Rethinking Consumer Engagement in Health

Many organizations would like to get consumers more engaged in their health. However, many programs miss the mark by lacking key features that have the potential to improve participation rates.

It ain’t dog food if the dog doesn’t eat it.

-Neal Sofian, MSPH, Director, Member Engagement, Premera Blue Cross

Sofian began his presentation on various approaches to establish and sustain consumer engagement in health with the above mantra. His point was that there is no point to engagement models that lack engagement, and he offered up some ways to improve consumer engagement.

The first thing we all need to do, said Sofian, is stop talking about health. No one wants to talk about it. In order to have a solid foundation of consumer engagement, those who are creating engagement models must personalize the programs to individuals. “What makes you think I am going to change your behavior if I don’t know who you are?” said Sofian.

Another important aspect in achieving consumer engagement in health is matching people to the right program. Sofian spoke in particular about smoking cessation programs. “Most smokers know that they smoke,” said Sofian. He said that it doesn’t do much good to preach to them or refer them to generic information and programs. “It’s like talking to someone who doesn’t speak English and then trying to speak louder in the hopes that they understand you.” Sofian and his collegues performed a study in which they provided smokers with a list of ten smoking cessation programs and told the smokers that they could register for free for any of them. In another group, they did the same thing but also asked three questions to each patient and then said, “you’re welcome to take any of these, but here are two or three that I recommend.” The latter group had a much higher uptake and often times went with the referred programs. This is because the guidance offered was personalized to them.

Another way to successfully engage consumers in their health is to provide strategically positioned initiatives. Sofian said that, if there were an option to take a health survey that rewarded participants with either a $500 less deductible on their health insurance or a $100 Visa gift card, that he would opt for the former while his 26-year-old daughter would opt for the latter. But, in the end, it’s the same health plan, same survey, and same circumstances. Having the option for the incentive appeals to a wider demographic and is therefore more likely to yield better results.

Sofian concluded by stating that it is necessary to properly measure the impact of any consumer engagement programs. He is currently working with some colleagues to finalize a measurement called the “program impact measure,” which looks at the behaviors of a population, the potential value from a healthcare perspective, levels of participation, and several other variables.

To learn more about this session, please visit the AHIP Institute 2012 website.