Effective Patient Outreach: Manual, Automated or Hybrid

This post explores automated vs. manual patient outreach strategies and how the two combined can create an effective patient outreach funnel.

Co-Founder & CEO at Nudge

While most people say patient engagement is the holy grail of healthcare, the truth is that patient outreach is actually one of the key pillars within the engagement paradigm.

Over the past few years the ballooning of the healthcare analytics market, poised to reach $33.8B by 2023, has resulted in a mental shift from “identification” of at-risk patients or members to the next step in the engagement continuum: outreach.

Ok, now that we’ve finally discovered those we should target with interventional programming, how are we going to engage them?


The Key Stages of Engagement

The common pitfall within the industry is viewing engagement as a single activity or step in the funnel, when in reality it consists of multiple distinct sections:

  • Identification → understanding who to target with interventional programming

  • Outreach → education and recruitment of patients/members for programming

  • Qualification → funneling of those “ready” into appropriate programming

  • Enrollment → connection process with a practitioner

  • Sustained Involvement → keeping a person engaged for a predetermined amount of time or until program completion

Too often we see organizations rush or overlook the outreach and qualification steps and spend the majority of their time and resources on formal programming or actual engagement with a practitioner. Here’s the issue.

The target population has to move sequentially from one stage to the next so without effective outreach and qualification resources are being misused and the likelihood of success is significantly limited.

What we are left with is essentially a shotgun approach to outreach.

If you visualize each stage as a step in a funnel you can assume that there will be natural attrition at each step, meaning that even the most effective interventional programs can be viewed as failures if you can’t get enough participants into the program.


This all stresses the importance in effective outreach, and that by maximizing our conversions at the top of the funnel we are better positioning ourselves to maximize the number of patients/members who will make it through to subsequent stages.


The Case for Automated Outreach

Like with engagement in general, the outreach paradigm consists of a multitude of players and approaches ranging from more people-intensive to fully-automated, tech-enabled solutions.

We’ve already seen positive trends signalling the effectiveness and efficacy of automated outreach models, and recent findings further suggest that automation will continue to be a significant aspect of patient outreach.

A report by Conversa Health, creators of a platform delivering an automated, scalable way for care providers to engage and manage patient populations, aggregated survey and interview data from 134 healthcare executives found that “98% of healthcare executives feel automated healthcare will be important to help close gaps from episodic transactional care, to continuous and collaborative care experiences.”

Other notable findings from the report, “Healthcare 2020: How Automated Patient Experiences Will Transform the Landscape”, include:

  • 87% of respondents feel that automated healthcare is beneficial for helping patients engage in their own care

  • 82% of respondents see value in using automated healthcare solutions for gathering more patient-generated health data (PGHD)

  • 79% of respondents will be working on integrating automated healthcare solutions within the next 24 months

  • 49% of respondents are either integrating or already have integrated patient generated health data into their patient experience initiatives

The appeal of automated systems is obvious when you consider the sheer size of target populations for various forms of outreach.

In one documented instance, a medical practice in Charleston, SC shared that moving to an automated approach was necessary for their population of 34,000 as “it was virtually impossible for one individual employee to call each family to remind them to schedule wellness visits or preventive screens and vaccinations.”

Along the same lines, the University of Alabama Birmingham Medicine reported that their automated patient outreach phone call strategy resulted in a 78% increase in scheduled endoscopies.

At this point it would be easy to see how most people within the industry believe that the answer to effective outreach is pure automation; however, most documented successes are for broad outreach and limited to more standard follow-up practices, such as scheduling and medication reminders.

This isn’t to say that automation doesn’t have a place within outreach, but rather that there could be limitations in where it’s effective, such as in terms of recruitment for interventional programming, like within chronic care management or diabetes prevention programs.

Health engagement science dictates that people fall within certain stages of “readiness” for engagement or change, and that the majority of the population currently falls outside of being being ready for programming.

Less Than 50% Are Ready For Interventional Programming

In some instances the right message at the right time can be enough to tip the scales for those within a more advanced stage (i.e. “preparation”); however, others may require months or years or education and nurturing before being in a position to take the leap.

This is where automation can deliver significant to outreach initiatives, as the patient nurturing process is comparable to what marketers have been doing with email marketing for years

Once an email is collected, brands generally send out regular emails to nurture prospective buyers to the point where they are interested in purchasing that product. That may take weeks, months, or even years, but when the time is right they drive them to schedule a demo or book a consult.

Automated patient engagement models are similar to email marketing in the sense that it is nurturing those within the population to the point where a conversation makes sense.

It’s for this reason that the formula for effective outreach isn’t necessarily automated or manual-only approaches but rather a hybrid model, combining the two into a seamless workflow built around engagement-focused-outreach.

Patient Outreach Engagement Funnel

As a result we are creating a funnel in which those “ready” are immediately driven to action, such as scheduling an appointment or booking a consult, and those not ready for engagement are further nurtured to the point of readiness.

Where automated system are incredibly efficient in delivering targeted touchpoints to a broad population at scale, human involvement is the critical next step to match with where a person is in order to drive conversions and program enrollment.