Actium Health CEO Mike Linnert talks about engaging patients

Providers must engage patients outside of appointments, Linnert said in an interview with Chief Healthcare Executive. Health systems can use their data to connect with patients.

Patients simultaneously have both higher expectations for their doctors but are expressing less confidence in them.

Those are some of the takeaways from a new report on patient engagement released by Actium Health, a healthcare software company based in California.

A majority of consumers surveyed (63%) said they expect more from their doctors, up from 50.2% in 2021. At the same time, a slim majority of patients (50.2%) said they have less confidence in their doctors, which is also an increase compared to last year (41.3%).

Doctors must engage with their patients beyond office visits when they’re sick, Mike Linnert, founder and CEO of Actium Health, told Chief Healthcare Executive. Providers also have to utilize their data to identify patients who may have higher risks of health complications and reach out to them.

“I think the survey speaks to this opportunity to proactively engage everybody,” Linnert said in an interview Wednesday. (The story continues after the video.)

Only 1 in 5 consumers (21%) said they get information about COVID-19 from their doctor, according to the survey. Half of all Americans (50%) get information on the coronavirus from the media.

Consumers were a little more likely to consult doctors about the COVID-19 vaccine. Roughly a quarter (26%) received vaccine information from their physicians, while 47% said the majority of what they learned about the vaccine came from the media.

More than a third (38%) said they don’t feel anyone is providing clear, accurate information about COVID-19. While 27% of participants said doctors could be trusted for factual information, only 17% said the same about the media, yet they were still more likely to read a news report than get information from a doctor.

Patients generally trust doctors, but since physicians aren’t engaging them, they follow the news or whatever is trending online, Linnert said. If doctors were reaching out, he said as a patient, “I would immediately have more confidence in that than anything I was reading online.

“The problem is that proactive reaching out isn’t happening,” Linnert said.

Linnert said he doesn’t blame doctors. “They don’t really receive training in how to proactively leverage digital tools to reach out and engage everyone who’s not there,” he said.

Finding those who need help

Patients want to hear from their doctors, the survey found. Roughly 3 in 5 patients (62%) said they would like to hear from their doctor or provider more often in 2022.

Health providers must engage with their patients more regularly, Linnert said. More engagement leads to healthier patients, he said.

“Doctors are great at helping the patient that’s in front of them,” Linnert said. “They’re also really good at helping the patient who is in the middle of an episode but isn’t right in front of them at this moment.”

“Where it’s more challenging for them is helping all the patients who are healthy right now who aren’t in front of me or aren’t in the middle of an episode of care,” he added. “Unfortunately that's the vast majority of patients.”

Providers can remind patients if they are late for certain screenings, but they can also use their own data to identify patients who may be at higher risk for diseases, Linnert said. Systems can tailor messages to connect with patients and encourage them to schedule an appointment.

“Those are potentially life-saving communications,” Linnert said.

Intermountain Healthcare has a program to comb through patient data to find patients who may be at risk for kidney disease and have no idea, Linnert said. Earlier detection of kidney diseases can avoid more serious progression.

As Intermountain identifies some patients who may be at risk, nurses will call patients to express concern and to start gathering more information. Linnert cited that as an example of how health systems must do more than schedule extra screenings and invite people to come to the facility.

“As health systems, it’s incumbent upon us not just to see the people who know they want to see us, but to find the people who need us,” Linnert said.

“If all we see is the wealthy white people coming in to get screened, we may be missing the high-risk people that we really want to get,” he added.

Taking advantage of data

Health systems possess a wealth of data about their patients, but they aren’t using it the way other industries have mastered. He cited examples such as Amazon suggesting a product or Netflix recommending a movie based on previous viewings.

“It would be wonderful if health systems were using the data and proactively reaching out to me,” he said.

Healthcare leaders don’t necessarily need to replace technologies, Linnert said. They simply need to do a better job of mining the data from their electronic health records and consider working with their marketing teams to reach out to patients.

“The need to be proactive is critical. The data enables you to personalize that proactive outreach to target what it is that’s relevant to people,” Linnert said.

“You just have to look to take advantage of what you already have,” he added.

Patient engagement in this fashion is critical in an increasingly competitive healthcare environment, Linnert said.

“If you don’t find a way to be proactive, someone else is going to be proactive and take your customers away from you,” Linnert said.

Healthcare providers are sending more information to patients than they did a year ago in Actium Health’s last survey on engagement. Some other highlights of the report:

  • The survey found 57% of providers sent information and updates about COVID-19 in 2022, up from 54% a year ago. And 61% sent information about COVID-19 vaccines, compared to 55% last year.
  • More than half of providers (58%) provided general health information, up from 45% last year.
  • Nearly 2 out of 5 providers (39%) offered information about preventing screenings and options for scheduling appointments, up from 29% in 2021.

Actium Health conducted the survey of 1,230 Americans in February 2022.