Right about now, healthcare professionals across the country are struggling to understand the nuances of the proposed MACRA legislation introduced in April ─ specifically, how it will impact their organization or practice and what they must do differently to be successful. Understanding the details is important, but in the end what everyone will discover is that at the heart of MACRA, not much has really changed. The foundational principles of value-based care are always the same ─ as is the roadmap for success. Knowing that value-based care is imminent, in one form or another, there is a lot that can be done today to mobilize around a new set of central organizing principles.

Here are three simple but powerful truths.

  1. Treating patients as individuals and providing personalized support to help them better self-manage is at the core of every “version” of value-based care.
  2. Engaging patients at critical moments throughout their healthcare journey is beyond human capacity to scale. Technology must play a critical role in delivering timely and cost-effective support.
  3. Most patient portals deployed for Meaningful Use provide little to no value from patients’ perspective and therefore fail to move the engagement needle. A better toolset is required.

“Yeah, yeah,” you may be thinking. We already spent a ton of time and money implementing a patient portal (or two) with little to no return. Despite our best efforts, we can barely get a small percentage of our patients to register, nevertheless login. Why should we continue to sink money into digital engagement solutions? While I understand the trepidation, my frank answer is that portals failing to provide an ROI is not a reflection of the overarching value that a great digital customer experience can create. We must be careful not to throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water.

To enumerate that point, in 2009 Influence Health argued that “access” to a medical record wouldn’t begin to scratch the surface of consumer’s expectations for digital engagement, and we predicted that most portals would end up being replaced as a result. When you look at the current state of the patient portal market, it’s clear that those predictions were accurate. Today, if I’m being honest, I don’t believe MACRA’s new engagement standards will rise to the level healthcare consumers expect, either. Providers need to stop treating federal regulations as their roadmap to financial success and instead create their own vision for what patient engagement looks like in the context of coming to understand, help and even delight their customers.

The good news is, according to Gartner, “Paying attention to the consumer and providing high-quality experiences in health care are rising business imperatives.” The bad news is that for the most part, what we see unfolding in organizations across the country are somewhat nascent approaches to adopting digital that we know must be accelerated and mastered in preparation for value-based care. So what, specifically, will facilitate ongoing patient engagement? What are the tools that can help make it a reality?

Consumer expectation is not being set by the hospital across town or the provider office up the street, and so comparing an organization’s digital consumer experience to peers who are also lagging behind is a massive mistake. Rather, providers should look to progressive industries like retail, banking and travel for a proxy.

In so doing, a few things are evident.

  • The approach to creating a digital experience must be personalized, which means it must be data driven. Combining clinical, financial, behavioral and patient-provided data is paramount.
  • Engaging the right person at the right time with the right message requires the ability to also connect on the right (preferred) channel. Multi-channel approaches (print, web, social, email, SMS, phone) are core to meeting people where they are.
  • Automation is at the heart of digital strategies. Rules-based messaging and real-time interventions are the only cost effective and practical way to influence health decision making, at scale.

Creating value for consumers requires responding to their needs and requests. Access to quality data, provider ratings and comparison tools, personalized care plans, shared goal setting, secure communication tools on par with Gmail, medication refill tools, online referral requests, access to directly schedule or reschedule an appointment ─ all of these things have been in demand for a long time and should already be available. We must master these so we can move on to what’s next – integrating data from wearable and other Internet of Things (IoT) devices, providing real-time health tips and care coaching via a Smartphone’s notification center, etc.

In summary, to really succeed in the new healthcare economy, we must put consumers’ needs first. Any investment in a better customer experience will ultimately benefit providers and healthcare systems irrespective of how value-based care plays out.

Read more about effective patient engagement strategies and one health system’s success story by downloading our case study: Assessment and Prevention Through Social Media Marketing.