Technology Corner

A Checklist for Patient Engagement ––>

Most of you reading this column probably have a website for your pharmacy and a Facebook page, and your pharmacy management system allows you to send out an occasional email. If this describes your operation, and you feel that these activities put you into an elite group of practitioners who are way ahead of your competition, we’re here to tell you that your competition, especially the large chains, has gone so far beyond you in the world of connectivity that it’s time for you to consider moving to a level that improves your patient communication, engagement, and participation activities significantly. We suggest that you work through the following checklist and consider your priorities for adopting our suggested changes.


1. Pharmacy Website.
We anticipate that most of you have a website that could best be described as a placeholder, because the content rarely changes and it serves to tell people your location and hours and perhaps a telephone number or email address. You may even have a picture of your smiling employees. The old Internet website for pharmacists was primarily a place for people to read static information before having to take a brick-and-mortar journey to visit your pharmacy and conduct a transaction. Current pharmacy websites should support transactions such as e-commerce and allow patients to have a place to document their medication profiles to include legend, over-the-counter, and supplemental products. Patients should also be able to record their experiences regarding the medication you provide them. Your homework assignment is to visit the website of your closest chain competitor and create a listing of all of the features provided on that website, including the download of mobile apps and convenience support. Pick from this list the things that would make the greatest difference in your operations and price what it would take to add these features.


2. Social Media Presence.
A recent study found that the first thing that one-third of all women do in the morning upon rising is to check their social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, or Foursquare. If you don’t know what every last one of these social media sites represents, we suggest you get busy with Google and find out. Every one of them represents an opportunity for you to connect and promote relationships and business with your patients. Katy Perry has 60 million followers on Twitter and is now commercializing her presence online. Don’t be confused by your desire to avoid “friending” your patients. Facebook can be made into a pharmacy-level connection by having a separate presence for your business and your personal life. Every posting can remind your patients that you are not only there, but also wanting to connect with them. It costs you nothing to post a video describing what compounding can do. It costs you nothing to create posts of interesting photographs that depict your art of practicing.


3. Channel Management.
Another recent study showed that Americans would rather give up their televisions than their Internet access, cell phone/smartphone devices, and/or their email accounts. You only have to look around at any intersection, restaurant, college campus, or shopping mall to see that personal devices are ubiquitous in our world. Once you discover that an individual patient responds best to emails, text messages, social media messages, or any other communication channel, you can reach your patients through their preferred channel for any professional purpose you desire. All you have to do is gather patient preferences and build the database for channel management in your operations.

4. Search Engine Optimization. Research shows that 87% of Americans regularly access the Internet, 90% of them own a cell phone/smartphone, and 72% of them use the Internet to access health information. Fully 59% of those who access health information online tried to diagnose their medical conditions, and 55% of them are researching a particular medical condition. Do you specialize in diabetes, immunizations, or asthma? Search engines can be fed a series of keywords that will improve how high on the “hit list” your pharmacy services will be listed. This is a free method for optimizing the most popular search engines. You can also elect to “pay for play” by doing click ads on those areas you consider your centers of excellence. You can even minimize the cost of these ads by geographically limiting who would see the search results. Remember that online searchers for health information are looking either for themselves or for someone else in equal measure.


5. Blogs and Wikis.
There once was a company that created a private-label newsletter for community pharmacists to distribute to patients and their caregivers. The company supplied health-related news and issues under the pharmacy header, and pharmacists would distribute them to their patients as a way of keeping them informed about issues and innovation in healthcare. Today we have health-related blogs and wikis, such as RxWiki.com, that can be an excellent source of content for distribution to patient groups and their caregivers. These sites include interesting topics relevant to individuals who are coping with diseases or taking specific classes of medications. Pharmacists don’t have to stare at a blank screen and dream up content for communicating with patients anymore.


6. Trusted Resources.
Patients fail in their regimen and self-care management for three reasons. They don’t know what to do. They don’t know how to do it. They are not motivated to do it. All three of these reasons for failure can be addressed on websites such as PatientsLikeMe.com. The sites provide expert information that has been rated by patients who tried the recommendations. It allows individuals who are coping with the same condition to “buddy up” with another patient to keep them motivated. Have you noticed that Weight Watchers is now allowing online users who have lost weight but are still are struggling with their own lifestyle changes to be coaches for new users of the website? This may be an instance where a simple referral to an appropriate, trusted site would be the action item.


7. Personal Health Records.
You can also refer people who are motivated to perform self-care management to free websites such as Microsoft HealthVault to establish a comprehensive record of every aspect of their health status. This group of sites is free to use and contains powerful tools for most of the disease states and medication support components required to allow patients to have a single place to manage their health information. Depending on the site, patients can give their providers access to be informed on what patients and all providers are doing in the care of an individual patient. Between episodes of care, information can be collected and then disseminated during subsequent care visits. If you haven’t set up one of these accounts for you and your family, we highly recommend that you try it, and then imagine how it could help various patients who support your practice.

There are obviously many other resources from which to choose when building your strategies for patient communication, engagement, and participation. We invite you to make comments or ask questions on any of the topics above or others in which you may be interested. Remember, patients are using digital services in every other aspect of their lives. Many are frustrated with the lack of connectivity they experience in healthcare. Also, it’s not only young people who are using the services. Finally, you don’t have to spend tens of thousands of dollars to improve your connectivity. What are your thoughts? Email us to continue this dialogue. CT


Bill G. Felkey, M.S., is professor emeritus, and Brent I. Fox, Pharm.D., Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Health Outcomes Research and Policy, Harrison School of Pharmacy, Auburn University. They can be reached at felkebg@ auburn.edu and foxbren@auburn.edu.

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