Patient Engagement: Pinpointing Best Practices

By Tom Foley, Director, Global Health Solution Strategy, Lenovo Health

Patient engagement is a top-of-mind subject for healthcare providers. After all, successful patient engagement usually results in better outcomes for all parties involved in care – for providers, it can result in a more comprehensive view of their patients’ health and/or condition stability as well as improved patient satisfaction, and for patients it can mean more confidence in their improvement, their sense of care and ultimately their health.

Even with the industry’s sights set on the promise of patient engagement, many healthcare providers have found it difficult to connect with patients in a meaningful way. While widespread consumerization of healthcare has not yet taken hold, there are still some compelling examples of organizations that are moving toward meaningful patient engagement, which can easily serve as a form of encouragement for those still seeking direction.

Recently, athenahealth collected data from millions of portal visits and more than 2,000 clients in hopes to be able to “nudge medical staff in the interest of better efficiency and performance.” Their findings could be equally as helpful to other providers, with key takeaways such as:

Age is not necessarily a pain point. Many providers are tempted to point to their diverse portfolio of patients when examining troubles with patient engagement. While in some cases, older individuals are slower to adapt to new norms and less comfortable with technology, athenahealth has found that in terms of patient portals, age is not a limiting factor. Specifically, the study found that “patients in their 60s register for portal accounts at the same rate as those in their 30s, 40s, and 50s” and “patients between 70 and 79 use portals at roughly the same rate as twenty-somethings.” Speaking even further to age as a non-issue, athenahealth points out that “older patients sign into their portal accounts significantly more often than younger patients.”

Specialty providers can benefit from portals. Athenahealth found “significant” adoption of patient portals from specialty practices. They name “tremendous reductions in staff work from engaging patients electronically” and “better adherence to perioperative protocols” as specific successes.

Defaults encourage engagement. Providers should not be hesitant to sign patients up for portals automatically – leaving them with the option to opt out. Athenahealth found that practices using this approach “see a much higher adoption rate than practices that ask patients to register for the portal on their own.”

As an industry, we know that patient engagement is more than complying with meaningful use requirements – we are moving forward with better strategies to engage patients and with the intention of creating an overall better-coordinated care experience. Portals are not the only tool available, but they remain a great place to start. As patient engagement continues to challenge providers, it’s important to follow the latest studies and their results, such as the one from athenahealth. These insights into the healthcare industry are a great way to glean best practices, understand different approaches, and understand what an improved patient engagement strategy can look like for your organization. By sharing findings, opinions, successes, and failures, we can, together, reinforce what really matters: improving overall care and maintaining patients as the top priority.


  1. 1. “Using Data to Increase Patient Engagement in Health Care” Harvard Business Review. June 30 2015.