Bedside manner and staff interactions are two major factors that make up a patient’s overall experience. With advancements in technology and the rise of social media, healthcare practices are going online to find new paths of communication with both current and prospective patients. Patient engagement is the practice of providing convenient access to information and communication to deliver the best possible healthcare experience. And it is something that needs to be a part of your operations.
Engagement with a practice allows patients to feel empowered in their own healthcare journey. Likewise, improving engagement allows you to become more accessible and trustworthy. The patient experience is not just about engagement but also about communication and collaboration. Practices that prioritize and support patient engagement build up a reputation for providing a satisfying and rewarding experience.
The following are some of the best ways in which to cultivate a culture of patient engagement within your own practice’s operations strategy:
Your website is your home base. Make it user friendly and easy to navigate for current and prospective patients. A “Frequently Asked Questions” page and list of educational materials can help paint a clear picture for those who are considering your practice. Making new patient registration forms available on your website allows your staff to process information ahead of time and provides a more seamless check-in process before the appointment. Furthermore, you want it to be as easy as possible for people to get in contact with your practice. Phone number, email and physical address should be on every single page. Links to your social media channels should be clearly visible on your homepage (more on social media in a bit…).
Additionally, more and more healthcare providers are utilizing patient portal systems to provide easy access to important information. Some features of a patient portal may include lab work, test results, physician notes, insurance information, bill pay, appointment history and scheduling, and contact preferences. Patients value having an understanding of what is happening with their health and what is to come next. A patient portal for your website will be a significant financial investment – let’s be clear about that. However, a patient’s ability to access their information online at any time shows transparency and forges a feeling of trust and connection with the practice.
Like it or not, social media is where your patients are and where you need to be. If you do not already have social profiles set up, do so immediately. You don’t need to be on every single network but should at least have profiles on Facebook and Twitter. Delegate a staff member as social media ambassador to serve as the face of the practice. This person will monitor activity on the channels and engage with the social media community. Duties may include answering questions, addressing concerns, expressing gratitude for positive feedback, promoting events and making announcements about the practice. For confidential matters, issues raised via social can always be directed back to the information you have provided on your website.
Having a presence on social media is essential to nurturing that sense of trust and transparency that patients look for in their healthcare decisions. Social profiles provide patients with a space to rally around others who share similar concerns and goals. This sense of community make both currently and potential patients feel more comfortable and at ease. In addition to being a communication tool, your profiles can also provide educational service. Live Q&A sessions and specialty videos will typically garner more interaction with your followers and boost your presence throughout the platform. If your practice is new to social media, simply start by creating the profiles and letting your network know. The buzz will build overtime and soon your practice will have its very own online community.
Newsletters and specialized emails are still great methods of keeping in contact with your patients. You may have a website and social profiles but that does not mean your email strategy is allowed to slack. This is especially important for patients who have no interest or desire to spend much time online. Effective ways of leveraging email strategy include appointment reminders, follow-up/thank you emails, contact requests for more serious matters, and soliciting participation in feedback surveys. Additionally, newsletters are a convenient and effective way to keep your patients up-to-date with all of your latest news. You can automatically add patients to your email list when they register but you must always (ALWAYS!) offer them the option to opt-out.
A solid patient engagement strategy will improve your operations productivity and strengthen patient commitment to your practice. Though it can seem like a large task, creating stronger channels of communication takes time and should remain a long-term goal. Begin slowly and implement engagement techniques bit by bit. As staff become more comfortable and your online community grows, patient engagement will become an impactful and rewarding part of your overall digital strategy.