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    3 tips for developing a budget-friendly patient engagement strategy

    Engaging patients doesn’t necessarily require a lot of time or even effort. Consider these three tips to engage patients while being mindful of the practice’s budget:

     Learn more about the practice’s existing EHR. Ask the vendor about the EHR’s patient engagement features and how to use them, says Catherine Franzetti, BS, MBA, chief operating officer at a primary care practice in New York City. Sounds simple, but it can actually help physicians understand the variety of easy-to-use tools that are already included with the technology, she adds.

    For example, EHR registries help physicians easily identify patient populations that can benefit from clinical outreach. Maselli uses the registry to identify patients with diabetes so medical assistants can contact them on a weekly basis via  phone. As a result of these outreach efforts, 40% of patients with a hemoglobin A1C level greater than nine saw improvements with some decreasing their levels by as many as four points.

     Think “engagement” when using the EHR in the exam room. Instead of typing from behind the EHR, flip the monitor so patients can also view the information, says Mandi Bishop, HIT consultant and co-founder of Aloha Knows. “Help your patients understand the information you’re capturing and what it means,” she says. 

    Physicians can also engage patients using visual representations of their data in the EHR (e.g., showing hemoglobin A1C levels plotted on a timeline), says Peter Basch, MD, MACP, senior director of IT quality, safety, research and national health IT policy at MedStar Health in Washington, D.C. “Having information technology in the exam room gives us an opportunity to share information with patients in meaningful ways,” he adds.

    Physicians should also consider explaining their actions as they review information in the EHR just as they would explain each step of a physical exam, says Basch. Consider the following example of what Basch says is appropriate EHR-related narration: “What I’m doing now is looking through your kidney and liver results since you’ve been on this medication to make sure there are no changes with which we should be concerned.”

    “That’s a little piece of verbal narration as one is staring at a screen that helps engage patients,” he adds. 

     Start small, then evolve. Make one small change such as allowing patients to pay bills online via the portal, then evaluate its effectiveness before expanding the effort, says Basch. Always keep this question in mind: How is the engagement effort working for physicians, patients and the practice’s bottom line?

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