The role
of digital patient
engagement in

Author: Megan Williams

Mobile digital health technologies—be it smartphones, wearables or medical IoT devices—have given rise to a reimagined form of engaging with patients: the concept of digital patient engagement. Providers have the possibility of offering 24/7 healthcare without requiring the patient to be physically present, while patients have a greater opportunity for self-care using tools at a time that is convenient for them. This reflects a growing trend of consumer preference for utilizing digital access channels for healthcare.

Digital health patient engagement vs. digital health patient experience

Patient engagement is a way of giving individuals the chance to improve their health through their direct actions—and it's also a shift away from over-reliance on providers. Examples of digital patient engagement include:

It is important to distinguish between patient engagement and the patient experience. While the two are related, they are distinct concepts. Patient engagement is about the actions (or inaction) an individual takes to make the most of the healthcare services available to them. Meanwhile, patient experience is about interactions and the cumulative experiences an individual encounters throughout their dealings with a healthcare provider.

While all instances of patient engagement will form part of the patient experience, not all aspects of the patient experience are necessarily part of patient engagement. Examples of elements that impact the digital health patient experience that may not impact engagement include:

  • Medical office technology
  • Billing and financial experiences, including setting up payment plans and how they're notified of outstanding balances
  • Patient data breaches or theft of their identity through a provider

Digital patient engagement can translate to better outcomes

There is "a growing body of evidence" linking patient engagement with better health outcomes, according to the CDC. Here are some examples from recent research:

  • Among individuals who track their health, 77% say it changes their behavior at least moderately. Younger generations (Gen Z and millennials) are much more likely to say it changes their behavior.
  • A study of breast cancer patients found high patient activation was a statistically significant positive predictor of health-related quality of life.
  • An app for chronic disease management that automatically messages reminders to diabetic patients to eat healthier and get more exercise resulted in improved blood sugar levels.
  • Connected healthcare, such as the hospital-at-home model, has been linked with reduced hospital admissions, better patient sleep and even reduced mortality rates.

However, the growth in digital health solutions also presents challenges for healthcare providers concerned about both patient engagement and experience. A Deloitte survey of healthcare consumers found the top factors for an "ideal" experience were doctors who listen to or care about them, doctors who don't rush and clear communication.

That same survey had interesting results regarding telehealth—which, while not necessarily representative of digital patient engagement and experience, still offers some insights into consumer views. While 80% of respondents who had a virtual-care visit would do so again, only one-third said the healthcare professional was as knowledgeable as one they would see in person, and only 38% said they were made comfortable by the healthcare professional.

Digital patient engagement best practices

On-premises telemedicine

These Deloitte survey results could indicate that digital health providers may need to address a perception, for at least some, that in-person healthcare is better than online. Separate research found that 56% of respondents don't think they get the same quality of care or value from a virtual visit as from an in-person visit, and 66% believe a healthcare professional needs to physically examine them to understand their health needs.

This highlights that digital healthcare need not necessarily be off-premises. On-premises telemedicine can be a useful tool for the digital health patient experience and engagement as it provides some of the benefits of telehealth, such as the ability to consult with medical specialists based in different locations, while the patient is in a healthcare setting that is familiar and comfortable for them.


A key trend in retail—as well as other industries with a strong focus on customer service—is personalizing the customer experience. Healthcare providers could consider the same approach, particularly as it can help to address the top digital health patient experience concern: that doctors care about the patient. Personalization has been shown to be an important factor in patient engagement and experience and can take on several forms.

Examples include:

  • Speaking their language: Whether it is via chatbots, SMS or other channels, it is important that communication, particularly automated communication, feels personalized in order to inspire the patient to act and interact. One of the barriers to successful digital patient engagement can be not understanding the tasks they are being asked to perform, such as correctly taking or refilling medication. This can be particularly challenging for non-native English speakers. When considering your telehealth platform provider, make sure they can provide in-meeting integration with medical interpreter services covering 200+ languages, including American Sign Language.
  • Reflecting their local environment: Digital health solutions can be tailored to reflect the local environment of patients. For example integrating live environmental data with a companion app for a connected inhaler empowered users to proactively avoid local environmental triggers and prevent exacerbated reactions. This prompted an 84% reduction in inhaler usage and 57% reduction in hospitalizations.

As you move forward to shape a digital health patient experience that encourages patient engagement and keeps up with the fast-changing demands of the patient consumer, make sure you have the support you need in healthcare IT and digital health.

The author of this content is a paid contributor for Verizon.