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The 10 Best Patient Engagement Strategies

Keys to Patient Activation and Sustained Behavior Change

A major part of a patient’s well-being is determined by how invested they are in their own health. As much energy as healthcare providers put in during a visit in an examination room or during a long surgery in an operating room, a major contributing factor to a patient’s long-term well-being is actually determined in their own home.

By improving patient engagement strategies, healthcare providers can provide better service and see lasting results for their patients. Learn more about what patient engagement is, the benefits it provides, and nine of the best patient engagement strategies that can improve patient engagement rates.

What Is Patient Engagement?

Patient engagement focuses on making sure that patients and providers work together to improve the patient’s health. In order to create patient engagement strategies that allow patients to become actively engaged in gathering information and making decisions about their symptoms, illnesses, and treatment options, providers need to empower the patient to have a voice in their healthcare experience.

Patients who become involved with their care and play an active role in their treatment and recovery are considered engaged patients. They can decide to be more or less invested in their wellness, but the extent of patient engagement is ultimately up to each patient.

Why Is Patient Engagement Important in Healthcare?

Effective patient engagement is essential in healthcare. It lessens the stress and burden on healthcare providers while improving the patient’s overall health. Here are some of the benefits that engagement can provide:

  • Improves customer satisfaction and retention – Patients who have a voice in their treatment feel respected and heard. This leads to them being more engaged with their treatment, happier with the service they receive, and more likely to stay loyal to a healthcare provider.

  • Improves patients’ long-term health and well-being – When a patient is engaged in their health, they make better long-term choices when managing their health and well-being. They are more likely to catch symptoms of illness and disease in their earliest stages and will seek treatment before it becomes an issue.

  • Reduces waste – Unengaged patients do not patient education, pamphlets, or aftercare instructions. While you may provide them with medical supplies and materials to help with their treatment, there is a high chance they will ignore instructions or not use the materials provided. The same information provided to engaged patients is used as intended and not wasted.

  • Reduces Potentially Preventable Readmissions (PPR) – Unengaged patients do not follow aftercare instructions, and, as a result, they are at a higher risk of being readmitted within 30 days of being discharged from the hospital.

  • Reduces overall costs – Patient care takes extra time to manage, but it’s worth the investment. Technology automation can help maintain patient volume and throughput and relieve staff burden for follow-up calls and appointment reminders.

  • Engaged patients decrease the no-show rate, and actively schedule follow-ups. Unengaged patients are twice as likely to delay care and three times more likely to have unmet medical needs.

10 Best Strategies to Improve Patient Engagement

Here are ten patient engagement strategies in healthcare that can help improve health outcomes.

1. Automate Patient Engagement

Active and meaningful patient engagement for even a single patient is very time-intensive. Rather than managing every engagement manually, leverage technology to automate engagement with patients.

Automated patient engagement strategies are just as effective and can improve the effectiveness of patient aftercare.

Not only does automation help improve patient satisfaction and help you stay connected, but it also benefits your staff. With automated patient engagement in healthcare, your staff is no longer burdened with the task, which can help fight against burnout and staff shortages.

The most common concern of using automated engagement strategies is losing the “human touch.” But, there are times when automation is the best option. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic has magnified the need for automated and online patient engagement options.

2. Segment Patient Populations

The best patient engagement programs treat each patient as an individual. What may work as a great engagement opportunity for one patient could fall flat with another. To ensure you get the right form of engagement to the right patient population, segment your patients by demographics, psychographics, and/or Social Determinants of Health (SDoH). Personalized patient engagement and healthcare require consideration of these factors.


Patient demographics are broad categories that can help you create better patient engagement strategies. The most common demographics include:

  • Biological sex
  • Age
  • Ethnicity
  • Race

Some healthcare providers also choose to include additional demographic options. These can include:

  • Insurance information
  • Medical history
  • Employer
  • Level of education
  • Gender

A healthcare provider can create customized engagement strategies and messages that speak directly to each demographic by using basic demographic categories. This helps the message be more meaningful to the patient and can help improve engagement rates. A limitation of demographic segmentation, however, is that people sharing certain physical or situational characteristics do not all think and act alike. If they are motivated by different things, a “one size fits all” engagement strategy targeting Millennials, for instance, will not elicit maximum results.


Psychographic segmentation is similar to demographics because it helps organize a large population into separate categories. However, psychographics create categories based on psychological criteria instead of basing those categories on concrete physical traits and attributes.

Psychographic profiling helps predict and determine patient behaviors and, when paired with patient engagement strategies, can help address and change those specific behaviors and thoughts.

Psychographics can include:

  • Motivations
  • Beliefs
  • Fears
  • Values
  • Personality
  • Interests
  • Opinions
  • Attitudes

Psychographic segments are defined by these shared characteristics, which determine their core motivations and communication preferences. Optimal messaging, channel mix and frequency of communications vary by psychographic segment because of these different motivations and preferences. Harnessing these motivations enables providers to activate positive health behaviors.

Social Determinants of Health (SDoH)

The environment in which a person lives, works, and plays can directly affect their health and view of healthcare. By segmenting patients by their Social Determinants of Health (SDoH), healthcare providers can better tailor engagement to their patients’ world experience.

Even within the same city, people can experience very different SDoH. A patient who lives in an urban food desert or a more rundown or impoverished part of town has a different experience managing and maintaining their health than a similar patient from a more affluent part of town.

Addressing and enhancing the quality of life-based on SDoH can significantly influence population health outcomes because it changes the narrative of healthcare. Rather than good health being a privilege of the wealthy, it becomes necessary and attainable for all.

3. Start Engagement Before a Patient Visit

If the first time your practice or facility thinks about a patient is when they first check-in, you are already behind schedule with patient engagement. Before a patient meets with a doctor, you can start to build patient engagement.

Marketing and new patient acquisition initiatives should be based on the patient segment considerations described above. The demographic, psychographic and SDoH profiles of a provider’s service geography should guide promotional messaging and channels.

Simple pre-visit procedures like intake forms, clinical reminders, and appointment reminders start patient engagement. Sharing this information well before the patient ever arrives benefits both the doctor and the patient.

Because the patient is not rushed to fill out intake forms in a waiting room and can fill out the necessary information in the safety and comfort of their own home, they can be more accurate and open about their medical history. Additionally, resolving paperwork before the appointment makes their intake significantly less stressful and streamlined, which improves patient satisfaction.

For healthcare providers, early information allows them to be prepared for any questions or concerns from the patient. They have a full medical history to work with, which allows them to start addressing their current needs, rather than focusing the first 10 minutes on getting to know the patient’s history.

4. Engage Throughout the Visit

When a car isn’t working, the mechanic diagnoses what is wrong and then fixes it. Unfortunately, this same mentality has been adopted by many clinicians. They believe it is their job to diagnose patients, provide a treatment plan, and then move on to the next patient.

While this is certainly an efficient approach to healthcare, it perpetuates the stigmas around medicine being cold and distant and serves as a roadblock to high-quality healthcare. This approach defines patients by their health condition, not holistically as individual people with different motivations, priorities and needs. What are their concerns or barriers to care? How do their lives and daily routines affect their ability to make lifestyle changes? What are their aspirations?

Patients receive better care and are more transparent about their health with someone they know and trust. When patients connect with their doctors, they are more likely to follow prescribed treatment plans, be prompt with their medication schedules, and modify their long-term behaviors.

Even small moments of engagement and interaction between a patient and clinician throughout their visit can modify the clinical paradigm and lead to meaningful and lasting results.

5. Practice Shared Decision Making

Shared decision making goes against the standard practices of healthcare, but it provides more opportunities for patient engagement and can help reduce unnecessary hospital admissions and achieve greater patient outcomes.

Traditionally, patients go to a hospital or clinic to have the healthcare professionals use their knowledge, training, and experience to determine what is wrong and how to fix it. It’s assumed that patients are uneducated and aren’t qualified to talk about their illness.

Shared decision making changes that narrative by democratizing healthcare. Rather than the dictatorship where a clinician makes all of the decisions, shared-decision making puts the patient on equal ground with the clinician. They work together to make decisions about necessary tests, treatment options, and the final care plan for the patient.

Shared decision-making requires more time because it involves a significant investment in patient education. However, inviting the patient to participate in their own healthcare improves patient engagement and significantly improves patient satisfaction.

It’s important to note that different patient types, especially psychographic segments, are more apt to desire a true partnership in their care with shared definition of health goals, while other segments prefer more directive guidance. The extent of shared decision-making needs to be personalized by individual patient.

6. Stay Engaged Throughout Aftercare

Just because a patient is discharged does not mean they are healed physically or emotionaly. Aftercare is an essential part of any patient’s treatment plan, but unfortunately, there are times when more than 40% of patients misunderstand, ignore, or choose not to follow aftercare instructions. When aftercare instructions are complex or require major lifestyle changes, nonadherence can be as high as 70%.

Nonadherence to aftercare instructions can lead to poor health outcomes, readmittance, and even death. It’s estimated that as many as 125,000 deaths a year are due to complications from non-adherence.

Patient engagement during aftercare improves adherence to aftercare instructions and extends care beyond the walls of the hospital or clinic. Also, it helps establish a relationship of trust and understanding because it shows that you care about them even when they are not admitted and under your care.

Aftercare engagement can include following up on:

  • Medication adherence
  • Conditions and symptoms to watch for
  • Behavioral health needs
  • Payment reminders

Automated digital reminders, recovery status checks, patient education and other follow-up keeps aftercare instructions top of mind among patients.

7. Provide Continous Care

Patients need your help the most when they visit your office. But patient care doesn’t stop once they are healthy. Patient engagement should happen throughout the year.

Engaging with your patients at least once a month is an invaluable tool in establishing trust. When patients hear from their healthcare providers when they are not in an emergency, they start to trust them more and are more likely to come to you when they need help.

Continuous care is also a great way to help patients with preventative care measures. While this is an essential part of patient care for high-risk patients living with chronic conditions, continuous care can significantly reduce health complications and medical costs for all patients. Moreover, it provides a great opportunity to bring patient traffic in for additional services and revenue, such as screenings, wellness checks and promoted service lines.

8. Use Preferred Channels

It doesn’t matter how personal, relevant, or moving your engagement strategies are if your patient never sees them. A major part of improving patient engagement is to meet them where they are and reach out to them using their preferred channels of communication.

Each patient has a preferred channel of communication. Some potential channels that can be used for patient communication and engagement include:

  • Email
  • Text
  • Phone
  • Patient portals
  • Social media
  • Video conferencing
  • Secure, online messaging platforms
  • Printed mail

With our digital world, it’s tempting to lean entirely on technological solutions. Still, it’s important to diversify and offer solutions like appless interfaces and interactive voice response (IVR) calls. By offering a wide range of options, you can make engagement accessible for every patient no matter who they are.

Using every channel for every patient is not recommended; instead, as part of your patient onboarding paperwork, include the option to opt-in for announcements and communication through various channels. This is an easy route to making the patients feel overwhelmed or pestered.

9. Truly Personalize Engagement

Unfortunately, many healthcare organizations rely on a “one size” fits all approach to patient engagement, sending the same messages on the same channels to all patients with a given health condition or care need. This may be effective for some patients but won’t appeal to other patients who are driven by different motivations, priorities, readiness to change and communication preferences. Personalizing patient engagement for the individual will reinforce that the patient is being heard and that their unique needs are being met.

Important to recognize is that targeting by health condition or including a patient’s name in an email greeting is NOT personalization. Building upon the points made in #2 Segment Patient Populations above, patients may share the same health condition, but their personal motivations and priorities may be quite different and require different messaging or propositions to activate desired behaviors. Patients may also be at different stages in a health condition or degree of self-empowerment, feeling that they are in control and able to do something about their health.

As healthcare organizations like hospitals, health systems, medical and behavioral health groups, urgent care, health insurance companies and other stakeholders employ marketing tactics for new patient acquisition, there may be limited data and insights on target patients. These providers may define a patient persona to target. But once the patient/provider relationship is established, over time more information (demographic, socioeconomic, psychographic, behavioral, preferences, response rates, etc.) is collected to inform patient interactions. The nature of engagement evolves from persona to person and the patient feels understood and respected.

The shear amount of data that can be collected continuously to inform truly personalized patient engagement can be challenging for a clinician to process and leverage. This is why automation and digital solutions are so important, and an enterprise platform for patient engagement is critical for a consolidated, cohesive experience (for both patients and providers) grounded in omnichannel personalization and patient data & insights. Personalization is a process that starts with data and ends with activation.

10. Track the Right Metrics

A key part of improving your patient engagement strategies is understanding what is and isn’t crucial to measure. By tracking the wrong metrics, you won’t get accurate insights into your existing strategies’ success or failure.

To get the most from your patient engagement strategy, consider tracking these metrics:

Patient satisfactionPatient satisfaction is one of the most common indicators for measuring healthcare quality. The major reason for this is that all aspects of their experience can influence patient satisfaction, so it serves as a broad net to catch any issues.

The difficult part of only focusing on patient satisfaction is it does not always relate directly to your engagement strategies. A patient can be upset, frustrated, or even angry with the service they received but have no issue with the level of engagement that they experienced.

Also, standardized patient satisfaction surveys don’t necessarily measure what patients find important or prioritize. While patients may be dissatisfied with one aspect of their care experience, they may be less dissatisfied with another aspect that truly drives patient loyalty. For example, patients may be the most dissatisfied with parking around the clinic but slightly more satisfied with staff interactions. However, patients value productive staff interactions much more than parking, so an investment in improving engagement will deliver higher returns than solving a parking issue.

If you do choose to use patient satisfaction as a key metric, realize that it will require additional time and research to understand each review and determine if it is associated (good or bad) with patient engagement and whether patients truly value what is being measured.

Engagement response rates – Patient engagement is the first step in a relationship between healthcare providers and patients. However, just because you make the first step to establish a professional relationship with your patient doesn’t always mean that they will or want to reciprocate. By measuring how many patients respond, you can determine how effective your engagement strategy is proceeding.

The simplest way to gauge patient response is through open and click-through rates for your digital communications; however, these do not indicate whether a patient followed through on the desired behavior (e.g., make an appointment, take a prescription medication). Including patient response mechanisms such as a brief survey or a Call To Action (CTA) helps capture these behaviors, and these engagement touchpoints should be integrated with an EMR/EHR, CRM or practice management system to orchestrate communications and report back patient actions.

Potentially Preventable Readmissions (PPR) – PPR measures readmission rates within 30 days for reasons that are considered unplanned and potentially preventable. Like other metrics, it is impossible to draw a direct correlation between PPR and engagement rates because many additional factors can affect PPR rates. In broad terms, lower PPR rates are generally associated with higher engagement rates.

Health outcomes – Patient engagement drives better health outcomes, ultimately the most important measure of engagement effectiveness (though, like with PPR, many other factors play into health outcomes). This is because patients who are engaged in their healthcare make better lifestyle decisions, are more likely to obtain preventative care, are less likely to delay getting care, and exercise more positive health behaviors.

By tracking the health outcomes of patients before and after new patient engagement strategies, it is possible to track the impact of your new strategies.

Improve Your Patient Engagement Strategies with Upfront

Upfront provides the only digital platform that utilizes psychographic segmentation, behavioral science and machine learning/AI with dynamic communication workflows to drive patient engagement and behavior. Schedule your demo today to see how you can deliver unmatched results in marketing strategies and patient engagement.

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Brent Walker

Brent’s healthcare marketing experience spans decades, tracing all the way back to his 20 years at Procter & Gamble. Brent is now SVP Marketing. Brent has delivered a variety of publications and presentations covering healthcare marketing topics, featured in Forbes, MedCity News, The Commonwealth Fund and Hospitals & Health Networks. Brent holds a BS in Business Administration from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

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