Return to Growth: Patient Activation

Think about your personal healthcare history. Have you been diligent about scheduling annual wellness visits? Have you delayed a flu shot, or missed a recent vision screening? 

For many patients, missing healthcare is a commonplace occurrence. Maybe they don’t have the financial means or insurance support to follow up on a medical concern. Maybe they have unreliable or no transportation. Perhaps they simply forget, six months down the road, when scheduling opens up again for their particular provider.

How can healthcare organizations bring these dormant patients back in for missed regular appointments and screenings, addressing their needs and concerns while also supporting those at rising risk?

The answer may lie in a mix of established technologies, cutting-edge innovations and, above all else, a trustworthy human connection. By communicating with people on their terms and reaching them where they are, organizations can remove barriers for equitable medical access and reduce the difficulty of keeping current on care.

The importance of patient activation in a pandemic 

COVID-19 has caused many people to miss medical appointments and overlook care needs. According to PatientPop, during the first year of the pandemic alone, 55% of respondents said they missed or canceled a healthcare appointment due to the pandemic. As a result, more than 45% of the respondents worried about having health issues that might go unchecked during the pandemic.

A Johns Hopkins University survey also found that around half (52%) of those who needed medical care during the early months of the pandemic reported missing care, with 58% of those with a scheduled preventive care appointment missing that appointment. For others, their absence was a deliberate choice, with 60% of respondents foregoing a scheduled elective surgical procedure.

The pandemic is not over yet, but many patients no longer have the option to hold off on care. Others may simply not know what crucial screenings or procedures they’ve missed or are behind on.

Returning the dormant patient to care 

To ensure the health and wellness of their patient populations, hospitals and health systems should focus both on engaging patients and closing care gaps. This is where technology can play a role — and it’s not limited to healthcare providers. 

Other organizations, including payers, might also consider rolling out digital engagement solutions as part of an overall strategy to close care gaps and improve retention. From patients to payers, increased engagement benefits everyone.

So, how can hospitals and health systems get people to come back in for missed appointments? After all, many patients simply don’t know what care they need or find it too difficult to schedule. Re-engagement, then, is critical. 

A deeper question, however, is “how can hospitals and health systems communicate with people and meet them where they are?” There’s re-engagement, and then there’s continued engagement. Virtual care navigation solutions that skillfully weave together artificial intelligence (AI), a human element, and other digital services can enable both, helping organizations drive new volumes by:

  • Re-engaging patients who have become inactive
  • Encouraging healthy behaviors consistently
  • Guiding patients to seek desired care in-network

For those patients who are in need of routine procedures, intelligent AI workflows enable personalized outreach to encourage completion of vital screenings such as mammograms, prostate exams, and colonoscopies.

Patient activation: who needs outreach?

But what about those who may want to receive care or follow up on a previous concern, but may not have the means? This isn’t just limited to financial resources; they may have difficulties with transportation, insurance, childcare, or a whole host of other concerns that present barriers to them accessing healthcare. For many populations, there also exists a historical mistrust or other cultural barriers to care. 

These are matters of health equity, and they must be addressed if an organization wishes to truly provide equitable care for all. Fortunately, virtual care navigation solutions can help health systems and other stakeholders to serve underserved populations, which tend to engage with routine care on a more infrequent basis than other communities.

By creatively combining technology, community-based human support, and local resources, the right virtual care navigation platform can help broaden the reach of organizations into their own communities and beyond. From addressing behavioral health needs to encouraging and supporting vaccinations, virtual care navigation platforms can support population health, close care gaps, and help engage patients who receive Medicaid. 

Due to the flexibility of intelligent workflows, the right virtual platform can even assess social determinants of health (SDOH) needs and help connect patients to needed community resources, all over text messaging. It’s a technological solution that can bring patient care forward without leaving anyone behind.

In the quest for equitable care, healthcare organizations must be willing and equipped to reach out to all in need. SDOH and other cultural and demographic needs should inform both the types of care provided and the modalities in which outreach is conducted. By working across populations, everyone from payers to providers can play a role in leveling the healthcare playing field regardless of the inequities at hand.

The bottom line

Proactive innovation could take a number of forms, but one sure bet is to extend healthcare communication through the devices people already have. Cutting-edge technologies like conversational AI, automated care pathways, and intelligent workflows can be delivered via text messaging in a way that combines these innovations with an established and trustworthy human element. 

By creating connection points facilitated by — but not siloed in — technology, healthcare organizations can push beyond the novelty of emerging solutions and still keep patients at the heart of any innovation. The best care keeps people at its center. And the best technological advancements will keep this in mind.