3 common obstacles that are holding patient engagement back

When many organizations discuss patient engagement, there is a major focus on what they can do to improve the situation. After all, patients who are more involved in their own care adhere to medications more faithfully, show up to follow-up treatments and lead healthier lifestyles according to the requirements of their conditions. In the age of value-based care and pay for performance, the clinical improvements that could be gained from more engaged patients are enough to spur even the most stubborn organization into action.

However, blindly throwing resources at the problem is likely to do nothing but push companies into more dire financial straits. Instead of hurdling headlong into the patient engagement rabbit hole, learn how organizations have faltered in the in the past. By avoiding these pitfalls and partnering with a healthcare marketing agency that has the expertise and experience to do the same, any company can turn its disinterested patients into active participants - an improvement that could mean the difference between financial solvency and a merger with a larger hospital system. Memorize these three common patient engagement obstacles to choose the best healthcare marketing agency for your organization.

Do not confuse patients with customers.

1. Treating patients like regular consumers
One of the earliest methods of improving patient engagement was to borrow marketing solutions from the retail industry. In addition to giving patients more autonomy, they organizations also promoted the patient to a position with equal weight in choosing a course of treatment. 

As Harvard Business Review explained, though, treating people in need of medical care like consumers misses three key qualities of the patient perspective. First, patients seek medical care to relieve pain or regain quality of life - not to improve upon it by buying a new sweater or perfume. Retail consumers also do not need nearly a decade of professional schooling to know which purchase will help them the most. Finally, HBR noted that, while buying a new pair of shoes is a decision that only affects the individual, choices related to treatment are often influenced by family, friends, insurance plans, practitioners and even administrators at their hospital.

"Clinicians are too busy to function as healthcare professionals and patient engagement advocates all the time."

2. Putting onus for education solely on clinicians
If patients are not equipped to go it alone within patient engagement, it seems obvious that physicians should pick up the slack and start educating their patients much more than they currently are. However, according to a 2013 study conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and published in the journal Health Affairs, clinicians are simply too busy to function as both healthcare professionals and patient engagement advocates all the time.

In a review of five primary care practices in northern California from Jan. 2010 to June 2012, the researchers found that, though decision support aids drastically increased patients' abilities to function as more equal members of their stakeholder teams, the rate at which these materials were provided to patients was lacking. While the patient-physician relationship is ripe for meaningful discussions about conditions and treatments, 80 percent of doctors indicated that they did not have enough time to hand out and go over decision aids with their patients. In total, physicians were responsible for only 27 percent of all decision aids in the study.

3. Running a digital-only marketing campaign
It can be easy for a cash-strapped company to look at the higher initial costs of a physical marketing strategy and ditch it in favor of inexpensive email blasts and text-based reminders. However, a digital-only marketing solution may alienate older patients who cannot absorb information from a screen as easily as others. Even outside of stereotypes regarding age and technological savvy, it is impossible to predict which patients will respond to which marketing solutions. Providers who hedge all their bets on digital marketing solutions, even with the impressive customizability that they offer, is essentially saying that all their patients are alike. Not only is this a strategy that may backfire financially, but it may also put patients in dire need of relevant medical information in danger of not receiving it.

Organizations that fail to diversify the media in which their branding appears are already handicapping themselves when it comes to true improvement within patient engagement. While it may make sense from an organizational standpoint to save money with digital-only campaigns, engaging marketing materials must adopt the patient perspective to have any hope of truly connecting with medically naive individuals. Everything from the medium chosen, the designs used and the grade level at which the language is written combines to create engaging healthcare marketing solutions that can connect with as many diverse patients as possible.