Health Outreach Consumers Want & Need: Adopting a More-Is-More Approach to Health Engagement

November 3, 2020

Today’s consumers are more engaged in their health than ever before — and it’s not just because we’re in the midst of a global pandemic.

The Deloitte 2020 Survey of U.S. Health Care Consumers, fielded from February 24 through March 14, 2020, found that healthcare consumer engagement was on the upswing pre-pandemic, noting that:

“Consumers are increasingly willing to tell their doctors when they disagree with them, are using tools to get information on costs and health issues, are tracking their health conditions and using that data to make decisions, and accessing and using their medical record data.”

Engagement —It Takes Two

Another survey, conducted between January and March 2020, reveals a discrepancy between how engaged consumers are in their health and the level of engagement they are receiving from their health plans — notably, during a public health emergency. According to the J.D. Power 2020 Commercial Member Health Plan Study, over 60% of commercial health plan members had not been contacted by their health plan regarding COVID-19. Forty-eight percent of respondents said that their health plan had not shown concern for their health since the pandemic began.

At best, a lack of communication between healthcare organizations and consumers can negatively impact the healthcare experience, which, in turn, affects quality and satisfaction. At worst, it can have serious public health implications. As the consequences of foregone care during the pandemic come into focus, amid the impending arrival of a coronavirus vaccine and given the confluence of COVID-19 with flu season, these communications are critical to keeping consumers engaged, informed and healthy.

Targeted Patient Communications Increase Satisfaction, Improve Care

Unlike many other forms of outreach, data show that consumers want to hear from their healthcare networks — now, more than ever. In addition to the earlier-referenced J.D. Power study linking consumer engagement to overall satisfaction, HMS recently conducted more than 7 million COVID-19-specific outreaches on behalf of Medicaid and Medicare, which, on average, 86% of enrollees said they found valuable. Beyond the scope of COVID-19, HMS has seen dramatic results from this type of outreach, including:

  • A 30% increase in immunization rates from a city-targeted campaign.
  • A 25% improvement in medication adherence for individuals with diabetes or cardiovascular conditions.
  • A 45% overall improvement in preventive cancer screenings.

Be There, Wherever That May Be

Social distancing has been a catalyst for many of the healthcare challenges we currently face as well as a barrier to overcoming them. For vulnerable populations such as Medicaid especially, effective interventions are contingent on the ability to meet members where they are, both physically and in their overall healthcare journey. As healthcare needs and consumer preferences vary, behavioral science-driven campaigns, supported by multi-modal outreach, are most effective in reaching, engaging and empowering consumers to take action for their health.

In practice, a campaign targeting at-risk Medicaid members during the COVID-19 emergency period might comprise the following elements:

  • A text message notifying enrollees of an upcoming redetermination period as well as the necessary documents to prove continued eligibility.
  • A phone call educating Medicaid members on the importance of preventive cancer screenings and providing appointment-scheduling assistance.
  • An email letting members know how to access healthcare resources when offices are closed as well as ongoing correspondence about what services are available and how to navigate any restrictions.

Eliminating Barriers to Engagement

Perhaps the greatest obstacle to engaging consumers in their healthcare are the stresses of modern life, of which the socioeconomically vulnerable often bear a disproportionate burden. At the same time, it is these individuals for whom outreach campaigns can have the biggest impact on cost and outcomes. Population health analytics can help to overcome barriers to engagement by identifying high and rising-risk members and informing personalized outreach strategies based on their personal circumstances and communication preferences.

There are also longstanding structural barriers to consider, many of which have been temporarily removed as part of the government’s pandemic response. The expansion of telehealth is one such measure. Not only has increased telehealth access helped to protect individuals at a high risk of severe COVID-19, but it has also delivered on many of its long-touted benefits — namely, enabling access to care for those who face socioeconomic barriers.

There also exists the need to distinguish healthcare communication rules and regulations from those governing other types of outreach. For instance, the Telephone Consumer Privacy Act (TCPA), which is rightfully meant to protect consumers from unwanted and potentially harmful automated marketing calls, can actually inhibit the delivery of critical health information. The TCPA has been temporarily altered to allow calls and text messages from healthcare providers and government officials related to COVID-19 during the emergency period; however, the need for these communications far transcends the realm of the pandemic, necessitating action by state, federal and commercial healthcare stakeholders to realize a meaningful healthcare exemption.

Keeping the Momentum

The pandemic has brought renewed focus to the importance of multi-channel, analytics-driven engagement to individual and population health outcomes. It has also temporarily and narrowly eliminated several barriers to effective communication between healthcare professionals and consumers. Advocating for permanent reform of these policies and, to that end, exercising the regulatory authority to do so as appropriate, are a few examples of how the healthcare community can work together to keep consumers engaged, informed, and, most importantly, healthy, during the current pandemic crisis and over the long term.

For more COVID-19-specific population health management and cost containment strategies, visit HMS Health Ideas, where you will find our full COVID-19 cost containment toolkit as well as other key insights to help you navigate the current and future healthcare landscape.   

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