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Patient Engagement Strategies In A Digital Environment

In the last few years, we have all heard of the “pandemic.” Between the world “lockdown” and lack of personal interaction, people have become digitally dependent. The COVID-19 pandemic was particularly challenging because of the “Digital Natives” that became accustomed to interacting with family and friends online and the over-reliance on technology. In this blog post, we will cover the top patient engagement strategies in a digital environment, including;

1. Virtual Office Visits

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many practices have shifted to “virtual” visits. Even prior to the pandemic, many physicians had already begun practicing online medicine, seeing patients over video conferences. While video visits allow for more privacy and convenience, they also limit the physician-patient relationship. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, “In the past, a visit with a physician would usually involve talking face-to-face and getting to know each other. With video visits and email correspondence, there is less of a physical connection, which could make the doctor-patient relationship a bit less personal. However, emotional connections are just as important, if not more so.”

As a result of the pandemic, many practices have become even more reliant on virtual visits. According to the American Association of Advertising Agencies, 76% of consumers have reported feeling more connected to brands online, and 75% feel the same when shopping in stores. With the growth of e-commerce, more and more people are performing online doctor visits and requesting prescriptions and medical advice online as well. Having a virtual presence is a good way to provide convenience to patients while still maintaining a healthy relationship with them. It also allows physicians and patients to maintain a healthy relationship even when physical distancing is required. (1)

2. E-prescribing

As we have learned to rely more on technology in our lives, there has also been a paradigm shift when it comes to healthcare. Instead of individuals going to the doctor’s office for an appointment, they have shifted to online healthcare platforms, namely e-prescribing. e-prescribing allows patients to research their medical options, talk to a physician online or over the phone, and have a prescription written and delivered, all online. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, “E-prescribing is just one of the ways that healthcare is changing to make office visits obsolete. The most obvious example of this is telemedicine, where healthcare providers can see and speak to patients from wherever they are using video conferencing software.”

While e-prescribing has great benefits, it also has some drawbacks. For instance, many physicians aren’t used to writing prescriptions online or over the phone and it can be difficult for patients to find a physician they can connect with. According to a 2017 report from BlueCross BlueShield, only 37% of physicians were comfortable prescribing medication online, 24% were neutral, and 28% were uncomfortable. (2)

3. Video Conferencing

Video conferencing has become quite common in recent years and has many platforms and devices, from laptops and iPads to mobile phones and VR devices, that can facilitate video calls. Video conferencing offers many benefits to patients and healthcare providers. It allows doctors and other healthcare professionals to see and speak to patients in real time, which can help combat the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. (3)

While video conferencing offers many benefits, it also has some drawbacks. One of the biggest is the lack of physical presence. When someone visits the doctor’s office, they usually have a general idea of what is being said during the appointment. With video conferencing, there is no face-to-face interaction and the dynamic between patient and physician is lacking. This can make it more difficult to establish a trustful relationship. In a 2019 report from the American Institute of Stress, 67% of respondents said they lacked the confidence to discuss personal matters with their doctor compared to 13% who said the same about a nurse. (4)

4. Telemedicine

Depending on your line of work, you may be familiar with the term “telemedicine.” For those who aren’t, telemedicine is the use of telecommunications technologies to provide healthcare services, sometimes remotely, to persons with medical issues. It can allow for more convenience and can also increase access to healthcare. (5)

Like video conferencing, telemedicine also has its benefits and drawbacks. One of the biggest perks is the ability to see a healthcare professional from the comfort of your home. According to the American Institute of Stress, 36% of respondents said they would feel safer having a doctor come to their house compared to 19% who said the same about a nurse. (4)

On the downside, like video conferencing, telemedicine also lacks the physical presence of a patient and healthcare provider. In an article from the New York Times, Dr. Daniel S. Greenberg, director of the NYU Bouvray Telehealth Clinic, said that “face-to-face encounters provide opportunities for non-verbal cues that help establish trust. While video and telephone encounters allow for some of these cues, they cannot match a visit in person.” (6)

5. Online Resources

Individuals can also be a part of the patient engagement strategies in a digital environment by using online resources. The resources can take many forms, from healthcare databases and websites to mobile apps and e-learning platforms, and can often be accessed remotely, which makes them convenient for patients. (7)

One of the biggest benefits of online resources is the ability to access educational materials from anywhere. As someone who works from home, this may be quite beneficial. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, “Healthcare providers can use educational resources like Xiaomi Health Records and DocuSign Knowledge Base, which provide access to medical information from anywhere. In the case of DockSign Knowledge Base, users can select a question and get an answer, usually within a few minutes. The answer can come from a physician, a research group, a drug company representative, or an independent expert. There is also the option to get a second opinion if needed.”

Along with convenience comes the risk of medical misinformation. According to a study published in the British Medical Journal, 10.4% of websites provided medically inaccurate information in 2014, and that number grew to 15.4% in 2016. With so much misinformation online, individuals must do their own research and be wary of unauthorized sources, including healthcare providers. (8)

Summary

In this article, we covered the top five patient engagement strategies in a digital environment. These strategies range from virtual office visits to video conferencing and online resources. These methods can help patients get the care they need while maintaining a healthy relationship with their physician. However, as we have learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, the patient and physician relationship can be a bit more challenging in a digital environment. We will discuss this more in the next blog post.

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