What is patient engagement?


Today, health care industry organizations use the term “patient engagement” to mean anything from communicating with patients to the use of online patient portals. However, a true patient engagement definition goes far beyond just standard patient communication. Similarly, patient engagement isn’t simply about using technology like patient portals and automated messaging.

Patient engagement software solutions are transitioning from “nice to have” status to becoming an essential component in government, academia and medical practice arenas. It is embedded in major health reform initiatives including Meaningful Use Stage 2, the Patient-Centered Medical Home (PCMH) model of care, and Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs). For example, in 2014, Stage 2 Meaningful Use will require providers to offer secure electronic messaging to patients, as well as enabling patients to securely view online, download and transmit their health information.

A growing body of evidence clearly shows that patients who engage with their health care providers have much better clinical outcomes1, and that health care organizations that emphasize patient engagement can improve productivity and patient satisfaction.

By using the right mix of patient communication technologies and services — tailored to patient and provider preferences — all participants can reap the myriad of benefits that successful patient engagement software offers. In addition to having patients and providers who are willing and able to collaborate, having an online patient portal is an essential tool for fostering patient engagement. Recent surveys from the Pew Research Center indicate that a majority of U.S. adults use technology to engage in their health care:

  • 63% of adult cell phone owners now use their phones to go online, a figure that has doubled since 2009. In addition, 34% of these cell internet users say that most of their online use is via cell phone. That means 21% of all adult cell phone owners— about 1 in 5 — now do the majority of their online browsing via mobile phone, not another device such as a desktop or laptop computer.
  • 69% of U.S. adults track a health indicator like weight, diet, exercise routine, or symptom. Of those, half track “in their heads,” one-third keep notes on paper, and one in five use technology to keep tabs on their health status.
  • 35% of U.S. adults have gone online to figure out a medical condition; of these, half followed up with a visit to a medical professional.

Even with this activity, other reports reveal a dramatic gap between what consumers want and what they actually experience.

  • 80% of Americans who have access to the information in their electronic health record (EHR) use it, and a full two-thirds of those who don’t yet have electronic access say they want it.
  • 41% of U.S. consumers would be willing to switch doctors to gain online access to their own electronic medical records
  • Only about 20% of U.S. adults currently have access to their medical records online

To fulfill this patient demand, today’s medical practices must secure patient engagement software to encourage ongoing, two-way communication between patients and providers.

1 James, J. “Patient Engagement.” February 2013. Health Affairs/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Available at:

2 A Leadership Resource for Patient and Family Engagement Strategies. Health Research & Educational Trust, Chicago: July 2013. Available at

3 DigitalGov. January 2013. Available at:

4 Accenture. September 2013. Available at:

5 HealthcareIT News. September 2013. Available at:

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