Patients and pediatricians meet in the middle of a difficult race: both want to be engaged in the daily decision-making and long-term direction of the patient’s healthcare, but sometimes both parties struggle to pass the baton. That baton is patient engagement, and the struggle to maintain it goes especially for a pediatrician juggling potentially hundreds of batons and parents struggling to access and understand information from many -- and not always reliable -- sources.
Patient Engagement as Quality Healthcare
A report by the W.H.O. describes patient engagement as a key part of quality healthcare, and is “[i]ncreasingly recognized as an integral part of healthcare and a critical component of safe people-centred services. Engaged patients are better able to make informed decisions about their care options. In addition, resources may be better used if they are aligned with patients’ priorities and this is critical for the sustainability of health systems worldwide.”
Luckily, engaging with patients doesn’t have to be difficult. Here are 15 ways to open communication, grow your practice, and build a community with patient engagement:
1. Social Media
To get the obvious out of the way, if you’re not on social media or have let the posts lag, jump on in and start a conversation. Whether its photos of the holiday party, updates to practice policies, or insights from your staff and colleagues, putting in just 5 minutes a day you can connect with your patients in real ways. Whether you can post twice a day or once a week, social media management doesn’t have to be arduous.2. Website
How could you improve your website this year? Do your patients find it easy to navigate and find what they need? Make sure all your information is current, including location, phone numbers, and any relevant instructions like parking, phone tree directions, important financial or healthcare policies.3. Patient Portal
Your patient portal is a prime source of contact with patients and parents. All families should be aware that a portal is available and what it can offer, from paying bills to scheduling appointments and responding to messages. PCC offers a flyer to help get the word out -- parents can send photos on our portal too!4. EHR
While your EHR isn’t designed for patient use, it is designed to record patients’ records over time. Put your EHR to good use by using its data to communicate goals, decisions, and milestones for your patient’s health, giving them context into their larger healthcare journey. Some examples of data you could record are patient vitals, occurrences of disease and flu, and the prevalence of societal health effects like ACEs5. Networking
While everyone (and especially busy pediatricians) deserve “off” time, consider your time out of the office as simply a different aspect of patient engagement. The next time you run into a parent at the grocery store, meet the family of your children’s friends, or you’re asked what you do at a party, take the initiative to describe your practice, your goals, and ask questions You may find engagement in rich new ways when you’re “off” duty.6. Parent Advisory Council
If you wish you had more input from family on your practice’s decision-making, consider starting a parent council to get diverse, invested points of view from family members who can help inform policy and offer their own ideas on goals such as improving patient communication and their experience of care, and improving reception room waiting times. See the National Institute for Children’s Health Quality’s toolkit for tips on how to get started.7. Community Engagement
If members of your practice are involved in schools, sports, nonprofits, or religious organizations, ask them to forward your questions or introduce you to interesting people. You can both learn a lot from communities when they are in their “natural” healthy environment, including what they care about when it comes to healthcare. They’ll also enjoy getting to know you as a person, not only a pediatrician.8. Surveys and Questionnaires
Formal methods of questioning can help you to understand the questions your patients have, whether they know where to go to get answers, and how comfortable they are in making decisions about their health. If you want to know if patients have trouble with accessibility, wait times, communication, or scheduling, create a survey and find out.9. Classes
If patients are struggling with insurance terms, sleep schedules, bullying, ADHD, or endless other pediatric healthcare obstacles, offering classes will show that they have a reliable source of help and other parents going through the same struggle. You may be able to guest speak at a parenting group, or offer free or paid classes in your practice after hours.10. Pamphlets, Newsletters, and Handouts
More efficient on time than classes, you can distribute digital or physical information to patients to educate them on their decisions, opportunities, and responsibilities. Busy parents may not make it to a sleep class, but a guide handed to them during a well visit could help them the same way. Make sure to provide an email or contact info so that patients can have questions answered.11. Appointment Pre-Care
Did you know that calling a patient who has no-showed in the past the day before or day of their appointment could help them make the appointment? The same theory applies to providing information the patient should know before they arrive, such as required documents, directions, or reminders of previous appointment results. Helping patients prepare will mean a more efficient visit and one where the patient will have the opportunity to prepare questions.
12. Decision-based Care
Transparent, quality healthcare means coming to healthcare decisions together. The responsibility of the provider is to offer options, information, and to balance professional opinion with shared decision-making. Decision aids such as charts, informative websites, and follow up visits may also be helpful.13. Family Network Engagement
While many households depend only on the care of mom and dad to make a child’s healthcare decisions, it’s wise for a provider to know who and when other important members of a child’s network have a say in their healthcare. Beyond recording who is cleared to bring in a child for care and make healthcare decisions, take note of the child’s broader community. If a child is often in another’s care, it could be beneficial to know their names.
While they may not make decisions themselves, allowing guardians the chance to engage with their child’s closest circle can inform their care and allow for the greatest comfort in difficult decisions.14. Exit Interviews
Every member of your team has the opportunity to engage with families and patients. Ask your front desk to perform “exit interviews” to learn about how the visit went. Don’t worry -- questions can be fun, such as: “How was your visit today? Did Mom and Dad behave for the doctor?” More serious concerns can be delegated, for example the biller, physician, or a member of staff who can speak privately with the family.15. Holidays and Celebrations
Formal efforts like surveys and parent advisory councils don’t have to be the only methods to engage with patients. Ask families to vote for holiday decorations, participate in games and events. You may even wish to include patients in celebrating a goal your practice has achieved, like hiring another provider. In these ways, patients can engage with the friendly culture of the office while also gaining opportunities to express their questions, fears, and wishes for a better experience.
How Engagement Leads to Patient Satisfaction
Patient engagement isn’t only a tool to measure your market and customer satisfaction, but an opportunity to connect in real, human ways with the families in your practice. This improves trust, which facilitates the quality of care between a child and their pediatrician. Patient engagement also has another star benefit -- happy, engaged parents are more likely to suggest improvements to the practice that benefit them and the office, and share their positive experiences with others, growing both your base and the wonderful reputation that your patients give you.
Want to learn more about how the whole team can affect patient experience? Check out the webinar below.