Although progress has been made with advancements in digital health technology and data analytics, recent research shows that consumer-centric healthcare still has a way to go. J.D. Power, in its annual survey of commercial member health plans, found that just 36% of members believe their health plan consistently acts in their best interest, and only one-quarter see their health plan as a trusted partner in their health and wellness.
What might have been considered a disappointing trend just months ago has become a much more serious reality given the pandemic in which we currently find ourselves — a crisis in which millions have fallen ill and a great many have foregone care. In today’s increasingly virtual, socially distanced environment, bringing healthcare to the consumer is vital to the health of our populations and the sustainability of our healthcare system.
Overcoming Barriers to Telehealth, Engagement
Just as so much of the world has changed since the emergence of the coronavirus in early 2020, so too have the principles of healthcare consumer centricity. In some ways, long-standing barriers to care, exacerbated by the pandemic, have made it more difficult than ever to reach and engage consumers in their health. At the same time, we have seen a rapid acceleration of technologies that facilitate engagement.
Telehealth is perhaps the most pointed example of this; though long in coming, its rapid expansion during the pandemic could ultimately transform the way healthcare is delivered. While not a wholesale replacement for in-office visits, virtual care models present enormous promise in broadening access to healthcare by eliminating many of the obstacles that underserved, hard-to-reach and otherwise vulnerable populations have historically faced.
Similar measures have also enabled the delivery of critical healthcare communications during the COVID-19 crisis — communications that, under normal circumstances, are heavily regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The temporary exemption of certain healthcare-related calls and text messages to the Telephone Consumer Privacy Act has allowed providers and government officials to reach, educate and support their patients and members in ways that would not have been possible in a pre-pandemic world.
Strategies to Promote Healthcare Consumerism
Given the effectiveness of these temporary measures in expanding access to care and broadening consumer outreach during the public health emergency, it is hopeful that at least some will become permanent. Although uncertainty abounds, one thing that is clear is we are in the midst of a profound evolution of healthcare — one that, by many indications, could give way to a more efficient and consumer-centric environment.
In the midst of this transformation, there are actions that healthcare organizations and government stakeholders can be taking to lay the foundation for a stronger tomorrow, such as:
- Implementing or strengthening population health analytics to identify high-risk plan or program members and proactively intervene to improve health outcomes.
- Leveraging multi-channel engagement tools to ensure members have access to personalized care during and after the COVID-19 crisis as well as other acute crises, such as natural disasters.
- Supporting — and, as authority allows, enacting — permanent measures that make telehealth and consumer engagement easier, not harder. Educate policymakers about the importance of engagement and the invaluable role of technology in treating and maintaining healthier populations.
- Strengthening internal procedures and controls to facilitate effective communications — for example, including clear and specific “consent to contact” language in state Medicaid applications and streamlining the maintenance of member contact information to preemptively remove barriers to outreach.
Power to the Consumer
Foundational to healthcare consumerism is the active participation of consumers in their own healthcare journey. When people are engaged in their care, they are more empowered to take action for their health — utilizing preventive care services, adhering to treatment plans and exercising healthy behaviors based on their personal health risks and overall healthcare needs.
The COVID-19 pandemic has provided an extreme example of the importance of engaging consumers in their health outside the clinical setting. However, the need for personalized outreach and care management tactics will remain as critical as ever once social distancing rules have been lifted. Visit HMS Health Ideas for more population health management and cost containment strategies to improve health outcomes, control costs and create a more sustainable healthcare system during the current crisis and in the future.