What is patient engagement?

by Tim Hanners - 03/14/14

The answer greatly depends on whom you’re asking.


Ask those involved with clinical integration and they’ll say it’s about leveraging patient information to improve "compliance with treatment plans, behavior modification, and clinical recommendations—once someone is already a patient."1 But if we’re really moving toward an accountable care experience, how does that help with members we’re responsible for who haven’t yet been a patient? Hospitals need to “engage” people who haven’t even been to the doctor in the last two years. Enter the healthcare marketer.

Back in 2006, the Advertising Research Foundation defined engagement as "turning on a prospect to a brand idea enhanced by the surrounding context."2 This is obviously not new to retailers, just new to health care.

So the definition of patient engagement becomes about choice, and specifically how a person selects the type of care they will receive and the provider he or she will trust to deliver it. In other words, "it is about consumers using the tools that they’re used to—reputation, price, quality, and convenience—to make their decisions."1 Of course, for providers that means not passively waiting for them to locate us, but rather engaging them with a brand experience through interactive channels that connect on an individual level.

This is not accomplished through traditional advertising (sorry, billboards) but rather paves the way to skyrocket your engagement with content-rich social media and relevant stories that educate. Health care is a high-interest category. Take advantage of that.

As you review your previous advertising efforts and transition to patient engagement marketing, ask yourself: Is my marketing:

  • relevant
  • transparent
  • interactive
  • facilitative
  • collaborative
  • trustworthy
If you can't answer "yes" to these questions, your marketing will likely fall short in engaging patients.


  1. The Growing Clout of the Healthcare Consumer, MDEverywhere, February 07, 2014
  2. Advertising Research Foundation Press Release on Program Engagement, March 21, 2006

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