Healthcare has been moving away from the fee-for-service (FFS) model and towards value-based care (VBC) for years. Organizations have been tasked with a monumental mission, one that requires a systematic overhaul and a reinvigorated way of data-driven, patient-centered thinking.

Clearly, it’s not a quick mission to complete. It’s one that must include a thorough understanding of the health of various populations and how to engage those populations. In this guide, we’ll explore both concepts as well as their connection.   

Defining patient engagement

What exactly is patient engagement?  A patient can appear to be listening and ready to make a change – nodding her head, asking questions, etc. – but does that mean she is engaging with her care? How do providers and organizations measure engagement that leads to improvement? 

woman at doctor's office

Research from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality defines it as “the desire and capability to actively choose to participate in care in a way uniquely appropriate to the individual in cooperation with a healthcare provider or institution for the purposes of maximizing outcomes or experiences of care.”

This definition highlights the need for a patient to move from a passive state to an active state of participation in care, prevention, and maintenance of long-term better habits.  This would seem to require that the patient have the desire and the capability and that the methods must be customized. 

Focusing on engagement 

As healthcare organizations continue to refine their shift toward value-based care, we see that when patients are engaged they – as well as healthcare organizations – tend to experience better outcomes. Research also shows us that patients have lower costs as well

There’s no wonder why patient engagement has become so important to success in value-based care metrics.

When throwing a stone into the middle of a pond, the effects can be seen radiating in waves from the point of impact. In the same vein, when patients become engaged in their own healthcare, disease prevention, and health education, they can expect a host of benefits to follow. Those benefits can include reduced number of hospitalizations, fewer medications, reduced disease risk and infections, and lower healthcare costs. 

hospital hallway

As these things improve, population health is positively impacted – a connection we’ll delve into further down in this guide. 

Incorporating diverse engagement strategies

As the journey to more patient-centered care advances, the interest in patient demographics continues to increase as a way of understanding motivation, engagement, and health disparities based on social, regional, and other social and cultural factors. Strategies to improve patient engagement involve the psychology of motivation. 

For instance, do patients who are in their teens communicate with their providers the same way that patients in their 50s do? Surely not. It’s incumbent upon providers to adjust their communication styles to patients’ needs to build the best rapport.

There are many other factors of lived experience such as race, gender, sexual orientation, and disability status that must be considered when deciding how to best connect with patients. Such experiences also include the communities where patients live. 

Those who live in urban area populations may have different needs than those who in live rural areas. Healthcare organizations must consider what these communities provide as far as access to care and number of providers available. People who live in these communities may face common barriers such as access, but the approach to manage access in urban vs rural areas can be vastly different.

patient care

Connecting engagement to population health 

When organizations can “leverage patient motivation, expand patient access to care, and provide community-based resources that account for social determinants of health, they can be successful at population health management.” Not only does improved patient engagement benefit individual health outcomes and healthcare costs but it also greatly impacts population health. 

2020 taught healthcare organizations several lessons on the connection between patient engagement and population health. They had front-row seats to the different ways in which communities handled the pandemic while facing the challenge of engaging with those communities and properly social distancing.

To illustrate how powerful a connection between population health and patient engagement can be, let’s look at how New York’s Mount Sinai Health System tackled pandemic concerns.

We realized that the normal way we serve patients with chronic conditions and our most vulnerable patients was no longer going to be in person, and had to be done remotely,” according to Robert Fields, M.D., Mount Sinai’s senior vice president and chief medical officer of population health. Waiting for patients to reach out to the system in the face of a deadly pandemic was not an option. Instead, the organization:

  • empowered team members at their front desks to call their most vulnerable patients
  • identified patients with high rates of food insecurity and behavioral health issues
  • enhanced partnerships with community-based organizations for further outreach
  • grew their reliance on community health workers and worked to make them more sustainable
  • restructured their community approach to better include nonprofits and to share data with them

When communities are not understood by healthcare organizations and don’t have wide-reaching access to resources and care, facing a pandemic can “be even more of a panic for them.” It’s vital that the connection between patient engagement and population health be recognized.

covid testing

Having the right staffing solutions both on the front line and behind the scene is a linchpin to maintaining that connection. Here at Harmony, we are proud to deliver expert solutions to help your organization do just that in:

  • coding
  • auditing
  • CDI
  • registry
  • case management
  • revenue cycle management
  • revenue integrity
  • health information management

At Harmony Healthcare, we deliver expert consultants within reimbursement to providers of all sizes on a national basis and across all care settings.

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