Four Guiding Principles to Influence Consumer Health Behaviors

January 3, 2020 Lisa Freeman

Mastering the Art and Science of Health Engagement

Do either of these statements sound like something you would say?

“Smoking isn’t that bad for you – my grandma smoked two packs a day and lived to be 100 years old.”

“I’m never sick, so I don’t need to get my flu shot.”

If you haven’t said either of these before, I bet you know someone that has had those, or similar, thoughts. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But when it comes to designing an effective communication strategy, those opinions could become our enemies; unless you know how to address them.

The Science Behind Member Engagement

Health communication is the study and use of communication strategies to inform and influence decisions and actions to improve health. When writing health information, it’s a good idea to get inside the head of the person you are trying to reach and figure out what will motivate them to change.

To help with this, consider the four important aspects of health engagement communications.

1. Empathize
Get to know the whole individual and really think about what’s happening in their lives and how that can impact everything they do. Put yourself in their shoes.

For example, someone may have just lost their job and is now worried about how they are going to pay for the car that gets them and their family everywhere, food that fills their belly and the medication that helps them feel good.

2. Resonate
Talk to someone with plain simple language that is relevant to them. This helps build a rapport and leaves a lasting impression. Also, keep a finger on the pulse of popular market approaches to behavior change, while also paying to attention to what’s happening in the pop-culture world and other worldwide current events. This ensures your topics are on point.

Would you talk to your grandmother the same way you would talk to your teenage child? A younger audience responds to humor and light irreverence, while an older audience responds more to reverence and earned/owed service.

3. Influence
Changing the way people think about their health is a process. Along the journey, messaging should provide individuals with enough direction, but leave them feeling like they were able to make the ‘choice’ themselves. Don’t preach to them.

4. Reinforce and Benchmark
To maintain engagement and to keep people on the right track with their health, reinforce the message across multiple mediums and channels. Also, measure success by looking at the data.

The Art of Creating Compelling Messaging

When creating communications for individuals, targeting and tailoring approaches should be considered. Targeted messages are customized to the shared characteristics of subgroups. For example, a health plan might target messages at recent college graduates who are starting their careers in small cities and are new to having health insurance. In contrast, tailored messages are designed around individual characteristics such as persona or co-pay amount for seeing their doctor.

Members are more likely to adopt healthy behaviors when they perceive a threat or when the benefits of making a change outweigh the barriers. A person also must believe in their ability to perform a behavior; motivation is not enough. Common obstacles to taking action include cost, time and lack of transportation.

Design your communications in ways that answer the following questions someone may have and you’ll be more likely to succeed:
• What is my chance of getting sick?
• What do I think will happen if I do this behavior?
• How serious is my potential health problem?
• What’s in it for me if I make the health change?
• How likely will it be a good outcome versus a bad one?
• Can I actually do the behavior successfully?
• What’s going to make it easier or harder for me to do?

When messages satisfy these questions, individuals are more likely to have the confidence needed to make positive, healthy changes in their lives.


HMS’ Health Engagement Design Team has worked with numerous health plans, pharmacy benefit managers (PBM) and medical equipment supplies to create thoughtful content that inspires behavior change. The group is comprised of health communication, behavior change and cultural competency experts, who truly care about the individual and recognize that small changes in behavior can make a difference in the way people feel. And that feeling better every day leads to a happier, healthier and more productive life.

This team understands that behavior change is a process, not an event. They create communications and interventions that align with member needs at different stages in the process. Overall, it takes both science and art to identify and address the factors that hold consumers back from engaging in healthy behaviors.

To learn more about how HMS’ Eliza health engagement platform can help break down the barriers to care, contact us today.

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