Increasing patient engagement in health plans: 5 trends to watch

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Medicare and Medicaid plans emphasize patient engagement. When members are engaged, it has benefits for them and you. It improves the value of care by improving outcomes and lowering costs. Fostering engagement also cultivates trust and loyalty, which correlates to retaining your members. Although increasing patient engagement is a top initiative, it’s a complex subject.

A nurse laughing and engaging with a patient during an appointment.

Pandemic complicates engagement, technology bridges the gap

Member engagement was already a complicated endeavor before the pandemic, and is even more so now. COVID-19 changed so many aspects of health care delivery and member expectations, likely causing member disengagement. The J.D. Power 2021 U.S. Medicare Advantage Study revealed that 55 percent of members actively managed their care in the previous year. However, one other data point in the study could correlate to better engagement—78 percent of members registered for their plan’s member portal. 

Tackle engagement issues by downloading Member Engagement Conundrum: 5 Issues  in Medicare and Medicaid Plans and How to Solve Them.

This means that technology adoption offers an advantage in engagement. Members are becoming more tech-savvy and view their health plans as they do other brands they engage with. This brings about the first major trend to discuss—health care consumerism. Let’s take a look at the five top trends to increase patient engagement in your health plan. 

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1. Becoming member-centric and personalized 

The health care ecosystem looks like any consumer-driven industry. Patients do have choices in plans, providers and treatment, so health care organizations have to market to groups and earn their trust. The latter is hard to navigate, but without trust, there isn’t engagement.

Once someone becomes a plan member, that doesn’t mean they’ll stay, hence the need to create connections. The more personalized a plan is, the better, including relevant messaging and preferred channels. Medicare members ranked communication as the lowest-performing factor in the J.D. Power study, so there’s room for improvement.

Revamping engagement strategies and applying techniques used by mainstream marketing can help, such as:

  • Segmenting people by demographics, chronic conditions or other attributes to customize messaging.
  • Ensuring your website and member portal are easy to use and provide a good user experience.
  • Encouraging the use of member portals and providing accurate, easy-to-access information.
  • Developing a two-way relationship with members by proactively communicating with them after significant health events (e.g., chronic condition diagnosis, hospital stays, outpatient procedures) to offer support. This is a difference-maker for engagement because health care is always asking something from patients; now it’s time to meet them where they are.  

2. Creating frictionless onboarding and enrollment

If your plan’s onboarding and enrollment are tricky to navigate, you’re already thwarting engagement from the start. If the first experience a member has with your plan is a negative one, you’re starting in the hole and making it much more difficult. 

A big part of this process is helping members understand their coverage. A report from McKinsey found that many patients were unaware of their deductibles for out-of-network coverage, in-network coverage or prescription drugs, at 34, 16 and 24 percent, respectively. 

Thus, it’s vital to rethink how you welcome members to your plan. Use multiple types of content to support their enrollment, from sending out coverage books via mail to offering interactive onboarding wizards on your online platform. People learn and retain information in different ways, so be flexible. Get rid of the jargon in this content and guide people to what’s important.

3. Incentivizing members to drive engagement

Offering members something of value to dial in engagement is another trick to take from consumer brands. People shop at stores that reward their loyalty. Your plan can too. When developing or refreshing your program, consider what activities lead to a more engaged member. That could be participating in wellness programs, watching content related to their chronic diseases or scheduling preventive screenings. 

Track and measure how effective your incentives are. Based on the data, continue to make changes and expand the program. 

4. Understanding that health equity impacts engagement

Health care inequity remains a challenge, and the pandemic brought it further into the spotlight. In the US, medical deserts — regions that don’t have adequate access to care — are prevalent. A study confirmed that 80 percent of counties across the US lack accessibility. That’s especially true for specialists and mental health services.

You will need to address equity to foster engagement. That means helping members get the care or medications they need, including messaging campaigns about telehealth options or mail orders for delivery prescriptions. If members are aware of your programs, they are more likely to use them and stay engaged with your plan. It’s critical to fulfill SDOH needs. You can’t expect members to be fully involved in their health care needs if they must continually worry about food insecurity or losing their housing. 

5. Addressing loneliness to boost engagement

Loneliness is a big contributor to poor health outcomes and disengagement. When people are lonely, they feel isolated and struggle to connect. There is substantial data that correlates loneliness and physical health

If you have specific initiatives in your plan to tackle this through technology and human outreach, your members will actively engage. It can transform their mindset and put them on a path toward a healthier life. Addressing loneliness is a trend that doesn’t get the attention it deserves, so initiating a program could be a significant differentiator for your plan. 

Get more insights on member engagement

These patient engagement trends are shaping the future of member-plan interaction. Applying them to your current strategies can make a significant impact.

a female doctors talks to a patient on an office phone