In a recent study related to patient engagement by the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), most clients and patients expressed anxiety about participating in U.S.health systems for a variety of safety reasons, both in-person and remotely. After the lockdown, patients still reported anxiety about both in-person consultations and telehealth services.
Clients’ and patients’ anxieties are legitimate, and it can be most helpful if you acknowledge them as health professionals. During these times of extraordinary political and healthcare stress, you may want to do what you can to reduce unnecessary anxiety about unpredictability and instability in the American healthcare system. Telehealth and telemedicine services have helped maintain consistent and solid communication between clients, patients, and providers throughout the pandemic. Although it is far from a panacea, focusing on the positive can go a long way to relieving at least some of the negative.
Behavioral, addictions and mental health professionals in particular should put proactive measures into place to encourage patients to return to their healthcare providers without undue fear. Providing reassurance can take many effective and inexpensive forms when delivered digitally. In the list below, providers and their organizations are encouraged to consider which digital techniques are most easily managed and likely to be effective for the people they serve:
- Connect with your clients and patients. Maintain a seamless communication channel with your clients or patients in their preferred format. Printed materials are more pleasant for many older people and other groups. Younger people, on the other hand, can be reached via the internet or text messaging. At intake, ask your clients and patients for their preferences, then respect their choices when communicating.
- Newsletters can be a powerful tool for patient engagement. Offering a regular newsletter can keep people engaged, even if it is once per month or once per quarter. Keep in mind that the tone of your message can make or break your communication. Therefore, as you create content for your newsletter, keep it short, inclusive, and judgment-free. Factual information is more likely to be welcomed than personal opinions.
- Blogging can be helpful. Use the blog posts section of your website to engage with your clients and patients. Your blog page can be updated regularly with content related to wellness, medication, and safety updates. While you are at it, explain how you are implementing advanced technology in your clinic and following safety procedures.
- Leverage the power of social media. Use social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to make announcements about your work or specific topics, but do not use social media to have public interactions with your clients or patients. Social media is not for routine health care. In fact, HIPAA violations occur routinely in social media when providers are acting impulsively and not stopping to think about the public nature of answering questions or acknowledging the presence of someone who is in treatment with them. See Telehealth.org’s previous article HIPAA and Social Media: The HIPAA-Compliant Social Media Guide for more information about HIPAA policies and procedures when using social media.
- Follow up with missed appointments. Staff members can use old appointment records to contact patients who skipped or canceled consultations during the pandemic’s peak. Urge them to reschedule their sessions so that they can get the care they need.
- Use chatbots. Re-engage your patients through Artificial Intelligence information libraries. Using an automated chatbot on your website, you can provide 24/7 patient support with informational tidbits, resource listings, and whatever else can be developed and posted for everyone to access. Chatbots can assist in the delivery of compelling content while also establishing meaningful connections with patients in real-time. Chatbots can offer a broad range of content, from FAQs and data sheets to graphics and web links.
- E-visits are effective and reimbursable. Healthcare practices carry responsibility for ensuring that patients can access needed care. As defined by the American Psychological Association, E-visits are “patient-initiated digital communications conducted through electronic health record portal messages or other HIPAA-compliant, secure platforms that require professional-patient assessment and decision-making to direct subsequent management of the patient.” Similarly, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) advocates improved access to physician-client-patient contacts, such as electronic visits or “virtual e-visits” conducted using safe, secure online communication technologies. The AAFP defines a virtual e-visit as an electronic assessment and management service offered to a patient by a trained health professional via a web-based or comparable electronic-based communication network. Plus, e-visits are often reimbursable. See Telehealth.org’s previous article Creating a Virtual Office to Maximize Teletherapy or Telehealth Services for more information.
- Keep your website updated. A neglected, outdated website may give the wrong impression. Visit your website monthly to refresh pictures, update offerings, and double-check for any technical errors that may have surfaced.
While re-engaging clients and patients may be challenging, contacting, educating, and involving them through any one or more of the above described digital engagement strategies may be helpful. Please comment below if you have found any other digital strategies to be helpful when keeping in touch with the people that you or your organization serves.
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