Key Takeaways

When I had a primary care clinic, I used to dread the phone calls I would get from gastroenterologists when one of the patients I sent them had inadequately prepared for their colonoscopy. The GI docs would be upset that they had to cancel the procedure, which meant an empty procedural room and lost revenue. 

Situations like these are all too common. And a lot of non-clinical factors can throw off planned procedures. For example, many of my patients spoke Spanish as a first language, and had trouble following instructions they had been given. If they had questions, it was difficult for them to get a prompt answer — particularly on evenings and weekends when clinic staff weren’t available. 

Fortunately, digital patient engagement approaches have improved immensely in the years since I had my clinic, and are well-positioned to enable better communication and coordination to help support individuals leading up to a procedure. Let’s dive into five distinct tech-based strategies to close the loop and improve preparation compliance.

1. Employ education-forward platforms

Lagging health literacy rates pose a significant threat to positive outcomes writ large. But they’re specifically problematic when it comes to fostering an informed patient base that understands necessary care steps prior to medical procedures. 

Using a digital patient engagement technology that proactively educates individuals when they’re preparing for procedures can help:

  • Support patients with preparation information: One reason proper preparation is imperative is that it can have a significant impact on successful procedures. Having a digital companion that proactively provides information relevant to patients’ care needs — whether related to laxative instructions for colonoscopies or eating/drink guidance prior to anesthesia — can empower individuals to fully understand what they need to do to improve their chances for positive outcomes.
  • Mitigate anxiety and fear: Medical procedures can often induce anxiety in patients — especially if they don't fully understand what they’re in for. Indeed, the best cure for fear is knowledge. And the power of information is so strong that one study found health literacy as the principal driver in lowering anxiety levels before procedures. Digital platforms that actively educate patients can help alleviate apprehension by providing individuals with accurate instructions, informing them of potential symptoms and side effects they might experience, and giving them steps to take throughout their care journeys — ensuring they know what to expect and when to expect it.

2. Use high-touch care technologies

There’s no question our existing healthcare system remains largely fragmented. People might visit a primary care physician, who then recommends screenings from a separate imaging specialist, who subsequently suggests seeing a medical expert to discuss possible treatment. And it’s easy for patients — and their health histories — to get lost in this sea of disjointed care delivery. 

Expecting healthcare to solve this pervasive problem in the short term is optimistic at best. But integrating solutions that engage patients at multiple touch points can help significantly. Leveraging digital platforms developed to support high-touch care offers several advantages for ensuring a more connected care experience for patients, including:

  • Early identification and mitigation of risks: Preexisting risks can exacerbate the possibility of harm during procedures — and they’re also common. One report discovered 87% of patients report at least one risk factor that increases the chance of adverse outcomes during surgery. Through more consistent interactions with patients, healthcare providers can identify potential factors — such as allergies, medication interactions, behaviors, or underlying health conditions — that might impact procedures or recovery later on. Early detection allows for appropriate mitigation strategies to be implemented in the preparation stage, reducing the likelihood of complications.
  • SDOH support and continuity of care: The benefits of using digital tools with a high-touch approach extend beyond the immediate demands of preparation to help address other barriers along care journeys. Virtual solutions can enhance SDOH screenings by more efficiently collecting data on factors that could get in the way of successful procedures — such as issues with transportation or adhering to nutritional guidelines. Technology can also help people connect with different members of their care teams — from pharmacists to social workers to health coaches —   ultimately promoting more connected care  experiences.

3. Opt for platforms that use accessible communication channels like SMS

Just about every provider offers patient portals. However, the numbers show many patients still don’t take advantage of them. What good is a digital patient engagement solution that doesn’t get used? To address this issue, several forward-thinking digital health technologies — like Memora Health — have embraced text messaging as their main communication channel. Using SMS for coordinating pre-procedure preparation offers specific advantages for both patients, including:

  • Near-universal accessibility: SMS texting provides patients with instant access to important information regarding their medical procedure. Patients can receive pre-operative instructions, appointment reminders, and other pertinent details directly to their mobile devices, ensuring timely communication without the need for internet access or smartphone capabilities. 

4. Go beyond basic appointment reminders

Along with patient portals, appointment reminders have become commonplace in healthcare. That could be due to America’s increasing aversion to answering unknown calls or the drastic uptick in text messaging across generations — even among aging populations.

Whatever the reason, these automated correspondences might help patients remember their upcoming procedures. However, they do little to assist individuals with care-related questions or concerns. Digital platforms that include a clinical focus can offer:

  • Comprehensive support with preparation: Forward-thinking technologies check the box for appointment reminders, but also provide patients with support related to care guidelines, medications they need to take, and what to avoid before procedures. This aspect of intelligent automation — referred to as intelligent care enablement — is key for the next generation of care delivery, elevating patient engagement from facilitating mere clerical goals to providing actionable, evidence-based care guidance.
  • Improve compliance: Patients who have comprehensive knowledge about their medical procedures aren’t just less anxious and more prepared. They’re also more compliant with preparation protocols. Digital platforms that extend beyond reminders to proactively and reactively engage individuals with evidence-based content can reinforce adherence to medication regimens, pre-habilitation programs, and lifestyle changes that support better outcomes — ultimately enhancing the effectiveness of subsequent procedures.
Find out how one large health system’s oncology unit used Memora Health’s platform to improve medication adherence.

5. Leverage advanced conversational AI in healthcare

Largely going from foe to friend in healthcare, AI has been gaining momentum lately. In fact, 60% of healthcare leaders have reported active investments in this technology. Conversational AI — a category including intelligent programs that can understand and generate human language — shows particular promise for advancing patient engagement before procedures by providing:

  • Always-on assistance: People need sleep. Computer programs don’t. Conversational AI platforms are available round-the-clock, allowing patients to access information and support whenever they need it — regardless of time zone or location. This accessibility ensures that patients can prepare for their procedures at their convenience, without being constrained by office hours or appointment schedules.
  • Scalability and efficiency: Advanced AI interfaces enable healthcare providers to scale their patient preparation efforts efficiently, accommodating large volumes of inquiries and interactions without compromising quality of care. AI-powered digital assistants can handle multiple conversations simultaneously, freeing up staff time and resources for more complex tasks while ensuring patients in their care are well-prepared for their procedures.

At a glance, preparing people for procedures seems straightforward. You give them some printed information, they take it home, follow the instructions, and show up for their appointments. But the reality is much more complex. People often encounter different barriers when preparing for procedures that can dismantle chances for success. With the right technology that actively educates individuals, engages them at multiple touchpoints, uses widely accessible communication channels, goes beyond basic reminders, and harnesses the power of AI, providers can significantly advance their efforts to give their patients the best chances at successful and often life-changing treatments.

Wondering how your organization can implement these strategies? Talk with one of our experts and we’ll walk you through it.