Ten years ago, if you met your significant other online, ordered a meal through an app, or asked your phone for the fastest way home, you were definitely outside the norm. Today, just as technology is prevalent throughout our social and workplace activities, the healthcare landscape is increasingly turning to technology to address the many challenges it has faced in the past decade, including increased costs, decreased reimbursement, and regulatory changes.
While many healthcare organizations have been utilizing technological innovations to increase access to care and improve engagement for years, the COVID-19 pandemic fueled a dramatic leap toward accessibility through virtual patient engagement tools, with the industry shifting from 0.3 percent of all provider care occurring via telehealth in 2019 to a staggering 23.6 percent in 2020.1 While some utilization will drop post-pandemic, the benefits to patient engagement, adherence, and efficiency presented by virtual healthcare technology mean that organizations that embrace it as part of their toolkit will have a distinct advantage, and those that fail to keep up risk being left behind. For example, medical groups such as Kaiser Permanente have been able to remain leaders in the industry and effectively deploy virtual tools within their care pathways.2
Digital care has helped us drive convenient access, remove barriers to care, close care gaps, and improve operational efficiency and effectiveness overall. – Dr. Emmanuel Fajardo of Kaiser Permanente
When used effectively, virtual care tools can be used to improve every aspect of the patient experience. Here are three ways that healthcare technology is changing patient engagement for the better.
1. Improved communication and access to care
One of the most powerful ways that rehab practitioners have improved communication and access to care is through embracing virtual care platforms, particularly the proliferation of telehealth usage over the past two years. In the short term, offering virtual care options can increase opportunities to interact and provide care to patients without increasing the risk of exposure to communicable diseases. In the longer term, these virtual visits can serve as a standalone or supplement to in-person care and have been shown to improve a patient’s ability to achieve outcomes while remaining in the comfort, convenience, and safety of their home.
In fact, telehealth platforms have been shown to reduce travel time,3 improve convenience,4 and increase overall access to care,5 making telehealth one of the most cost-effective and efficient ways to serve more patients. For a low-acuity patient who has trouble arranging transportation to an appointment or might have difficulty juggling a busy family life, a virtual visit can be the difference between continued adherence to their treatment program and a costly no-show. For a higher-acuity patient, telehealth can offer more frequent and convenient check-ins without sacrificing the quality of the care they’re receiving.
2. Enhanced patient self-efficacy
When patients receive education on their condition, they’re empowered to take a greater level of control over their care plan, resulting in better clinical outcomes. A higher perception of self-efficacy after discharge from physiotherapy is associated with better perceived clinical improvement, lower pain intensity, and a lower number of physical therapy sessions.6
Fortunately, providing engaging, evidence-based resources to support care has never been easier. Online materials and courses spanning conditions, injury prevention, and lifestyle education increase adherence and help patients better understand their diagnosis and rehabilitation plan. Getting patients set up on an online patient portal allows practitioners to easily distribute customized, condition-specific education both in and out of the clinic. Lifestyle and discharge education can help extend your reach beyond the office, and packaged education programs for common diagnoses such as total joint replacement (TJR), low back pain, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can reduce the time spent designing programs and free up the practitioner for active care.
Another underrated way to improve self-efficacy is by providing educational information with an appropriate health literacy level that makes good use of video and voice-overs. Translating educational resources into additional languages can also help patients who are more comfortable learning in a language other than English better understand their condition and treatment plan.
3. Increased patient activation and adherence
Boosting access and self-efficacy are crucial pieces to the patient engagement puzzle, but patient outcomes won’t improve if they’re not activated and adhering to their treatment plans. Before that work can begin, however, it’s important to set a foundation with comprehensive patient education tailored to the patient’s treatment plan. Patients who have greater knowledge of their rehabilitation and condition are more prone to engage in rehabilitative behaviors, such as performing home exercises.7
Once you can achieve that buy-in, the next step is an online home exercise program platform that can easily be accessed through a patient portal on multiple devices. Patients are more likely to adhere to home exercise programs that are engaging, easily accessible, and customized to meet their needs, backed by an extensive library of video exercises specific to their condition. To ensure that patients are adhering to their treatment plans, practitioners can utilize patient feedback, pain and difficulty surveys, and adherence tracking to monitor their progress and adjust the treatment plan to improve overall patient satisfaction and outcomes.
While virtual care was once a source of trepidation among healthcare organizations, the increase in accessibility demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the potential to enhance the patient experience and streamline care in a way that aligns with a more modern healthcare landscape. As large insurers begin to adopt permanent telehealth policies for therapy, technology has carved out a permanent role in the future of healthcare. By adopting and leveraging healthcare technology, you’ll be equipped to improve communication and access to care, enhance patient self-efficacy, increase patient activation and adherence, and build an innovative virtual engagement suite that will help your organization remain agile and able to pivot with whatever challenges the future may bring.
- . Weiner, J. P., Bandeian, S., Hatef, E., Lans, D., Liu, A., & Lemke, K. W. (2021). In-person and telehealth ambulatory contacts and costs in a large US insured cohort before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. JAMA Network Open, 4(3), e212618.
- MedBridge. (2021, January 7). Strategies for success with digital care: A Q&A with Kaiser Permanente, AdventHealth, and Spectrum Health [blog]. https://www. medbridgeeducation.com/blog/2021/01/ strategies-for-success-with-digital-care-a-qawith-kaiser-permanente-adventhealth-andspectrum-health/
- Kairy, D., Lehoux, P., Vincent, C., & Visintin, M. (2009). A systematic review of clinical outcomes, clinical process, healthcare utilization and costs associated with telerehabilitation. Disability and Rehabilitation, 31(6), 427–47.
- Powell, R. E., Henstenberg, J. M., Cooper, G., Hollander, J. E., & Rising, K. L. (2017). Patient perceptions of telehealth primary care video visits. Annals of Family Medicine, 15(3), 225–229.
- Bradford, N. K., Caffery, L. J., & Smith, A. C. (2016). Telehealth services in rural and remote Australia: a systematic review of models of care and factors influencing success and sustainability. Rural Remote Health, 16(4), 3808.
- Hoffman, A. J. (2013). Enhancing selfefficacy for optimized patient outcomes through the theory of symptom self management. Cancer nursing, 36(1), E16.
- Sawesi, S., Rashrash, M., Phalakornkule, K., Carpenter, J. S., & Jones, J. F. (2016). The impact of information technology on patient engagement and health behavior change: a systematic review of the literature. JMIR Medical Informatics, 4(1), e1.