Effective patient engagement is a goal for many healthcare organizations because of the benefits. When patients are engaged in their healthcare, illnesses are diagnosed sooner, bills are paid faster, and patient satisfaction is increased, leading to better business outcomes for the healthcare organization. Advances in technology have made it easier to achieve successful digital health patient engagement. Nevertheless, barriers remain when using digital channels to engage patients effectively. This article discusses the main barriers to digital patient engagement and how to overcome them to drive better results.
Barriers to Digital Health Engagement
Patient engagement involves encouraging patients to make informed decisions about their health. Engaged patients are activated patients, meaning they participate in positive behaviors to manage their health. Proactive management of healthcare conditions helps improve outcomes and achieve lower costs. Digital health tools offer scalable ways to engage patients but must be thoughtfully implemented and deployed to achieve the best results.
Let’s review the most common barriers to digital health patient engagement and potential solutions for these issues.
Limited Access to Technology
Digital patient engagement tools may be a poor choice for patients without access to the internet, smartphones, or other digital devices. Though broadband access and smartphone users have risen over the past few years, the individuals without access are often the most in need of patient engagement efforts.
Solution: Invest in Consumer Technology
Some organizations have experimented with providing low-income, at-risk populations with the tools they need to monitor their health digitally. Providing smartphones, internet-connected medical devices, and even mobile hotspots can help increase access to digital health tools that drastically improve patient lives.
Low Health Literacy
If you’ve ever received a bloodwork report and struggled to understand what it meant, you can relate to the struggles that patients with low health literacy face. Suppose the digital health patient engagement tactics you employ are heavy with medical jargon and unclear to lay people. In that situation, patients cannot act on the information to improve their health.
Solution: Create Content for Users
Strip technical jargon from patient communications and keep patients from being overwhelmed with information. Engagement messages should be easily understood and clearly define the patient’s next step.
For example, if you use remote patient monitoring tools for patients with diabetes and send weekly reports on their average A1c levels, you must 1) make sure the patient knows what the reading means and 2) provide a clear direction for what the patient should do with that information. If the reading is too high, clearly state that and provide some next best steps. If the reading looks good- celebrate that and encourage them to continue to make the right choices to manage their diabetes.
Privacy and Security Concerns
It’s no secret that healthcare data is valuable to cybercriminals, and many high-profile breaches have made patients wary about digitally sharing health information. Patients may be concerned about the privacy and security of their personal health information, particularly if they are unsure how it is used.
Solution: Invest in Tools Designed for HIPAA Compliance
Ensure that the digital tools you use to engage with patients have recommended security features, including encryption and access controls like multifactor authentication. You can also work with your legal and security teams to craft policies that outline how patient data is used and when it will be securely disposed of. Patients have a right to control their data, and these policies can help build trust and increase confidence in your patient population to boost the adoption of digital health tools.
Limited Provider Support
Patients may be less likely to engage with digital health tools if they do not receive adequate support or encouragement from their healthcare providers. Even basic patient portals are more likely to be used by patients to review their health information only once prompted by their healthcare provider.
Solution: Work with Providers to Encourage Adoption
Digital health patient engagement tools must have buy-in from providers to be effectively deployed. Eighty-five percent of patients say they always trust their healthcare providers, meaning their support can influence patient adoption rates. Having providers explain the solution, why it is in use, and how patients can utilize it to improve their health can significantly increase engagement with the tools.
Age and Cultural Differences
Patients from different ages and cultural backgrounds may have different preferences and expectations regarding digital health tools. We are all familiar with the stereotypes of older people not understanding how to use technology. That does not mean digital health engagement tools cannot be used, but instead must be deployed in a culturally specific way.
Solution: Improve Accessibility and Invest in Training
Based on the patient’s comfort level with technology, allocate resources to help educate and train individuals on how best to use the tools. Make sure any technology you use is adequately designed to support individuals with disabilities, i.e., is accessible by screen readers and can support assistive technologies. Also, make sure the digital health tools support the patient’s first language and are personalized to their cultural context.
Lack of Personalization
Digital health engagement tools that do not account for individual patient preferences or needs may not be as effective at engaging patients as tools tailored to their specific needs. After the 2020 pandemic, patients have higher expectations for personalized digital experiences. 90% of patients surveyed want to receive communications that reflect where they are in their healthcare journey. If your tools cannot provide a personalized experience, you may be annoying patients rather than helping them.
Solution: Adopt Tools That Enable the Use of PHI
Use digital health engagement tools that are secure enough to transmit protected health information. When patient data is adequately protected, it can be used to transform your digital patient engagement efforts and improve the patient experience.
Conclusion: Successful Digital Health Patient Engagement starts with the Right Tools
Digital health tools for patient engagement can be quite effective if properly configured and deployed. When looking at ways to improve patient engagement, ensure you are using tools that are easy for patients to use and fit seamlessly into their day-to-day lives. With over 90% of adults already using email, secure email messaging is an effective way to reach patients and provide them with the information they need to improve their health. Contact LuxSci today to learn more strategies for improving patient engagement with digital health tools.