Closing the health care engagement gap

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Consumers rate care alerts and self-scheduling as their two most important engagement technologies from providers. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Health care payers and providers may think they’re improving their processes to be more engaging to consumers, but many consumers feel otherwise, according to Change Healthcare’s The Engagement Gap: Healthcare Consumer Engagement in 2017.

Change Healthcare commissioned ORC International to survey 89 payers, 251 providers, and 771 consumers, and found that 80 percent of payers and 72 percent of providers say that investment in consumer engagement is a top priority to improve value-based care, and that a third of healthcare IT investment dollars are earmarked for consumer engagement.

“As the industry continues a transition to value-based reimbursement, consumers are more financially responsible for and engaged in improving their health,” the authors write. “As part of this, consumers want and need more retail-like experiences from their providers and health plans, using new and better engagement services, technologies and channels.”

However, 72 percent of consumers say their experience with providers and health plans hasn’t improved or has worsened in the past 24 months – and less than 21 percent reported an improved experience.

Drilling down, one in five (22 percent) say they found it easier to get an appointment when needed; 18 percent say that ease of obtaining information from their provider’s website had improved; 14 percent found their bills easier to understand, and only 9 percent say it was easier to compare healthcare costs.

By age group and plan, millennials and Medicaid Advantage members are more likely to have seen a positive change.

“Consumer engagement is hampered by a ‘millennial gap’ that shows older patients aren’t getting the attention they need to benefit from consumerization strategies,” the authors write.

Drilling down on where providers are directing their consumer engagement investments, the department/function most often cited by participants was ambulatory/outpatient services (28 percent), followed by inpatient services (22 percent), and patient education (21 percent).

Two-thirds (66 percent) of providers offer consumer self-service tools to view pricing structures, motivated by recent pricing transparency regulations. And roughly four in ten providers (44 percent) said they are now offering financial assistance programs for patients enrolled in high-deductible health plans.

While only 19 percent of providers surveyed currently offer patient education programs regarding cost-of-care, 59 percent say they plan to implement programs in the future – while 17 percent say they have no plans for patient education.

As for payers, the top three departments receiving consumer engagement investment dollars are customer service, member/patient education and marketing. More than half (55 percent) of payers surveyed said they boosted consumer-centric staffing in the past 18 months, compared to 44 percent of providers. A third (32 percent) of payer respondents added a new C-suite executive with specific consumer goods and services experience, compared to 19 percent of providers. Specifically, 24 percent of payers reported they onboarded a new Chief Strategy or Marketing Officer to support consumer-centric goals, versus 22 percent of providers.

A majority (59 percent) of payers say that recent pricing transparency regulations were behind their plans to offer consumer self-service tools. However, very few payers (18 percent) have financial assistance programs for consumers enrolled in high-deductible plans – compared to 44 percent of providers who say they offer financial assistance programs for consumer obligations.

As for what consumers like most: they rate care alerts and self-scheduling as their two most important engagement technologies from providers, followed by cost estimates and websites. What they like most from payers are care alerts and websites, followed by cost estimates.

One intriguing finding from the survey: while payers cite successful telemedicine collaborations with providers, fewer than 5 percent of consumers report having used the technology or consider it an important service.

Change Healthcare’s Carolyn J. Wukitch says that payers, providers and consumers sometimes have different agendas when it comes to engagement priorities and efficacy, and the insights provided in the report are “critical to informing investment strategies.”

“Consumers want new and better tools because they now have a greater financial responsibility,” Wukitch says. “But the research shows technology investment is just a first step. Payers and providers have opportunities to capitalize on their investments, tailor experiences to what consumers want, promote adoption of these innovative services, and solicit feedback—and that goes double for the largest part of the population, older patients. Engagement requires more than tools alone.”

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Closing the health care engagement gap

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