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RED HOT Contributors


Episode 23: Secrets of Patient Engagement and Healthcare Consumerism


Today we have a special in-depth podcast episode on consumer and patient engagement – given by Dr. Steve Ambrose, founder and host of Red Hot Healthcare. For over 20 years, he was able to successfully and personally engage with thousands of self-pay patients, getting them to stay, pay, and refer others for care.

The shift of risk and payment models, from fee-for-service to value-based care, will be a differentiator for those direct and indirect health companies that learn, culturally embody, and employ engagement. More than ever, there exists a major need for properly implementing consumer engagement and patient engagement – directly from healthcare providers AND indirectly from healthcare technology companies.

Whether it’s connecting with health consumers to become patients, growing their existing patient base, or activating patients via population health management – we’re surely realizing that technology alone will not provide sufficient results. It will take the formation and maintenance of individualized trust relationships in our communities.

This powerful audio podcast episode includes:

  • The core tenants of engagement
  • The damage of confirmation bias
  • Patient affordability and valuing health
  • Volume, initial engagement & activated patients
  • The power of negotiation and ‘tactical’ empathy

Below is a short clip from Dr. Steve’s episode on Consumer & Patient Engagement. 

DR. STEVE [on care affordability]: “Sometimes it great to get an outside perspective – and now I’m going to give you one for engagement.

Guys…money matters.

Let me tell you something, it wasn’t too long ago that hospitals, health systems, providers, payers, and pharma companies could have cared less about patient outcomes, lowering costs, and improving the value of their care. It only became important TO THEM and to technology vendors designing products/software for them, once THEIR reimbursement was going to be affected on patient satisfaction, outcomes and value.

You will also notice that today’s physicians are being motivated to meet quality metrics, by financial compensation, in the form of bonuses, given by payers such as United Healthcare. Why United Healthcare and other payers have chosen to not mandate these quality metrics and actually penalize those physicians and facilities that don’t meet them is beyond me.

The last time I checked, companies that lowered costs often passed on these benefits in the form of lower pricing to their customers – those individuals and businesses that support their business. But hey – that’s consumerism and normal U.S. business markets…and we’re talking healthcare, which is on its own island.

It should not be a surprise that money matters – to all players and providers in the business of healthcare. It must also be recognized that finances and affordability must often be addressed in patient and consumer engagement.

The doctor says, “Mrs. Smith – you don’t understand, this drug has the ability to bring down your blood sugar so you can prevent future diabetes”

Mrs. Jones responds, “Yes, I understand…” And she never fills the prescription because she cannot afford the medication. In fact, it’s because she is living paycheck to paycheck, supporting her 25-year-old daughter living at home.

While I attended HIMSS, I asked a well-known marketing officer a question on affordability of services for patients. He replied proudly that his organization had price transparency online for consumers.

I told him, “You don’t understand. You’re assuming they DO want to go to the doctor. Forget choosing a doctor…what I’m asking is what are you doing to get them to value and choose to go to the doctor in the first place?”

Again, it often comes down to confirmation bias. Then the answer was that his company had not addressed that yet.

Well…you’d better start, because affordability is key on most every health consumer’s mind. If you want to lower chronic disease through better population health management, you’d better know how to engage consumers and patients on what they value, and causes their decisions.

It’s not always the case, but if a major part of those care engagement decisions involve finances…you cannot simply ignore it.”

DR. STEVE [on Tactical Empathy]: “When interacting with patients or consumers, you want to analyze, find, and draw out reasons for lack of engagement. Often there are emotions behind this – and you want to use their emotions as a tool to help them. One example is a concept known as TACTICAL EMPATHY and I’ll touch on it here.

Tactical empathy is empathy PLUS hearing and recognizing the emotions and beliefs of the individual, which are driving those feelings. So for engagement, you want to know WHY the person is not engaging as an activated patient, or why the consumer has not yet elected to perhaps be a patient.

It’s personalized and woven into a communications program for your team; and it’s only one single tactic in engagement. So while technology should be used, it is very important to make sure that every communication such as emails, SMS, and phone calls reflect best efforts to engage…”


 I have had the privilege and pleasure of working with Steve Ambrose on a podcast that covered a range of topics in healthcare information technology. The podcast logistics – communications, interview questions, scheduling and production – were every well managed.
A great experience that I would do again in an instance.

Dr. John Glaser
SVP, Population Health at CERNER

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