Patient Engagement: What It Is and How You Can Improve It with Social Listening Tools

Rebekah Paul |
 02/01/23 |
8 min read

Patient Engagement: What It Is and How You Can Improve It with Social Listening Tools

From its lowly beginnings as a compliance issue in the second half of the last century, patient engagement has evolved into a superpower enhancing health outcomes, reducing healthcare costs, and boosting satisfaction with the process.

If that doesn’t sound miraculous enough, patient engagement has been shown to reduce mortality rates. Different studies compared the outcomes of people living with chronic illnesses and found less mortalities among those who were actively engaged in the treatment process than those who only received appropriate medications.

Not only is patient engagement important but patients also want to be engaged. The use of available channels by patients all through the treatment journey is an indication of this. According to clinical research organization ICON, up to 87 percent of social media users have shared their health information on the platforms.

Organizations such as ICON gain a lot through patient engagement – from selecting the right candidates for clinical trials to monitoring patient trends. Other healthcare providers (HCPs) are increasingly learning the benefits of patient engagement and investing in robust systems to improve it.

What Is Patient Engagement?

Patient engagement refers to the interaction and collaboration of patients and/or their representatives with healthcare providers throughout the healthcare decision-making process. This is geared towards better decision-making, appropriate behavior change, and effective management of chronic illnesses.

Studies have shown that interacting and collaborating with HCPs fosters health and wellbeing among patients. By encouraging the more effective collaborative approach to healthcare, patient engagement eliminates the traditional paternalistic models where physicians direct the treatment process.

In fact, the US Institute of Medicine urges HCPs to be “respectful of and responsive to individual patient preferences, needs, and values” and let “patient values guide all clinical decisions”. In the US, patient engagement has been applied to the government’s agenda through initiatives such as Meaningful Use and the Shared Savings Program.

The need for patient engagement is also supported by the observation that the average patient spends more time outside the clinic and therefore needs a proper foundation on how to direct their own treatment. The ability and willingness of patients to manage their own healthcare is referred to as patient activation, an important part and goal of patient engagement.

Further, there is a range of benefits incentivizing HCPs to implement patient engagement – cutting across the patient’s wellbeing, efficient use of resources, and brand development.

Benefits of Patient Engagement

When patient engagement is done right, both sides can enjoy increased benefits across all stages of the treatment journey.

1. Increased transparency and accountability

The educational basis of patient engagement increases transparency and accountability on both sides. It is not unusual for patients to withhold information from their HCPs only to reveal it to their peers and other people closer to them.

It’s understandable. However, with patient engagement, HCPs can take the lead in revealing all the information that their patients need to know. In turn, patients can share more about their experiences, leading to the self-feeding loop where more knowledge begets more education.

Further, it has been shown that patients who are fully engaged are likely to comply with the regimens and have reasonable expectations about the treatment and make better decisions. The eventual outcome is a shared responsibility with each party accountable for a part of the result

2. Improved sense of agency among patients

Patient engagement also has an ethical basis to support the autonomy and self-determination of the patient. This helps the patient understand that they are the most important agent in their treatment.

Without the knowledge gained from active engagement, patients seem less responsible for their health. The American Journal of Medicine reports that about half of all people living with chronic conditions miss out on the clinical benefits because they don’t adhere to the regimen.

On the other hand, patients are 67% more likely to comply with their treatment if they were supplied with educational materials.

3. Better relationship between patients and providers

The interpersonal relationship between patients and providers can be a precursor for some of the achievements of patient engagement. For instance, the former may be more willing to share their experiences if they have a cordial relationship with the HCPs.

On the other hand, patient engagement is the only way to foster such a relationship. A continued positive relationship builds up confidence and trust that can be cashed in to encourage transparency and agency.

Often, medical decisions involve a delicate balance between gains and trade-offs. Changing their behavior or enlisting for a procedure aren’t as straightforward decisions for patients as, say, choosing to take their medicine.

These types of decisions require complete buy-in. Otherwise, the outcome will be a gamble without sound expectations, agency, or accountability.

4. Better use of resources

There is a strong business case for healthcare organizations improving patient engagement. Being aware of what individual patients need at different stages of their treatment can help prevent the dissipation of resources through untargeted application.

Similarly, identifying and segmenting patients can promote shared use of available resources.

National healthcare initiatives like Meaningful Use and the Shared Savings Program support the argument. They not only deliver a higher quality of care leading to better outcomes but also incur lower costs.

Importantly, research has shown that lack of engagement can significantly hamper the efforts to provide preventive care. For instance, diagnoses of diseases such as cancer may be delayed and when identified, the treatment may be slow in coming too.

5. Improved patient outcomes

Ultimately, patient engagement is important for the main objective: Achieving the best possible outcome. According to the American Journal of Surgery, lack of shared decision-making can lead to poor outcomes.

Shared decision-making is the collaboration between HCPs and patients to select the best path forward whether it’s enrolling for tests or tailoring treatment plans. Patients are more satisfied with the process if they participate in making these important decisions. And you can measure to find out.

How to Measure Patient Engagement

How will you know you have improved patient engagement? You have to know how to measure. So, let’s take a moment and look at how to measure patient engagement from various perspectives.

1. Patient activation measure (PAM)

As mentioned earlier, patient activation is a part of patient engagement. A patient’s ability and willingness to manage their own healthcare is a direct reflection of patient engagement efforts. The patient activation measure (PAM) shows to what extent patient engagement has achieved this.

It is administered as a questionnaire with 13 questions regarding an individual’s confidence in managing their treatment. Individuals are segmented into four classes on a 100-point scale.

A Level 1 patient is described as disengaged. They are totally under the care of the provider. Having little to no insight into the treatment, they lack confidence in taking any responsibility for their healthcare.

A Level 2 patient has attained some level of knowledge and from this understanding, they know there is more for them to do. They can set simple goals but at this point, they still prefer to leave the big stuff to the provider.

At Level 3 the patient is taking action and consequently gaining more control of the process. They are goal-oriented and have enough information to gauge the level of care. They feel they are part of their own healthcare team.

The Level 4 patient is most advanced on the PAM scale. They have not only set goals and developed strategies for achieving them but also followed through. They see themselves as their own health advocate but they are not fully detached from the HCP.

PAM activation levels

The four levels of patient activation. Source

2. Content performance

The performance of healthcare content can be a window into the degree of patient engagement. This applies to your own content, content created by other healthcare organizations, and user-generated content (UGC).

If only there was a way to gather large amounts of patient content engagement and analyze it to find commonalities!

Through social listening, you can gather and analyze relevant content to understand your target patients including their level of knowledge, how active they are in their treatments, and existing gaps.

gauge audience engagement with healthcare content

Social listening helps you gauge audience engagement with healthcare content.

3. Share of voice

Share of voice (SOV) simply means the distribution of patient conversation among the different healthcare organizations providing the same services.

SOV helps you determine patient engagement through the amount of patient conversation that is about your organization. A large share may mean that patients are more engaged with you than other HCPs. But to know for sure, you will need sentiment analysis.

Through its social media competitive intelligence capabilities, Rival IQ is a great tool for determining SOV by comparing your own performance to competitors on an ongoing basis.

facebook cross channel audience on rival iq

Rival IQ helps you measure yourself against the competition. Source

4. Sentiment analysis

The attitudes of patients can help determine if their engagement is improving. These attitudes are expressed in the words they use to share their experiences online. Also called opinion mining, sentiment analysis uncovers the emotions behind the patients’ unstructured text content.

While SOV tells you the volume of conversation, sentiment analysis goes a step further to reveal whether it is positive or negative. NetBase Quid®’s sentiment analysis comes with two scales for more accurate interpretation: Net Sentiment and Passion Intensity.

Natural speech can be broken down to reveal patient sentiment.

Natural speech can be broken down to reveal patient sentiment.

Improve Patient Engagement with Social Listening

Proven strategies for enhancing patient engagement are supported by three key pillars: Health literacy, decision-making, and quality of care. Through social listening, HCPs can analyze patient conversations to understand where the gaps are, deliver solutions efficiently, and review the impact of their efforts.

Below are four practical steps to take to improve patient engagement:

1. Patient access

The first step is to utilize available technology to make it easy for patients to access healthcare services by minimizing existing barriers.

One way to reduce the barriers is to set up online portals that patients can use to receive care remotely. These may be a combination of business websites, social media profiles, and medical apps.

Patient access can also mean using patient-centric language in your communications rather than technical terms. Implementing the solutions requires you to first understand your audience and what they need e.g. what words do they use in their interactions?

Luckily, you can find that out by analyzing thousands of social media conversations using social listening tools. You will find people talking about their experiences at all stages of the patient journey and how it could be improved through better access to providers.

2. Patient segmentation

Next, the patient population should be broken down into different groups according to the varying levels of care needed. This can help reveal useful insights into different patient groups in terms of their educational and emotional needs as well as how to best help them.

For instance, patients may be segmented by geographic location, cultural background, and the stage of their journey. Each of these factors is a basis for unique patient engagement strategies.

Advanced social listening tools come with high-level filtering features to allow audience segmentation along different lines for more targeted patient care.

3. Patient education programs

Patient education provides an opportunity for HCPs to improve engagement. Patients notice HCPs who are actively involved in their education whether it’s directly providing materials or through methods such as blogs and social media posts. This fosters credibility and trust which can lead to closer relationships.

To build a patient education program, start by conducting social media listening to identify the knowledge gaps in terms of both the content and language used. With your social listening tool, you can easily do a comparative analysis between the information needed by patients and that provided by HCPs.

4. Patient activation

One of the most important goals in healthcare today is to help the patient retain as much control over their own treatment as possible.

However, this is not done abruptly but rather steadily as the patient advances through the levels. With social listening, you can analyze patient conversations to determine the level of readiness for different patient groups and push those conversations accordingly.

NetBase Quid® uses cutting edge AI technology to help you improve patient engagement by applying the insights derived from authentic conversations happening on a daily basis. If you would like to see how we do that, reach out for a demo today.

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