Four experts offer advice and best practices for how to launch and maintain success with technologies that boost engagement and improve the patient experience.

Implementation best practices: Patient engagement tech done right

By Bill Siwicki
01:00 PM
Implementation best practices: Patient engagement tech done right

Implementing patient engagement technology can help health systems involve and empower their patients to achieve better health outcomes – and better clinical and business outcomes for the provider organizations.

But to roll out these technologies effectively, CIOs and other IT leaders need to put together patient-centric systems and processes and focus on change management before, during and after implementation.

We spoke with four experts in patient-facing technology who each offered some tips and best practices for how engagement and experience tools should be deployed at provider organizations.

A set of guiding principles

One of the first things a healthcare provider organization should do when implementing patient engagement technology is to adopt a set of guiding principles anchored to the needs of the patient, said Dr. Ashwini Zenooz, senior vice president and general manager of healthcare and life sciences at Salesforce. Before joining Salesforce, Zenooz was the chief medical officer responsible for EHR modernization at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“Reorient engagement around each specific patient’s wide range of needs, understanding that healthcare delivery is an ongoing practice, not just what happens during an acute care episode,” Zenooz advised. “Patients do not just consume their healthcare, they experience it. A patient-focused personalization of healthcare needs to use engagement strategies that recognize this broader support system that providers and payers participate in, but may not always be at the center of.”

Healthcare organizations need to understand that patient health needs are diverse and can include short-term and long-term needs, preventative care and traumatic care, Zenooz added. Further, patient demographics can influence how different patients prefer to interact and consume health engagement technologies, she said.

“Minors or elders may need a proxy, millennials thrive on using technology, Baby Boomers may prefer to have in-person/phone contact instead of leveraging technology,” she said. “Other demographic factors may influence access, whether it be language barriers or access to technology. By understanding patient needs and preferences, this would help drive greater adoption and engagement throughout an individual’s health journey.”

"Reorient engagement around each specific patient’s wide range of needs, understanding that healthcare delivery is an ongoing practice, not just what happens during an acute care episode."

Dr. Ashwini Zenooz, Salesforce

On another note, healthcare provider organizations should solicit feedback from the patient, Zenooz advised.

“Oftentimes patients offer the best feedback on usability of the technology and can provide direction for future releases,” she said. “The earlier you incorporate the patient perspective and feedback into design and implementation, the greater buy-in and adoption you’ll see.”

Anxiety, communication, caregiver and staff engagement

Mauraan Schultz, senior director at Pivot Point Consulting who works with hospitals and health systems on patient engagement initiatives, including a current initiative at health system John Muir Health, said that the implementation of patient-facing technologies creates a unique level of organizational anxiety.

“Be prepared for it,” Schultz advised. “Critical success factors include communication and provider and staff engagement. While we are early in our multi-phase, consolidated patient engagement journey at John Muir Health, we recognize the importance for targeted ‘What’s in it for me’ messaging for different audiences – from patients to providers to front-desk staff.”

At the executive level, Pivot Point and John Muir have invested heavily in alignment across operations, IT and strategy teams.

“We also recognize the need to have a clear, shared understanding about how information travels in the organization and how information is disseminated at the operational level and among the physician community,” Schultz said. “We continue to take specific steps to ensure broad awareness and engagement.”

Working with Schultz is Lisa Foust, chief people and engagement officer at John Muir Health. She advised peers that they should take a holistic look at patient engagement technologies – it’s not just about mobile apps and a robust portal.

“In fact, some dimensions of patient engagement and the enabling technology should feel invisible to the patient,” she explained. “At John Muir Health, we continue to examine every facet of how we interact with patients – when responding to billing questions, when sending print communications, when patients attempt to navigate our facilities, etc.”

Findings are informing a broad portfolio of opportunities underpinned with technology – including a lot of work that happens behind the scenes for patients and consumers.

“Great examples of this include consolidating the myriad of phone numbers patients choose from, aligning our print and digital messaging, and deploying a customer relationship management platform to provide a seamless experience,” Foust added.

Define goals, conduct baseline assessment

Stacilyn Hawkins, director of implementation and project management at Jellyfish Health, a patient experience technology vendor, advised define goals first, with improving the front-end patient experience usually being the No. 1 goal.

Focus on reducing patient wait times and using a text-first approach, she added, conduct a baseline assessment, and take a deep-dive into staff utilization (registration, nursing and physicians).

“The medical field is behind on patient consumerism,” she stated. “As healthcare evolves and shifts its focus from viewing the patient as a client to viewing the patient as a consumer, healthcare organizations are having to step up their game. From specialty practices to hospital systems, everyone is affected by the changing needs and wants of the patient.”

"Some dimensions of patient engagement and the enabling technology should feel invisible to the patient."

Lisa Foust, John Muir Health

As patients shop around for the best experience, they expect everything at their fingertips, she explained. Nearly two-thirds of Millennials and Gen Xers would switch providers for the ability to book online, according to a MobileSmith study. That means healthcare facilities must provide a digital front door for patients to be able to access their care and schedule their appointments at any time, Hawkins said.

“Bringing new technology into an organization is disruptive,” she said. “No matter what EHR, payment system or patient experience solution is used, it causes staff headaches and feelings of being overwhelmed. The change in culture is the most important thing of all, starting from leadership to middle management to staff in the trenches.”

If the vision of what the facility is trying to accomplish by implementing patient engagement technology is not understood by all, then it will fail, she added.

“In order to help ease the feeling of being overwhelmed, smooth implementation of the latest technology is key,” she explained. “Sufficiently training staff about the functionality, understanding the new workflow and teaching them the step-by-step process that needs to be incorporated into their current routine is necessary to accomplish a seamless patient experience.”

Five change management considerations

Another best practice is to influence the implementation of patient engagement technology with change management, said Zenooz of Salesforce.

“There are five critical considerations for effective change management,” Zenooz stated. “First, start with the end user – from the front-line to the clinician to IT and the back office – in mind to secure buy-in and design integrated solutions. As with patients, adoption will be higher among clinical staff if they buy in. To achieve buy-in, engage internal stakeholders early on to design usable solutions that integrate seamlessly into existing workflows and alleviate pain points.”

Second, prioritize interoperability with existing or soon-to-be-used technologies to set end users up for success, she said. Sharing or aggregating data across apps/platforms is beneficial to the patient and the provider, she added. Data can be used for internal or quality reporting to enable better patient outcomes, she stated.

“Third, structure opportunities for continuous improvement,” she said. “Beyond soliciting feedback from patients, keep a pulse on feedback from clinicians and end users as well. Use assessments or roundtables to continually assess everyone’s perspectives and make sure that the organization is moving forward during times of change as a strong and well-informed team.”

Fourth, Zenooz stated, is to celebrate wins, both big and small.

"As healthcare evolves and shifts its focus from viewing the patient as a client to viewing the patient as a consumer, healthcare organizations are having to step up their game."

Stacilyn Hawkins, Jellyfish Health

“Identify realistic engagement/adoption goals to work toward,” she said. “Not all patients and clinicians will like it, and not everyone will use it. Leaders need to establish a clear plan toward the end goal, whatever that goal may be, and communicate that to the entire team. It’s important for leadership to have a clear operating plan and milestones that can be put into place while the change is happening. Celebrate the small wins along the way rather than focusing exclusively on the end goal.”

And fifth, monitor and track the implementation to ensure adoption, she advised. Effective change leadership will rely on collaboration, open communication, a clear operating plan and KPIs aligned to guiding principles, she said. Use a variety of data to track adoption and continually assess progress to make sure that the implementation is moving forward during times of change, she added.

Help from above

New technology is disruptive, and leadership must play a key role in how it is implemented, stated Hawkins of Jellyfish Health.

“The echoing of the importance of the patient experience in an organization will help drive the staff to change their thoughts on patient interaction and to focus on patient satisfaction,” she said. “The ultimate vision of a company is to ensure efficiencies, expand capacities and extend boundaries of care. With government regulations and increasing competition, organizations need to focus on patient satisfaction and patient retention rates.”

Capturing this data, analyzing the information and comparing the statistics to previous data allows one to validate the areas on where the focus of one’s organization should be, she added.

“Patient engagement tools will allow you to capture this data across your organization,” she noted. “No matter what EHR you are using, you can capture data from patient engagement tools that allows you to have real-time feedback from your patients. This service recovery method allows management to resolve any issues that the patient experienced while they are in your facility.”

Patient engagement and experience technologies are not the future of healthcare – they are needed now in the industry, Hawkins concluded.

“Healthcare is behind on driving patient experience,” she said. “When you look across airlines, Amazon, Dominos – they all have focused on the customer experience. It is time to find a patient experience answer for your organization.”

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
Email the writer: bill.siwicki@himssmedia.com
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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