By Eric Sullivan
IntroductionFor outpatient mental health clinics, for which SAMHSA indicates there are over 7,500 in the United States¹, patient adherence to care plans and retention are important factors contributing to successful outcomes and improved overall well-being. While in-office encounters remain essential, maintaining patient engagement between visits is often underestimated – and challenging given the limited number of proven tools available.
Continuity of CareMaintaining active, purposeful patient engagement between visits helps ensure a continuum of care. Regular communication from the office and clinicians, such as periodic guidance with tips for adhering to treatment plans, habit reminders, and progress tracking in self-care smartphone apps³ helps patients focus on their journey. It promotes a sense of trust and confidence and helps prevent patients from feeling lost or disconnected between appointments.
Education and EmpowermentBetween encounter engagement allows healthcare providers to educate patients about their conditions, treatment options, and lifestyle adjustments. These resources and educational materials empower clients with the information necessary to actively manage their health. Informed patients are more likely to adhere to prescribed treatments and make healthier choices, leading to better long-term outcomes.
Support and MotivationChronic conditions and complex treatment plans often lead to uncertainty or discouragement. Engagement between visits enables healthcare teams to offer ongoing support and motivation. Positive reinforcement messages can significantly impact a patient’s morale and determination to stay on track. Reminders of other available interventions, such as telehealth encounters and upcoming group sessions, can help keep struggling patients on track.
Building Trust and LoyaltyStrong therapeutic relationships are built on trust, empathy, and understanding. Regular efforts to engage patients by clinicians and their teams between in-person encounters demonstrate dedication to patients' well-being. This fosters a sense of loyalty and encourages patients to remain committed to their treatment journey.
ConclusionThe importance of ongoing engagement between visits cannot be overstated. As a critical complement to in-office encounters, these efforts establish and support a therapeutic alliance between patients and their healthcare teams. By fostering communication, education, and personalized care, healthcare professionals can significantly improve patient adherence and retention, ultimately leading to better, safer healthcare journeys and outcomes.