The health care industry is changing. Instead of patients turning to their doctors for all their health care decisions, they are increasingly doing their own health research online, consulting with friends and family, and expecting their health care provider to communicate with them on their terms, including via email and smartphones.

For the most part this is good news, since by now the evidence is clear that patients who are actively engaged have better outcomes than passive recipients of health care. But in this increasingly demanding and ever-changing health care climate, how can doctors meet their patients’ needs and still maintain a successful practice? How can you create a patient-centric environment where you are a trusted partner in the decision-making process, not just one of many opinions to consider? Here are a few ways to form stronger partnerships with your patients.

1. Make trustworthy, curated content available.

Nearly three-quarters of your patients are online, and searching for health information is one of the top online activities. So if you don’t provide the content your patients are looking for, they will seek it out from less reputable sources. We’ve discussed the elements of successful patient education materials. They need to be tailored to your target audience, make use of technology (ideally including visual elements like animation and video), and be easy to access and share after the appointment.

It should go without saying that your content and the tools you use to share it also must be easy to use. Patients want to click a link or press play on a video, not go through a complicated registration process to access the information they want. Also consider how your patients prefer to consume content and offer it to them that way – via email, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Since most practices don’t have the time or staff to juggle multiple tools to do this, you’re better off going with one patient-education tool that allows for multiple channels of distribution.

And one thing you can provide that WebMD can’t? Context. Health care providers in patient-centric practices put information into context and interpret it for their patients, so they’re not left to make sense of it on their own.

2. Communicate with patients on their terms.

Eighty percent of adult smartphone users around the world are interested in using their smartphones to interact with health care providers, according to a new survey by analytics software and services company FICO. And you may be surprised to learn that the majority are already using them for health care-related purposes: 80 percent already receive reminders of upcoming appointments, 60 percent receive reminders to arrange appointments and health checks, 40 percent receive reminders to take medication, 34 percent use their smartphones to look for medical advice, and 32 percent receive reminders to monitor personal health risks, FICO found.

So what more do patients want? Research on early adopters of patient portals shows that patient registration on Kaiser Permanente’s portal, to cite one example, jumped from nine percent to 27 percent of their membership when functions such as online test results and the ability to email a doctor’s office became available. The most widely used features were lab results, prescription refills, and electronic consultations with health care providers.

While currently only a small fraction of doctors use a web portal to interact and share information with patients, those who don’t soon may not have a choice: as changes in health care laws further the push from paper-based to digital, more doctors will adopt electronic health records (EHRs). And to receive financial incentives for EHRs, Meaningful Use Stage 2 requires that eligible professionals ensure that at least 5 percent of patients view, download, or transmit their EHRs. But if Kaiser’s experience is any indication, that won’t be a problem.

3. Position yourself as a trusted consultant.

Health care providers who best achieve the “triple aim” of lower cost, improved patient experience, and improved outcomes understand how critical it is to build trust, wrote Dave Chase in a Forbes article titled “Patient Engagement Is the Blockbuster Drug of the Century.” “As in any relationship, trust is built on a firm foundation of communication.”

We know that shared decision-making is key to patient engagement, and doctors need to position themselves as an integral part of the patient’s support team. While Chase notes that the majority of decisions that most influence health outcomes are made by patients and their families, not clinicians, there is evidence to show that patients consider trusted providers as important as their personal support teams, even slightly more. Pew Research found that 70 percent of U.S. adults got information, care, or support from a doctor or other health care professional, and 60 percent of adults got information or support from friends and family.

Doctors who recognize and work towards these patient-centric goals have the best chance of forming solid partnerships with their patients, and yielding better results for all.

To find out more about how to partner with patients in your practice, or for a free trial of our interactive patient education software, contact us today.