- Consumers of all ages are becoming empowered and perpetually connected in all aspects of their lives.
We see it in the grocery store, on an airplane, at children’s’ soccer games, and shockingly even while driving. This tells us that there is an enormous opportunity to leverage connectedness to engage consumers with businesses every day.
Engaging with consumers is especially important for healthcare organizations because of the exponentially positive impact on consumer behavior and experience, as well as expense, which more active engagement can produce.
There are many pressing needs for consumers to engage with their healthcare providers and health plans and many potential benefits that can be derived from higher levels of engagement including leveraging engagement to influence consumer behavior that improves health and correspondingly reduces cost of care, sharing knowledge to help consumers be increasingly literate and more capable healthcare consumers, and increasing engagement over time to dramatically impact behavior change, satisfaction, and experience.
Four steps for developing patient engagement and consumer activation
Research tells us that there are some guiding principles for organizations when using technology to improve consumer engagement. First, keep it simple. There is no greater guiding principle to follow when designing a consumer engagement strategy than simplicity.
Asking patients to utilize technology pushed to them that is not instantly intuitive, or that requires an investment in training to use competently, will be a disadvantage in the engagement game. Think about how many Generation X parents ask their teenage children for help with their smart devices. Keep it simple so that they can do it on their own without intervention.
Next, meet consumers where they are. Have accessible technology in place that is device agnostic and available in their hand or pocket. Patients shouldn’t have to go out of their way to look for engagement opportunities. Take advantage of their wait time while in line at the grocery store, waiting for a movie to start, or sitting in their doctor’s office to help them check things off of their healthcare to-do list.
Third, define consumer needs and incorporate meeting those needs into technical solutions that an organization can deploy and support.
Healthcare organizations have been telling consumers how to do business with them for many years, now it’s time to ask them about their preferences in terms of how they want to do business with their providers. Understand patients’ journeys from their perspective, and understand the various touchpoints that exist in that journey.
Consumers take many healthcare journeys. Journeys can be pre-care (appointments, referrals, reminders, coverage levels, cost estimators), episodic (diagnosis, treatment plans, allied services, and pharmacy refills), post-care (follow-up, allied services, complications, co-morbidities) or transactional (billing, payment, account management). They can be focused on prevention and wellness (medication reminders, routine test reminders, healthy activities) or address issues of community health (patient centered medical, behavioral, and social coordination).
Healthcare organizations must understand the journey touchpoints from the consumer’s perspective, and provide them with simple tools at each point in their journey.
Last, know that most consumers are tuned into the station WIFM – what’s in it for me? Consumers want to be contacted about issues that are of interest to them, not those that organizations believe they should be interested in. This requires personalization.
The payback to the consumer needs to be immediate or at minimum, short-term. Consumers will engage willingly and often if the benefit to them is personal, obvious, and immediate, and they see the incentive to them or improvement to their own health clearly and quickly. And making it fun can’t hurt. It must be personal, helpful to them in some way, and allow them to save time and/or energy.
Getting a stake in the game
Providers and payers know that enhancing a consumer’s engagement in their own healthcare journey can be an uphill battle because it involves the previously mentioned behavior change.
In addition, it can also be expensive for low-margin organizations like hospitals, provider groups, and health plans to determine which investments to make and to earmark the funds to direct toward those investments.
There are some foundational investments that are necessary merely to enter the game. Consider these foundational investments as the ante.
If these foundational elements are not in place, start now to rapidly get them implemented and functional. Doing so will be one giant leap towards preparing to reach the organization’s consumer engagement goals.
Once organizations have met this minimum ante, then it’s time to develop a strategy to win the game and think about the next critical moves.
A guiding roadmap can be articulated that allows organizations to execute on a methodical strategy to reach a defined endpoint and succeed in engaging your consumers. Defining the endpoint – or the organization’s goal for consumer engagement and the resulting technical roadmap to support that goal – is a key next step.
Based on an organization’s engagement mission, consumer experience vision, and propensity for investment in that vision, the roadmap to reach those objectives with clear milestones defined is an important tool.
Keep the guiding principle of simplicity in mind, and the most basic needs and wants of healthcare consumers which include:
- Understanding out-of-pocket costs and coverage calculations
- Access to health records and test results
- Post-visit instructions, and follow up information
- Appointment scheduling and reminders
- Single payment application for provider and health plan
Building a patient engagement strategy
The first place to focus is on experiences or touchpoints that represent the true moments that matter in the consumer experience and address the most basic needs.
Moments that matter have the propensity to surprise the consumer and create a memorable positive experience. These moments are those in which the consumer is not expecting to be impressed, including those where the organization has typically provided a minimum experience and left the consumer wanting more.
Clearly, organizations cannot improve on every engagement dimension at the same time. They must prioritize the most important areas for improvement that align with consumers’ needs. Use this prioritization, and an assessment of your current state in the highest priority engagement dimensions to build a strategy and roadmap for the first three years. Stakeholder focus, and emphasis on experiences that matter, can move an organization up the maturity curve.
For instance, if one priority for engagement is helping consumers understand and engage around their out-of-pocket expenses for various treatment plans, an organization may start with online patient education around financial transactions or making it easier to calculate out-of-pocket costs within their health plan.
It may also include a technical solution for providers to help them discuss treatment options and expenses with patients.
If provider collaboration is on the agenda, then the organization may wish to invest in technical tools that allow payers and providers to easily share real-time data to coordinate patient care or reach out to patients via mobile apps at certain points in the treatment plan.
Additional provider collaboration tools may include patient-facing applications that allow health, payment and compliance data to be shared with payer and provider across all aspects of the care continuum.
In summary, the healthcare market is becoming much more consumer driven and that transformation needs technology to support it. Providers, payers, and all healthcare stakeholders have a great deal of work to do, and a strategy to drive that investment and effort is imperative.
Remember the old maxim “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” Understanding the four guiding principles of consumer engagement, along with the foundational investments and strategies needed to put those guidelines into action, are the keys to winning the engagement game and empowering consumers more completely in their healthcare so that healthcare organizations can yield the benefits.
Laurie Ringlein is a Practice Director at Top Tier Consulting (T2C). She has more than 27 years of experience as a business leader and management consultant in the healthcare and technology sectors. She works with not-for-profit and publicly traded clients across all lines of business. Laurie has deep expertise and specializes in business process optimization, re-design, and improvement leveraging technology to improve the consumer experience and reduce cost.