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What is Patient Engagement?

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Patients tend to fare better when they’re fully engaged with their doctors. However, better outcomes aren’t only felt by healthcare recipients—patient engagement also bolsters healthcare providers’ entire business model, optimizing efficiency and profit margins while maintaining quality of service.

But what is patient engagement, exactly?

Below, we’ll break down everything you need to know about patient engagement, including:

  • A general overview of what patient engagement is, its aims, and top approaches
  • A discussion of why exactly patient engagement matters, for patients and providers
  • A look at the biggest challenges in patient engagement (and how you can solve them)

By the end of this article, you’ll be well informed about what patient engagement is and how you can begin optimizing your approach towards a successful patient engagement strategy.

Overview of Patient Engagement

All patient outreach and conversations between your staff and clientele can fall under the jurisdiction of a patient engagement program. This includes synchronous patient communication—face to face or over phone or video conference—as well as asynchronous communication via email, text messages, or voicemail.

Engagement also governs patient-facing literature, advertisements, blogs, press releases, and indirect vectors of communication with patients. Put simply, it covers all communication ground.

Patient engagement is not any one of these activities, but rather a systematic approach to all of them. Above all, it’s an intentional effort to optimize these interactions for the benefit of the client, the provider, and all other stakeholders involved in the relationship.

Patient Engagement Focus and Aim

Patient engagement should ideally occur before, during, and after all points of contact with a patient. But why, exactly? Because it maximizes the potential for the relationship building of every conversation.

Three outcomes have comprised the focus of patient engagement over the past decade1:

  • Better, more responsive patient care tailored to patients’ specific needs, means, and preferences
  • More effective and positive healthcare outcomes, leveraging buy-in from all stakeholders
  • Lower costs for care recipients, resulting in greater satisfaction with their care providers

Taken together, these aims have the effect of “activation”—making patients feel willing and able to take on a share of responsibilities in their own healthcare. For instance, an activated patient may research their conditions or begin an exercise routine.

In either case, everyone benefits.

Top Approaches to Patient Engagement

Activating patients requires an active approach rather than a passive one. If you want patients to devote a particular amount of their own energy and attention to care, you’ll need to commit a commensurate amount of resources and planning to your communicative efforts.

Three effective strategies for optimizing patient engagement in healthcare include the following:

  • Monitoring and analyzing all existing communications to identify strengths & weaknesses
  • Expanding the range and degree of personalization of communications with all patients
  • Optimizing existing relationships between third parties (vendors, payors) and patients

For more information on these methods, in particular, refer to our blog on patient engagement strategies. For any strategy, however, focusing on the aims detailed above is the key to success.

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Why Patient Engagement Matters

An intentional approach across all patient communications is the only way to ensure that every point of contact is aimed at facilitating patient engagement and, ultimately, full-on patient activation.

Simply put, patient engagement is important because it’s a win-win for all parties involved. Not only do patients themselves see better results and live happier, healthier lives—the same can be said for businesses that take patient engagement seriously. Let’s take a closer look at both sides.

Better Health Outcomes for Patients

Arguably the biggest beneficiaries of patient engagement are the patients themselves. Patients who are engaged to the point of activation see the biggest results in terms of behaviors they cultivate, whether or not they realize that these are influenced by your patient engagement.

For example, consider these short- and long-term impacts on patients’ health outcomes:

  • An engaged patient may feel more comfortable opening up about side effects they are experiencing, which can help to prevent any further, serious escalation thereof
  • Furthermore, openness and honesty about what’s working (and what isn’t) can help a patient’s doctor(s) work with them to customize their treatment to their exact needs

For these and other reasons, your patients will be better off the more effort you make to engage them. Plus, all benefits they experience have the effect of reflecting positively on your business.

Business Benefits for Health Providers

In the short term, immediate benefits of patient engagement for providers also come from the behaviors it can help clients to develop. For example, activated patients are the most likely to:

  • Thoroughly follow directions provided by doctors, ensuring the quality of care provided
  • Research and prepare for appointments, reducing prep time needed by professionals
  • Show up on time to all office visits and handle all payment and scheduling promptly

In addition, over the longer term, these same patients can also reasonably be expected to:

  • Continue with existing care routines and seek out additional treatments and services
  • Leave positive reviews of your business on available web platforms, social media, etc.
  • Recommend your personnel or services to other potential patients by word of mouth

Between these double-sided benefits, patient engagement is well worth the effort it requires of your business—even despite the various challenges it may entail.

Patient Engagement Challenges

Given all the benefits detailed above, it stands to reason that nearly all healthcare professionals can benefit from a strong patient engagement strategy. Why is it, then, that not all such businesses are able to engage their patients effectively?

Causes can stem from both the provider and patient sides.2

For their part, providers may not have staff who are trained to engage with patients effectively, or they may have the staffing in place but not enough time (or other resources) to utilize them properly. Staff also might not feel motivated to engage patients due to a lack of incentives to.

On the patient side, there are also issues with uptake due to patient education and cultural barriers to open clear communication. Patients may feel reserved and unwilling to open up with doctors due to personal or family histories. Or, like providers, they may simply lack time to do so.

COVID-19 and Patient Engagement

The issues with patient engagement apply to all contexts for communication and relationships between providers and patients. But they have been exacerbated and expanded in scope with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Extra stress on healthcare operations across the country has resulted in resources being spread more thinly, even for well-staffed operations.

Plus, entire vectors of face-to-face communication—like regular office visits—have been either completely eliminated or strictly reduced as a result of social distancing mandates. Migration to virtual meeting platforms serves some patients (and providers!) better than others, leading to strains on communication for some of the most critical clientele—the elderly and aging.

Top Patient Engagement Solutions

Overcoming these challenges requires a steadfast resolve to the mission of patient engagement and activation. Every effort should be made to personalize patient communication and provide as many options as possible without overwhelming patients with unnecessary details.

To that end, one solution involves outsourcing engagement to quality third-party contractors.

If integrated seamlessly into the business model, patient engagement contractors can grant all the benefits of activation for patients and your business without compromising your internal staff’s ability to focus on their more primary job functions.

PayrHealth is happy to help you implement this and other healthcare contract management metrics in healthcare through robust payor and vendor management. We help you sign better contracts, negotiate higher rates, and expand your team.

We take care of the busy work—you provide excellent healthcare and patient experience. Contact us today!


  1. Health Affairs. Patient Engagement.
  2. Vie Healthcare. The Challenge of Patient Engagement.
  3. Colleaga. The Importance of Patient Engagement.
  4. SPH Analytics. The Importance of Member and Patient Engagement.
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