5 Common Myths about Patient Engagement Debunked

While patient engagement platforms have been evolving for the past several years, the technology is still relatively new. For this reason, misconceptions persist about who engages with these platforms and how frequently.

The realities of patient engagement platforms — including which patient groups use them and how — will be surprising to some people. For example, it’s not just the young, tech-savvy Millennials, and it’s not just patients with chronic health problems who want to regularly communicate with their providers.

Here are some of the myths about patient engagement, and the reasons why they are unfounded:

Myth #1: Physicians are too busy to extend their engagement with patients

For every hour that a physician spends treating patients, he or she will likely spend four hours doing administrative work and other follow-up tasks. This is a major contributor to job burnout, which affects more than half of physicians working today. The last thing any physician wants is more data entry.

If physicians use automated patient engagement tools that facilitate an empathetic, personalized dialogue with patients, it will not lead to further administrative burdens. Rather than making physicians feel burned out, the right kind of engagement can elevate patient experiences, maximize care management performance and optimize care team efficiency.

Daily, automated check-ins with patients lead to a decrease in the number of redundant or unnecessary visits, and lighten the workload while enabling better care. In fact, patients utilizing GetWell Loop self-report the ability to avoid office visits across the global period by 84%, resulting in cost savings of $75 per visit.

Physicians are never too busy to learn to use tools that make care delivery more affordable, effective and efficient, particularly when those tools have minimal learning curves and minimal-to-no workflow change.

Myth #2: Only millennials will use new technology to talk to their physicians

It’s a common belief that older people don’t use technology. It’s also an erroneous belief.

Older people are defying stereotypes when it comes to the use of technology. They are not only actively using it, but are adopting it faster today than they did just a few years ago.

This phenomenon extends into healthcare. A study by athenaResearch[1] found that older people are just as likely to use online patient portals as younger people are. And since they are using smartphones in large numbers, they will be just as likely as younger people to expect health-related information from their physicians that is accessible by mobile device.

In fact, we know that 51-70 year olds are the most likely cohort of patients to be actively engaged on GetWell Loop.  Even most patients above 80 who are invited to GetWell Loop choose to participate.

Don’t make assumptions when it comes to what patient groups are more likely than others to embrace new technologies. People will almost always surprise you.

Myth #3: Tech will replace empathy and the human touch

Some people worry that using software to bring physicians and patients together will take the human connection out of the equation. How can one expect empathy from an algorithm?

The platforms being used to engage patients are being operated by healthcare providers who are often empathetic people. Providers are not using engagement platforms because they no longer want face-to-face interactions. Rather, the platform enables physicians to reach more patients and get more value out of face-to-face visits.

Healthcare providers use patient engagement platforms to check in more regularly with patients, which allows them to keep tabs on changing medical conditions and avoid an escalation of complications and costs.

Patient engagement is meant to extend physicians’ reach and their empathetic nature. The best patient engagement platforms will ensure that physicians empathize more frequently with more patients.

Myth #4: Patient engagement at scale is difficult

The Cleveland Clinic, a multi-specialty academic hospital and one of the most highly regarded medical institutions in the world, logged 21,000 patient interactions per month when it rolled out HealthLoop (now GetWell Loop).

Adrienne Boissy, MD, Cleveland Clinic’s Chief Experience Officer and a staff neurologist, said in February during a presentation at Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) that patient engagement can scale to handle large numbers of patients provided the technology integrates easily with electronic health records, and is intuitive and easy for healthcare professionals to use.

To boost engagement rates among consumers — and the Cleveland Clinic saw 71% of its patients engaging with the system — it’s important to utilize language in questionnaires and guidance that are in the voices of the providers, sounding human and empathetic, rather than disconnected or robotic, Boissy said.

Large numbers of providers and consumers will take part in patient engagement programs if the system integrates well with technology the hospital is already using, and if patients feel they are being engaged by human beings instead of machines. 

Myth #5: Only chronic disease patients need to engage regularly with physicians

While patients with chronic health conditions might have the most pressing reasons to communicate regularly with healthcare providers, all patients want to engage more with their physicians. Hospitals and health systems should not deploy systems that prioritize any group of patients over another.

A low-risk patient can turn into a high-risk patient, and care teams always aim to stay ahead of that. Using a patient engagement platform, physicians can learn about the social factors that influence their patients’ health, but are not listed in their EHR.

Access to this information gives physicians a better chance of stopping health problems before they start. Patients have a better chance of recovering and maintaining good health if information flows freely between physicians and patients.

Despite the persistence of certain myths about patient engagement platforms, providers and patients alike are more than ready for the tools that will enable daily, productive dialogue about health. These technologies can be deployed at scale, and they can make preventive care much more than just a goal that all providers strive for.

[1] Clain, D. (2015, July 30). AthenaResearch Study: The Current State of Patient Portal Adoption. Retrieved from https://www.athenahealth.com/blog/2015/07/30/athenaresearch-study-the-current-state-of-patient-portal-adoption