PatientEngagementHIT

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Payers Face Disconnect in Beneficiary Engagement Preferences

Nearly half of Medicare plan members prefer technology for beneficiary engagement, but payers are not following through.

beneficiary engagement

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- Medicare plans are failing to deliver member and beneficiary engagement in the form that members most prefer, according to new data from HealthMine.

Specifically, health plan members want their payers to engage them using health IT. However, very few Medicare plans are doing that.

In a survey of nearly 800 Medicare Advantage members, HealthMine found that 47 percent of plan members prefer digital communication and engagement. Only 34 percent of beneficiaries reported receiving digital communication.

This disconnect was more pronounced in younger Medicare Advantage members. Thirty-eight percent of beneficiaries ages 65 to 70 said their plan communicates with them using health IT, even though 50 percent said they want digital engagement.

Older Medicare beneficiaries want access to digital engagement, too, the report found. Forty-seven percent of beneficiaries ages 71 to 75 preferred digital communication, even though only 34 percent said their plans use digital member engagement tools.

These trends suggest that health payers may reconsider their preconceived notions about older patients’ preferences for technology. Medical experts have long assumed that older patients did not want to use health IT to communicate with their payers or providers, or did not know how to use these tools.

Those stereotypes are emerging as untrue, however; older patient populations are becoming more familiar with and welcoming of health IT, as many of them use technology with adult children or as a part of their jobs.

Fewer patients preferred telephone communication with their payers, with 35 percent of all age cohorts reporting such. However, 42 percent of beneficiaries said their Medicare Advantage plan uses the telephone as the primary form of communication.

As patients get younger, preference for telephone communication wanes – 39 percent of members over age 75 preferred telephone communication, while only 31 percent of patients between 65 and 70 said the same.

An even smaller proportion of beneficiaries wanted mail communication, the survey revealed. Only 18 percent of all respondents said they preferred mail communication, but 24 percent said that’s the strategy their payer utilized. These findings were mostly consistent across all age groups.

Although beneficiaries mostly reported a mismatch between their preferences and payer outreach strategies, respondents did reveal that payers engage patients about important areas of care.

For example, 49 percent of respondents said their payers communicate with them about important screenings. Forty-seven percent of respondents said communication is about improving health, 21 percent about a patient’s chronic condition, 19 percent about a beneficiary’s health risks, 16 percent about a member’s state of health, and 11 percent about how to lower health-related costs.

Four percent of respondents said their plans communicate about patient-generated health data collected from the respondent’s health tools.

However, those efforts are only as good as the health plan’s outreach methods. The survey results highlight a disconnect between beneficiaries and healthcare payers with regards to engagement.

Healthcare payers looking to better engage their beneficiary populations should consider better surveying techniques and other strategies for collecting patient input about their communication preferences.

Understanding patient preferences for communication has proven exceptionally helpful in Colorado, as administrators at the state’s Medicaid agency seek to understand the best methods for connecting with members.

At Colorado Access, a regional organization for Health First Colorado (Colorado’s Medicaid Program), Krista Beckwith, the organization’s director of population health, found different communication modalities essential.

Not every patient is the same, Beckwith told PatientEngagementHIT.com in a previous interview, and therefore not every outreach strategy should be the same.

“We look at different ways that we want to get a member engaged or efforts that we've tried that aren't working,” Beckwith stated. “For example, direct mail does not work for our members who are experiencing homelessness as part of the populations that we serve.”

Beckwith and her team at Colorado Access have refined a set of techniques that will suit the patient population at-hand to ensure that outreach messages truly resonate.

Going forward, healthcare payers may wish to consider how these targeted and more personalized outreach methods impact beneficiary engagement with care.

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