For most consumers in the United States, there is a real lack of understanding around their available health care benefits. Confusing terminology and plans can make it difficult for consumers to understand what is included and what isn’t, where to go for care and how much it costs. This confusion leaves many consumers unaware of the benefits and resources at their disposal to help them better engage in their health care journey.
Patient engagement is often defined as the concept that drives patient activation through interventions that increase and promote an action or behavior, such as getting annual preventive care or following their prescribed medication regimen – and patient engagement has been both elusive and important for employers and health plans over the last couple years. Consumers don’t think about health care until they need it. When they do need it, educating themselves while dealing with physical and emotional issues is not a top priority.
While consumers today have become accustomed to comparing options before buying a TV or car, it’s not quite commonplace in health care – at least not yet. However, with the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic looming on many Americans, it’s never been more important to engage consumers in their health care. Empowering consumers to compare cost options, mirroring their buying experiences in other industries, will help them save money while still receiving high-value care. Engaging consumers through an omnichannel approach on how to understand their health plan and how and where to shop for care is the most effective way to turn consumers into engaged health care advocates.
Helping consumers understand their care options requires increasing awareness of available tools and resources. How you get this information to them – when they need it and how they want to receive it – can be what shifts the consumer from unengaged to engaged. For example, our digital engagement programs are three times more effective in driving shopping than direct mail. And consumers receiving personalized calls to action based on their needs, in the format they like to receive it (via text, email or in social media posts), has proven to be effective. We have found that email open rates increase by 150% when the email is based on a consumer’s recent activity and personalized to their behavior, vs. a generic message. Personalized emails to remind consumers to get care and outbound calls using predictive analytics increase the likelihood of consumers making appointments at cost-effective locations.
Digital shopping tools help consumers easily compare the price and quality of care services and then engage them to shop for the highest value. The key to this engagement is making a consumer aware of these options when they need them and creating a simple care journey for them to navigate, including human support for any questions and guidance along the way. Whether it’s an online chat, text or phone call, trained personal assistants can help consumers shop for care where they are and through the mode of communication that works best for them.
Enabling consumers to share in savings is a major factor for driving engagement as well. For example, through our SmartShopper program, consumers can receive meaningful cash rewards and see real savings just by choosing high-value care. In 2019, the SmartShopper program saved plan sponsors over $33 million by redirecting consumers to lower-cost sites of care and shared nearly $5 million in cash incentives with consumers.
Historically, consumers have taken a backseat on their health care journeys, but we have a real opportunity to change that. As consumerism and digitalization transform health care, digital engagement at the right time, as well as digital shopping tools, are the key to engaging consumers and putting them in the driver’s seat by becoming more active and confident decision-makers when it comes to their health.
Researching care options and engaging in the shopping experience will be especially vital as consumers deal with the effects of COVID-19. Collectively, I’d like to see health plans, employers and health IT partners work on expanding education and awareness for consumers about these available tools. Not only will consumers benefit from increased engagement, but health plans and employers will also prosper from their members and employees choosing low-cost, high-value care.
Originally published on LinkedIn, September 8, 2020.