- Healthcare organizations across the country are shifting their patient engagement efforts toward a more consumer-oriented and retail-style strategy. Hospitals and clinics are increasingly concerned with their online reputations, while at the same time integrating retail tactics to support their chronic disease management populations.
This shift toward healthcare consumerism can be credited to the increasing role patients are playing in choosing their own healthcare. High deductible health plans and other cost sharing systems are putting patients in the driver’s seat when it comes to choosing their providers and their own wellness habits.
But at Community Health Choice, a Texas-based healthcare company, that shift toward healthcare consumerism is part in parcel with serving their patients as partners in health.
Community Health Choice began as a medical care group working to make healthcare cheaper and more accessible for children in Texas’ Harris County. Today, the organization works with various underserved Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP patients to achieve better health at a lower price point.
That mission fueled Community Health Choice’s diabetes management program. Using NovuHealth, a technology vendor that uses a points-earning retail model for chronic care management, Community Health Choice has been able to promote wellness and self-care within their diabetic population.
“We noticed that we have a large population of members with diabetes and many of them are primarily marketplace, and have no experience with insurance previously, nor have they received constant health care,” Ann Engelhorn, RN, Community Health Choice’s leader for disease and care management, explained in an interview with PatientEngagementHIT.com. “In order to motivate patients and to incentivize them to get the care that they need, we began a wellness incentives project.”
The tool allows patients to earn points for completing certain wellness behaviors. When the patient successfully measures her sugars or meets another key diabetes management benchmark, she earns points. Once she meets a certain points threshold, she earns a gift card she can use in various retailers in the community, such as a Walmart or a CVS.
The beauty of the program is that patients can use those gift cards to purchase medical tools that will help them with their at-home chronic care management, Pam Hanson, the director of marketing and outreach at Community Health Choice, said in the same interview.
Additionally, the tool can seamlessly plug into the other technologies Community Health Choice uses. In fact, Hanson added, the tool relies on data from the health record to successfully identify high-risk patients.
“We look for any claim data that may have certain diagnosis codes,” Hanson explained. “That information is sent to the tool, which in turn uploads the information onto the rewards program. From there, we send a kit to patients that allows them to sign up through mail, email, online, through the phone. Once all information is uploaded, it’s up to the patient to go to the doctor and attest that they went to the doctor, and attest to other rewards they can earn.”
The incentive program is embedded right in the members’ patient portals, Hanson explained. While patients use the portal for making payments, scheduling appointments, or looking at claim information, they can also take a look at their progress with the incentive program. This was key to integrating the incentive program into Community Health Clinic’s brand.
Outreach via the patient portal is not the organization’s only line of fire when it comes to patient engagement. The nurses who work with patients during clinical encounters also reinforce the idea of the rewards program, and work to enroll those who have not yet signed up or whose enrollment has expired.
The rewards tool serves more purposes than just helping patients earn points for useful gift cards, Engelhorn pointed out. The technology also features important patient education material, which is another key component to chronic care management.
“Aside from the rewards program and the actual gift card that patients receive, we found that the tool is a wonderful resource for educational materials and chat rooms,” she noted. “As the nurses are talking to the patients, they also really reinforce that. We use this program and some of those educational materials as part of our interventions for our disease management program.”
The idea of patients earning points for certain wellness activities is born from a very retail-style program. Starbucks, CVS, and even department stores are engaging their frequent shoppers with points that in turn earn them certain perks. This idea is translating to healthcare organizations across the country.
At Community Health Choice, incentives are engaging a patient population that previously did not know how to manage their own health. Part of the organization’s success stemmed from targeting that very specific population of patients with diabetes and limited experience with a health plan, said Melanye Otto, the director of quality improvement at Community Health Choice.
“One reason why our initial program was so successful is that we picked a specific, very defined group of members to work with,” Otto explained. “We could also support this group with our care management program that had already been in existence.”
“It's also the nature in the marketplace membership with the Affordable Care Act,” Otto continued. “These members had gone without care or without consistent care for their disease state because they were uninsured. Now, they have shown that they're really interested in utilizing the benefits to manage their diabetes.”
Many healthcare organizations have tapped into the retail-style healthcare strategies. As patients assume more financial responsibility for their care, organizations are treating their patients like smart shoppers. Good online reviews, payment plans, and other consumer-centric activities are becoming the norm.
But at Community Health Choice, the chronic disease management points program is not about treating their patients as consumers. To them, this shift is the natural progression of treating their patients with dignity, respect, and compassion.
“We've had a lot of growth and we've had to manage the growth as a company, but we're trying to always keep the vision of our members,” Hanson explained. “Part of helping our members is helping our community, the people we live next to, and shop in stores next to, and see drive down the street.”
In all, the organization wants to support their patients in wellness and believe the points program is the best path to doing so.
“As an organization, we don’t think of it as creating a retail experience,” Otto asserted. “The philosophy behind member incentives and engaging members into actively engaging in improving their health outcomes is an extension of Community’s overall mission to serve our community.”
“We don’t think of our members as consumers of healthcare as much as we think of them as our members who we want to engage with and support in having improved health outcomes,” Otto concluded.