Health care provider organizations that want to succeed clinically and financially in the future must cultivate a workplace culture in which patient engagement goes far beyond encouraging patients to use online portals. Patient engagement should be the cultural fuel that ignites providers' overall business strategy in the new world of coordinated care, value-based reimbursement and ownership changes.

At present, most providers equate patient engagement with the percentage of patients using their portals to “view, download or transmit” information about their hospital stay or office visit. They define patient engagement that way because of the “meaningful use” criteria of the HITECH Act, which require a minimum of 5 percent of a provider's patients to use its portal.

“Health care provider organizations that want to succeed clinically and financially in the future must cultivate a workplace culture in which patient engagement goes far beyond encouraging patients to use online portals.”

The meaningful use requirement, which may jump to 25 percent by 2018, is driving adoption of patient portals. But the requirement isn't necessarily driving patient engagement, which is a much broader and more important concept. Providers must enable patients to actively participate in their own health and in their interactions with their health care system. Patient portals simply are one tactic toward that goal.

The first step—and perhaps the most important step—toward that goal is creating a culture in which patient engagement is a cornerstone. They say culture starts at the top, and my participation in a recent patient engagement webinar with two executives from Flagler Hospital in St. Augustine, Fla., reinforce that dictum as it pertains to patient engagement.

The two executives were Bill Rieger, Flagler's CIO, and Gina Magnus, vice president of patient engagement at the hospital. RelayHealth sponsored the webinar, which was presented and moderated by healthsystemCIO.com.

Incorporating Patient Engagement into Your Workplace Culture

Bill discussed the creation of the hospital's “meaningful use” team, which he leads and is affectionately known as MUTT (Meaningful Use Task Team). The group isn't composed of programmers, code writers or IT types. Instead, its chairs are filled with members of the hospital's executive suite: the CMIO, the CFO, the CNO and the CMO. That tells me Flagler didn't define patient engagement as a portal that had to be installed and operated by the IT department but rather as an overall shift in thinking that every hospital department from the top down had to make. It's an important lesson for all providers.

Gina, meanwhile, heads the patient engagement department that is the hospital's marketing department. The change in label from marketing to patient engagement is a cultural marker that other providers should emulate. In addition to working hand in glove with the MUTT team, Gina's patient engagement team works closely with the hospital's information system's staff, nursing staff, registration staff and discharge planning staff to execute Flagler's patient engagement strategy.

The initial rollout of the hospital's Follow My Health portal in October 2014 further demonstrates Flagler's commitment to patient engagement as its raison d'etre. The first group of patients targeted for enrollment in the portal was the hospital's own staff. The first 200 hospital employees to sign up got Follow My Health t-shirts and became walking billboards for the portal. They also were featured in Flagler's marketing campaign to the community.

Three Ways Patient Engagement Can Drive Business Goals

C-suite commitment, a multidisciplinary approach and employee involvement are hallmarks of a hospital that has woven patient engagement into its cultural fabric rather than solely being desirous of meeting regulatory requirements to obtain health IT subsidies.

But don't get me wrong. There is a strong business case to be made for making patient engagement an enterprise-wide cultural attribute. In fact, I would argue that a culture focused on patient engagement can drive a provider organization's overall business strategy in a number of ways. For example:

  • Patient engagement can be used to promote services available to patients across the continuum of care. Patients can begin to see the connections between parts of the local health care system and see themselves as integral parts of that system and the system an integral part of their lives.

  • Patient engagement can be a tool to improve the quality and safety of care while at the same time reducing costs by eliminating unnecessary utilization of services. Those are important business objectives for providers working under value-based reimbursement contracts or other types of payment arrangements that put them financially at-risk for the quality and cost of care.


  • Patient engagement can be the glue that connects patients to providers as providers undergo mergers, acquisitions, divestitures, diversifications and other types of transactions that can seriously shake up their health IT operations. Effective patient engagement can simplify the patient experience and maintain patient relationships during times of such disruption.

Accessing the full-range of available health care services, enabling cost-effective care and generating patient loyalty are just three ways patient engagement can improve the business health of a provider organization. Providers that embrace patient engagement as an essential part of their overall culture will enjoy better business health long after the IT subsidies for patient portals are gone.