by Scott Zimmerman
Taking medications, engaging in healthy lifestyles and quitting harmful habits are vital for good health, but patients often resist the advice of health care providers and thus neglect what is in their best interests.
Medical practices of all shapes and sizes have all seen their share of non-compliant patients. These are the patients who cannot follow proper instructions, miss their scheduled appointments, fail to follow up on surgical procedures or even simply decide not to take their prescriptions. It is a mistake for providers to assume that patients will follow treatment instructions because they want to get well or because the patient will be fearful of the negative consequences of their conditions — even if those consequences are catastrophic.
Research from the National Council for Patient Information and Education demonstrates that even patients who desperately want to be healthy can vary remarkably in their willingness and capacity to adhere to prescribed treatments. In fact, about 50 percent of the two billion prescriptions filled each year are not taken correctly. Additionally, non-compliance causes 125,000 deaths annually in the US and leads to 10 to 25 percent of hospital and nursing home admissions.
A new patient communication strategy, called Engagement Communications, is one course of treatment for this non-compliance epidemic.
Engagement Communications utilizes advances in communications technology, such as voice messaging, SMS text messaging, e-mail and web portals, to help medical practices tailor the type of information their patients receive, as well as when and how they receive it.
These communications create many points of engagement with a patient rather than just a simple connection. A connection might inform a patient, but it doesn’t necessarily motivate them to take action. Create engagement points and the path is opened up for activation — or in this case, a greater likelihood for treatment compliance.
For example, Engagement Communications allow an OB/GYN clinic to send e-mail messages to expectant mothers reminding them to take their pre-natal vitamins and to attend child care classes at the local hospital. Patients with chronic conditions such as high blood pressure could receive a series of text message reminders to renew their prescriptions. Or, a patient struggling to quit smoking could be encouraged to enroll in a smoking cessation program or purchase nicotine patches and gum.
Before Engagement Communications there was simple message notification — standard, impersonal voicemails or emails blasted out to consumers issuing orders or directives. Engagement Communications, however, involves campaign-based outreach which encourages two-way dialogue. While outgoing messages can be scaled to the thousands and hundreds of thousands, each is delivered and experienced in a tailored, personalized manner.
Research has proven that patients with chronic conditions such as hypertension or diabetes are more likely to stick to their treatment if they trust their physician and feel like they have some kind of control over their health outcomes. Communication in the physician-patient relationship is crucial in developing a goal-oriented treatment plan that is tailored to the patients’ personal beliefs.
Imagine the increased likelihood of treatment compliance if a physician was able to find out at a momen’s notice the level of proactive and preventive steps patients are making in their own healthcare — and having the ability to share tailored one-to-one marketing messages and campaigns in an instant to increase their patient support; campaigns which enable patients to respond and engage in the dialogue.
Automation + Communication = Increased Compliance
Engagement Communications that automate and create a two-way dialogue between patient and provider through online, mobile and digital methods offer transformational benefits in treatment compliance and overall health outcomes.
For example, automated alerts can be sent notifying both the physician and a caregiver when an early stage Alzheimer’s sufferer doesn’t text or call in from a remote location to confirm they have taken their medication. Or a pharmaceutical company that requires patients to complete a series of three vaccines and is presently only at 80 percent compliance rate can send out multiple reminders through email, text message and voicemail to increase compliance to nearly 100 percent.
Additionally, medical practices can utilize Engagement Communications automated messaging systems to contact patients with appointment reminders, as well as helpful suggestions of ways patients can monitor and improve their health between office visits. The messages are delivered with patient-specific content in a natural voice that gives the patients the warm, personal feel of a live call.
Engagement Communications can help physicians develop strong patient relationships with high levels of satisfaction. These tools can provide fresh insight and understanding of patients’ needs, resulting in increased levels of compliance. The trust that evolves between physicians and patients will create a foundation to build on for years to come . . . a treatment outcome that’s just what the doctor ordered.
Originally published in Healthcare Review, November 3, 2010