the biggest barrier to increasing patient engagement isn’t providing access to health information. The real issue is shifting the attitudes and expectations of clinicians and patients.


For the past few years, the industry has been pushing patient portals as the be-all and end-all in patient engagement, largely because of Stage 2 meaningful use requirements for patient engagement – and now Stage 3's. Many practices have felt the pressure to get their patients on a portal and have struggled to achieve their MU threshold.

This is at least in part because patient engagement is about more than MU or portals. It really is a culture change. This change requires staff to alter the way they do things, and it requires an investment in solutions that can support these changes.

While small practices can shift their processes more easily than a large enterprise, they have fewer resources to invest in technology. Since patient engagement requires a bit of both, smaller practices have some disadvantages.

This is a gap that vendors can fill to help these practices access affordable technology that meets the expectations of patients. To do this effectively, vendors need to think a little more like patients. There are many tools and features that patients want, but for practices to get the most from them, they need to be a part of a larger platform and integrate with other technologies, like billing solutions and EHRs.

Portals are important
No one is disputing the value of portals. More than 80 percent of doctors believe a patient portal helps with patient satisfaction and patient engagement in their own health. The same study, showed that 71 percent believe it helps with patient/physician communication.

As a result, more doctors are investing in portals. Patients also see the value, and are more loyal to a provider who offers a portal. However, data shows that less than 10 percent of patients on average utilize patient portals and when they do they tend to focus on only a few features such as messaging and scheduling, supporting the notion that patient engagement needs are not fully met by portals alone.

Rounding out patient engagement
In addition to patient portals, a successful patient engagement strategy requires tools that help at every stage of interaction with the patient. These include:


  • Text and email: Nearly 40 percent of patients prefer to be contacted electronically
  • Reminders & education: Patients value appropriate preventative care reminders and education about conditions and treatments
  • Online physician search & scheduling: Patients prefer online scheduling, especially younger patients
  • Simplified billing: Patients also identify online bill pay as a top feature

While electronic communication like text reminders is important, the breadth of outreach needs to be more comprehensive. First, patients need to be able to find you. Since they are increasingly looking for healthcare services online, they expect you to be there and to be actively engaged. More than two-thirds of patients used online search prior to booking an appointment. If you’re not there, then you are missing an opportunity to build your business.



Maintaining engagement also requires that providers are actively communicating with patients after appointments through a newsletter, blog and social channels. Social media is a particularly effective tool to connect with your patients outside of office hours because 41 percent of people say use of social media would affect their choice when selecting a doctor.

Offering the end-to-end package
Nine out of 10 patients prefer to be in control of medical decisions or participate in shared decision-making with their doctors. When patient engagement is an end-to-end process in a truly patient centric practice, it is much easier to get patients to use a portal to meet MU thresholds.

It also makes it easier for practices to prepare for growing value-based reimbursement programs, as well as help patients get more involved in their own care and wellness. Ultimately, decision-making is something patients want the most.

Small practices want to stay independent and competitive. They are interested in meeting the changing expectation of patients, but they don’t have the staff or resources to manage lots of disparate systems. The vendors who will be successful in serving the small practice will be the ones who offer all the solutions needed for getting paid, delivering care, and retaining and recruiting patients on one platform at a reasonable cost.