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What is Patient Engagement?

Recently, the healthcare industry has become abuzz with talk of “patient engagement,” a catch-all term that can refer to various methods used to encourage patients to become more active participants in their own health. Individuals who are actively involved in their care tend to have better health outcomes, which can result in lower medical costs.

Here are a few commonly used definitions for patient engagement:

  • The process by which patients become invested in their own health.
  • Fostering a fruitful collaboration in which patients and clinicians work together to help the patient progress towards mutually agreed-upon health goals.
  • Actions individuals must take to obtain the greatest benefit from the health care services available to them.

Two elements that most people agree must be present in order to truly accomplish patient engagement are effective collaboration and agreed-upon health goals. In other words, both the provider and the patient must be invested in the care plan – and they must both also understand what the goals are that they hope to accomplish.

With health organizations increasingly transitioning away from a fee-for-service model and more towards fee-for-value (i.e. Accountable Care Organizations and Patient Centered Medical Homes), patient engagement has become a necessity and not just an ideal to strive towards.

Patient Engagement and Meaningful Use

Patient engagement has gained significant traction due to its importance in initiatives like the EHR Incentive Program’s Meaningful Use requirements. For Stage 2 of the program, eligible professionals (EPs) must meet the following Core Objectives, often referred to as the “patient engagement objectives”:

  • Use secure electronic messaging to communicate with patients on relevant health information. More than 5 percent of unique patients (or their authorized representatives) seen by the EP during the EHR reporting period must send a secure message using the certified EHR software’s electronic messaging function.
  • Provide patients the ability to view online, download and transmit their health information within four business days of the information being available to the EP. More than 5 percent of all unique patients seen by the EP during the EHR reporting period (or their authorized representatives) must view their health information, download it or transmit it to a third party.

In order to accomplish these measures, it is important for providers to use certified electronic health record technology and to implement patient engagement efforts. It is not enough, however, for patients simply to be made aware of the resources that are available to them (i.e. a patient portal). They must also be encouraged to use them.

Consider this: 41 percent of U.S. consumers say they would be willing to switch doctors to gain online access to their own electronic medical records,¹ yet fewer than 20 percent of adults currently have access to their medical records.² Meanwhile, when it comes to patient portals, which are crucial to patient engagement and Meaningful Use, nearly 40 percent of patients say they are unsure if their primary care physician has one.³ This lack of knowledge can significantly hinder patient engagement.

In order to get patients to become more active participants in their health, healthcare organizations must take patient engagement seriously and make patient communication an ongoing effort. Implementing a patient portal is one way to start. It can help providers successfully attest for Meaningful Use, in addition to improving health outcomes.