Over the past eight years, I have read and heard countless perspectives on patient engagement—especially best practices for measuring it.
Some measure engagement in terms of time, for example, while others assess engagement based on activities or interactions with patients.
Regardless of where one might stand on how to go about measuring patient engagement, I believe most of us in the healthcare industry can agree on one thing: technology’s role in—and influence on—patient engagement is going to continue to grow.
I’m not certain if anyone knows exactly where things are going or what things will look like in five, 10, or even 15 years. However, I do believe there are steps that medical practices can begin taking now to position themselves to take full advantage of the latest patient communication technologies and tools as they become available.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the strategic steps Vital Interaction™ has developed to help medical practices like yours effectively measure patient engagement.
Step 1 of Measuring Patient Engagement: Getting Accurate Contact Information
The first step is making sure you can connect with patients in the most effective way possible. As with most any other business, knowing who your customers are and how best to reach them is key.
Here are five tips for obtaining accurate contact info and strategically using that info to measure patient engagement:
- Get as many different types of contact information (e.g., email addresses, cell phone numbers, home phone numbers, guardian or caretaker contact info, etc.) as possible.
- Implement a process for updating contact information on a regular basis.
- Review contact info each time a patient visits the office—and consider sending all patients a message at least once a year, requesting updated contact information.
- Find a way to use your communication software to identify all invalid phone numbers, emails, and other contact info so that you can work on getting accurate, up-to-date info.
- Measure the following elements of patients’ contact information:
- total number of contact methods (e.g., email, cell phone number, home number, work number, etc.)
- the most effective contact method
- the most effective contact day and time
- any other factors that will help you determine what works best for your practice
A Patient Engagement Essential: Knowing Your Patients’ Communication Preferences
Once you’ve acquired valid contact info from patients, it’s crucial to focus on communicating with them via their preferred communication channels (i.e., email, text, or interactive voice recording (IVR)).
Patients’ communication preferences change as fast as communication technology does. For example, six years ago Mrs. V’s preferred communication method may have been receiving a phone call at home, but now it may be receiving a text. Therefore, just as you will need to consistently follow up on the validity of patients’ contact info, you will also need to regularly verify patients’ preferred methods of communication.
Because of the ever-changing nature of both technology and your patients’ needs and preferences, it’s important to employ software that stores each and every patient interaction and response. This info will become increasingly valuable as we automate more and more of how we interact with patients.
One day, in the not so distant future, the healthcare industry will shift toward using artificial intelligence (AI) to determine how and when to reach out to people—as well as to learn our patients’ evolving communication preferences. Factors like the day of the week, the time of day, the method of response, the type of communication sent—even the weather—will eventually indicate how and when to best reach out to patients.
The takeaway: Make it a point to measure, report, and review metrics on contacts per patient, types of contacts, methods, etc. so that you learn what works for your practice and its unique, evolving needs—and so that you’re ahead of the game when new technologies surface.
Step 2 of Measuring Patient Engagement: Retaining Patients
Assuming that you are a well-established practice and not starting up, the second step is focusing on keeping your existing patients.
How do your patients interact with you throughout the year—and how can you measure that?
- Determine how you can track as many patient interactions as possible. These interactions include office visits, phone calls, emails, texts, billing communications, website visits, and patient education, among others.
Even if you start slow and small, it’s still very much worth beginning the process. Eventually, you will want to move toward using various tools and data analytics to track and analyze every single interaction carried out via each communication method.
- Set goals for the metrics you can measure via patient interactions. Maybe your goal is for each patient to come in for one in-person visit per year, read one email, and/or have five phone calls with staff. Whatever your goals, be sure to measure where you’re actually reaching those goals and where you’re falling short. Then, evaluate whether you need to work toward improving patient interactions or adjusting your goals.
- Understand your patient retention and attrition rates. How much do non-returning patients cost your business, and how much are you spending on keeping them?
In my experience, most practices and specialties could put more effort into keeping existing customers and get a phenomenal return, just from taking simple steps to ensure patients come in at least once a year.
For providers who treat solo injuries, like orthopedists, for instance, acquiring new patients can be more difficult than for providers treating ongoing conditions. However, connecting with these often one-time patients once a year to see how they’re doing and to inquire about referrals can go a long way towards reducing new patient acquisition costs.
- Consider conducting a patient satisfaction survey. Measure your patient satisfaction, and if patients aren’t satisfied, take the necessary steps toward understanding what the main causes are. A simple survey (I’m a big fan of a simple Net Promoter Score (NPS)) is an easy, cost-friendly way of identifying areas needing improvement.
- Spice up your interactions. Send different types of content to patients, such as newsletters, educational material, videos, personal phone calls, and birthday notes, among others, to see what resonates with them. Keep going with what’s working, and drop what’s not.
Step 3 of Measuring Patient Engagement: Acquiring New Patients
And the third and final step in effectively measuring patient engagement is focusing on how you capture and interact with new patients.
To achieve this, I recommend the following:
- Do your research—You need to understand where you patients come from. Is it word of mouth, online searches, referrals from other providers, or hospital rounds?
This will obviously vary specialty by specialty, and even by geographic region, but gaining a better understanding of where and how patients come to you is super important.
- Keep your ROI in mind—Calculate what you’re spending on acquiring new patients.
If, for example, you are doing online advertising (which is fairly easy to measure), simply take your total online advertising costs and divide it by the number of patients acquired from this method.
$5,000 online ad costs / 250 new patients = $20 spent per new patient
Though not all patients will tell you how they found your practice, you can generally get a big enough sample size of where you’re capturing new patients that you can apply that to all new patients and still get pretty accurate numbers.
Additional elements to track and measure for ROI include things like hospital rounds and even time spent with providers who refer to you.
- Tap into your tracking capabilities—Once you know where new patient leads come from, it’s important to have a way to track them, to follow up and know you if captured them. For those you don’t “capture,” perhaps you can find out why through a survey or some other helpful tool.
The most important thing is to focus on your most successful method of lead generation first and then move down the line.
- Be thorough in your tracking and measuring efforts—As with assessing patient satisfaction, it’s essential to measure all new patient interactions and how they’re working. Track your progress, and make adjustments accordingly.
- Understand the lifetime value of a new patient—You must determine how much you can spend on new patient acquisition and still receive a return for your practice.
Because each practice is unique in terms of specialty, office visit types, reimbursement averages, etc., what works for one practice may not work for another.
As an example, for an orthopedic surgeon making an average of $10,000 per patient (including surgeries and office visits over the course of a year) and who’s looking for three times his investment in new patient acquisition, can probably swing spending the estimated $3,333 per patient.
On the other hand, a family practitioner making $300 per patient each year over a 20-year period (making for a total of $6,000), may be only able to spend, for example, $1,000 capturing each new patient.
Effectively measuring patient engagement doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. By taking the necessary steps to obtain accurate contact information, in addition to tracking the quality and quantity of interactions with both current and new patients, medical practices can thoroughly assess their patient engagement.
Leveraging sophisticated communication technology and tools, like your Vital Interaction™ system, can improve not only your patient engagement measurement efforts, but the patient experience as well.