Health Plans Must Diversify Tools for Patient Engagement

Day 1 of the America's Health Insurance Plans Fall Forum 2012 featured a pre-conference workshop on patient engagement strategies to promote wellness in a consumer-driven marketplace. Presenter and moderator Jen Cressman, Vice President, Strategic Accounts, Krames StayWell, centered her discussion on the design of effective communication strategies and how to attract and engage consumers while also fostering loyalty.

Day 1 of the America’s Health Insurance Plans Fall Forum 2012 featured a pre-conference workshop on patient engagement strategies to promote wellness in a consumer-driven marketplace. Presenter and moderator Jen Cressman, Vice President, Strategic Accounts, Krames StayWell, centered her discussion on the design of effective communication strategies and how to attract and engage consumers while also fostering loyalty. Ms. Cressman spoke about how the retail-ization of the healthcare market is going to lead to a need for health plans to create new value for members.

As the healthcare landscape evolves and individuals represent a larger percentage of the market (14 million people are currently purchasing individual market insurance today and this number is projected to increase exponentially over the next 5-10 years), health plans must consider new and innovative ways to not only provide affordable care, but also to engage patients.

According to Ms. Cressman, there are simple and complex ways for health plans to improve their business; however, these plans must first find new ways to create value for these members. Consumers have less and less time, says Ms. Cressman, and they want to engage on their own time. It’s up to health plans to figure out which segments of their population prefer to interact via email, print, mobile, etc—a task that can be daunting considering that preference can vary wildly in age brackets.

In order to be successful, health plans must come up with a strong mix of communication tools that enable them to have regular communication with members. To illustrate this point, Ms. Cressman presented a case study of a patient named John, a married man with 2 children that has diabetes. John was interested in the ways he could minimize his financial risk when it came to his health. Ms. Cressman explained that there are many ways a health plan could go about interacting with John. The health plan could send John print materials in the mail that offer healthy recipes, motivational posters for his workspace, or even a calendar with tips. It would be prudent for the health plan to use those materials as an opportunity to prompt John to visit their website, where they would be able to find additional tools, such as the ability to opt for daily tips, download mobile applications to help them manage their health, or, if John is motivated by competition, social networking and gaming tools that encourage healthy behaviors.

Of course, all of the aforementioned tools would need to be available by a particular health plan, and they can be expensive and time-consuming to create. But that was the point of the presentation—the time is now to diversify ways in which to engage health plan members. A syndicated and well branded approach to communication with these members will increase a health plan’s re-enrollment rates by showing members that they care about their needs and are customizing interactions in ways that are convenient and preferable to them.

Finally, Ms. Cressman spoke about the need for health plans to interact with healthy members. It seems that much of the time and attention is spent on members with illnesses, and that healthy members receive little to no communication from health plans at all. Ms. Cressman recommended that organizations look at budgeting dollars spent to engage this patient population and, if there isn’t much there, to begin allocating resources to engage members that would be receptive to many of the tools and offerings that could be available to them. After all, maintaining health can be as critical and engaging as improving and managing health.