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My Practice’s Patient Engagement Strategies

by Donna Masucci, RN, office manager

As a practice manager who sees approximately 10,000 patients come through our practice’s doors annually, I assure you that engaging patients (and their parents, in the case of a pediatric practice like ours) is no easy feat. Realizing that patient engagement is essential to successfully attesting to Meaningful Use Stage 2, we knew we had to get it right. I think the key to our success (that’s correct, we’ve successfully attested to Stage 2!), was starting with what was most obvious to us – patient education – and then building our strategies from there, getting more and more creative with time and not being afraid to fail. I’d like to share a few of the patient engagement strategies we currently leverage at our practice, primarily focused on promoting the use of our patient portal:

Education
First things first, we had to let patients know that we have a patient portal – and we found the best way to do this was by taking advantage of the time we have with patients in the office.

When a patient visits, we stress the importance of keeping in contact with us beyond the four walls of the practice by communicating with us through our patient portal, and educate them on the value of taking ownership of their own health care. This is often a challenge for us as it involves a culture change; the patient must shift from taking a passive role in their health care to taking an active one. However, I think “the sell,” if you will, is easier the more you emphasize the variety of communications patients can send and receive through the portal – prescription refills, immunization records, lab results… they can even schedule or reschedule appointments and pay their bill through the portal. We continue to succeed with this tactic.

Hands-on Training
Our practice goes a step further by providing hands-on training to patients when they’re in the office – seeing is believing – and have implemented the training into our staff and clinical workflow. In the private nurse’s room, during the intake process, the nursing team can coach patients by showing them their portal account, answer questions in real-time, and have them try navigating around the portal with the nurse by their side to help.

Campaigns
Since we can’t sit back and wait for every patient to come through our doors before familiarizing them with the patient portal, we enlisted the help of our athenahealth Account Manager to help us with an outreach campaign to our patients by working with us to get promotional materials for our patients. Handing out flyers that introduced patients to our patient portal, highlighted the importance of patient engagement, and informed them of the types of secure messages they could expect to receive from us through the portal. As part of the campaign, patients were asked to log on to the portal or call our office so a team member could walk them through the portal’s features and capabilities.

Encouraging New Workflows
In looking for ways to encourage our patients to send us electronic messages through the portal, we realized there was a huge opportunity right in front of us – prescription refills! Before Meaningful Use Stage 2, patients would call to request a refill from our front desk team, who would then create a case for the nursing team. Having audited a full quarter, our office found that we created over 800 cases!

By pushing patients toward the patient portal, we found benefits beyond meeting the electronic message measure: We had full documentation of every prescription request in the EHR, could respond to patient requests faster, and allowed our front desk to focus on other high-value tasks. We then replied back to the patient via the portal to let them know their refill request has been fulfilled, and thanked them for using the portal and taking an active role in their or their child’s care.

Contest
When we first implemented the athenaCommunicator, patient engagement service in 2010, we knew we could connect with patients more successfully if we had their email addresses. So we held an office contest, providing a monetary incentive to the team member who successfully obtained the most emails. (By the way, we were surprised that the winner was a nursing team member, not a front desk team member.)

We used this contest as an opportunity to coach front desk team members on a best-practice workflow that incorporates obtaining and verifying emails upon check in. Our practice’s team model also emphasizes that each of us is a stakeholder, with an understanding of how each team member’s position affects another and trickles down to the patient. With this in mind, each team member can find the opportunity to talk up the use of the portal and patient engagement throughout the entire practice workflow.

Continue to Evolve Engagement Strategies
There is no one way to successfully engage your patients in their health care, which is why we find that consistently using multiple communication channels ensures our long term success, and we continue to explore new ways to reach them. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. We are currently scoping out the possibility of working with our Kids Care TV Company via Health Media Network a company that provides patient education at point of care to promote patient portal messages to patients and caregivers in the waiting room. Our plan is to complement the channel’s videos by taking ten minutes of programming time per hour to run educational materials regarding the patient portal.

So there you have it. That’s how we’re managing and enhancing patient engagement at our practice. How are you communicating the importance of your patient portal to patients and caregivers?

Donna Masucci, RN, is an athenahealth client and office manager for Peter E Masucci, MD, PC, based in Everett, Massachusetts.

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