Throughout my career, I’ve focused on deploying technology and data analytics to support the development of products and features that create engaging experiences. And I’m hardly alone. As the digital health revolution has saturated the healthcare space with virtual care solutions, industry leaders have been laser-focused on how to define, design, and drive meaningful patient behavior change.
While we’ve historically discussed patient engagement from a formulaic perspective as the combination of patient activation – their understanding and willingness to improve their health – with the interventions necessary to facilitate this behavior change, the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic have demonstrated that achieving these outcomes in reality is much more complex. To successfully empower people to take control of their health, we need to reflect upon the existing obstacles to engagement and take stock of the opportunities we are providing to our patients to overcome them.
Of course, encouraging patients to engage with their health is easier said than done. Pre-pandemic research indicated that time proved to be the largest barrier to improving patient engagement. And with COVID-19 stretching providers to capacity and leading to widespread burnout, this is a factor that has only been exacerbated. Patients face numerous obstacles preventing them from feeling empowered to take control of their health. Whether they’re confronted with busy schedules, misinformation, or socioeconomic challenges, engaging with their health is rarely a patient’s top priority. Even when a patient reaches out to a provider, once they leave the office or hang up with their physician, they often feel isolated from their care team. Because of this, part of our philosophy at Lark is to recognize that it’s a privilege to engage with our patients – so we are judicious. We use data to optimize the content and timing of our messaging, and we continually iterate and improve on this through data science techniques.
Understanding these barriers and recognizing that the time we have with our patients is limited, we are focused on how to personalize those precious few moments we have with a patient to ensure that their experience is as engaging and worthwhile as possible. Leveraging our infinitely-scalable coaching platform driven by conversational AI, and based on a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy framework, Lark acts as a first line of defense for our patients and escalates data-driven interventions to deliver an authentic and complementary component to providers’ care programs. Our “always on” functionality offers patients 24/7/365 access to coaching to accommodate their schedules and allow them to engage at times that are most convenient for them. We also deploy individualized nudges through push notifications, in-app conversations, emails, and SMS to support the self-efficacy of our members while meeting them where they are. We’ve classified and continually tailored our messaging to be educational so we can provide resources the patient might not otherwise receive so readily. In addition, our messaging is rooted in changing behavior–whether it’s helping the patient to be mindful of something as they carry on through their day, such as what they’re eating, or how much they’re eating. We use data they provide, and we extrapolate from their coaching to better tailor messaging that will resonate (e.g., eating and activity habits over a period of time). Ultimately, at Lark, our goal is to help patients change their mindset, even if it’s gradually over time – a little goes a long way in a patient’s health journey.
And we’re incredibly proud of the results we’re seeing at Lark – a recent study of 14,324 members found average weight loss in the study population to be 9.1 pounds – but I’m particularly excited about what we do to engage patients to achieve these outcomes. Our clinical team’s recent research, published in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Digital Health, found that increased engagement is related to increased weight loss for older adults. Results from the study suggest that older adults can successfully lose weight using fully digital programs like Lark’s.
Improving patient engagement doesn’t happen overnight. At its heart, our work needs to be focused on driving behavior change over time by encouraging and rewarding the small victories. By providing patients with a personalized and interactive experience, we can support them on their journey to building healthier habits.