Leveraging technology to engage consumers in their care

March 16, 2020 / BY MATT ADAMSON, VP Product Planning, ZeOmega

In the final installment of this three-part consumer engagement blog series, we’ll explore what factors enable successful engagement and what technologies can amplify the personal touch of care coordination to have tremendous impact on engagement.

If you’re just joining us, part one reviews the challenges and importance of healthcare consumer engagement, while part two dives deeper into traditional engagement strategies and technologies and why they aren’t working — at least not well enough. There we teed up care coordination as a proven strategy for engagement that could be greatly compounded by consumer-centric technology.

So, what makes an effective technology solution for consumer engagement?

The short answer is, the same things that glue most consumers to their smart phones. To successfully engage consumers, tools must be designed with their needs, habits, and preferences in mind. (Healthcare) Some features to consider when evaluating engagement technologies:

  • It must be easy to use. Poor usability is one of the reasons patient portals aren’t always effective as consumer engagement tools.
  • It must incentivize use, making it clear to the consumer “what’s in it for them.” Features like simplifying difficult tasks, awarding prizes, offering money savings, and clearly correlating use with better health encourage consumers to prioritize regular interactions, especially early on.
  • It must be genuinely helpful and interesting. Healthcare consumers are seeking information about wellness, nutrition, and how to manage their conditions. (PwC)
  • It must provide updates, notifications, and reminders. Push notifications are effective triggers to action, and a well-placed care reminder could be as compelling as a new unread email. (Digital Psychology)
  • It should allow patients to communicate how and when they want to with their provider or care coordinator.

And while it’s critical that your engagement tactics are consumer focused, your organization may be accountable for measuring outcomes and activities and your technology should support that. A consumer engagement tool must:

  • Enable connection between the care coordinator and the healthcare consumer, beyond portal or phone communications.
  • Integrate with existing administrative and care management solutions, supporting clinician interactions with a complete view of the consumer’s healthcare record.
  • Securely track and store interactions within the tool and your existing solutions.

New technologies are more engaging than patient portals
Part two of this blog series made the case that portals should be part of a diversified engagement strategy, but not the entire strategy. Below are the technologies we’re keeping an eye on right now to ensure a total engagement solution, and more are emerging as healthcare startups continue to gain massive funding and existing consumer app developers dip their toes into the healthcare space.

Secure messaging
While many patient portals have had messaging components since the early days, newer secure messaging platforms can provide a text-message-like experience for the modern consumer. Patients can submit or respond to questions when they’re ready in an asynchronous, chat-style format. Some of these platforms can even connect multiple stakeholders, linking care team members like the care coordinator, patient, caregivers, nutritionists, and others to share a care plan, medication list, care reminders or gaps in care, and educational materials. This could be highly effective for chronic condition management where much of a patient’s care is ongoing and occurs outside a traditional care setting.

Mobile apps
This category covers a huge variety of potential engagement tools with varying levels of effectiveness depending on consumer motivation to use them. At last count there were over 318,000 mHealth apps available on the various app stores, all of which can help consumers focus more on their health to some degree. We’re most interested in features that connect consumers with the care coordinator or clinician who is charged with improving the health of a specific population through risk or value-based payment arrangements.

Key to making that connection valuable to both consumer and care coordinator are clear, actionable push notifications, directing users to tasks indicated within the app. This could be a great way to capture timely assessments, notify patients of care gaps (and the next steps to close them) and appointments, verify medication lists along with pharmacy refill reminders, and much more. These tasks not only help keep the consumer healthy (and potentially lower healthcare costs for all concerned), they can help risk-bearing organizations increase quality scores and optimize revenue to support even greater engagement solutions. Add in gamification features and incentive programs, and healthcare consumers will keep coming back to the app for ongoing wellness and prevention.

The world of consumer-focused healthcare apps is expansive, but the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology offers a great framework for evaluating apps as one part of your engagement strategy. An app that supports both your consumers and your organization should function as part of a broader platform, powered by data and analytics and capturing a record of consumer interactions. With this closed loop between consumers and clinicians, healthcare professional can more effectively help the consumer navigate their care and provide coaching for optimal results.

Video chat
We’re excited by the possibilities presented by video chat. With the popularity of virtual physician visits, consumers are becoming accustomed to on-screen clinical interactions at home or anywhere via smart phone. What if that same technology could enable face-to-face communication between the care coordinator, the healthcare consumer, and the rest of the care team? There’s so much potential for this emerging tech to create a closer-knit team of people who are working together on behalf of the patient.

Via video chat, a care coordinator could observe symptoms of depression, isolation, or abuse that may not be indicated by a phone conversation alone, but without a costly on-site visit. Care coordinators can address issues such as minor wounds, discomforts, or medication concerns as quickly as patients can schedule a phone call — averting the escalation of smaller issues while not requiring additional resources. The convenience and comfort of live chat can foster more touch points with the consumer, allowing care coordinators to ask more questions and provide greater value.

Artificial intelligence and a well-timed personal message
Even on a platform that captures information about healthcare consumers’ preferences, it can be a challenge to optimize communications for maximum impact. Applying artificial intelligence to healthcare consumer engagement campaigns can take the guesswork out of the right communication at the right time. By learning over time how and when healthcare consumers prefer to interact with their care teams and what interactions generate the most positive outcomes, artificial intelligence can dramatically increase the effectiveness of engagement strategies.

For example, a patient has recently been authorized for surgery with an expected hospital stay of three days. Using data it’s collected about patients in similar care situations, an artificial intelligence algorithm might learn that texting about a follow-up appointment, scheduled for 4 p.m. the day of discharge, will increase the likelihood of care plan adherence. This same intelligence could be applied to a host of communications channels or generate compelling push notifications within a consumer-facing app in any number of care scenarios where patient engagement is critical. And by streamlining personalized communications and notifications through trained technology, the personal interaction of a care manager can be deployed for the most crucial, in-person touch points.

Putting it all together
Technology platforms built to enhance the connection between the patient and the care coordinator/manager could provide the missing pieces of the engagement puzzle, allowing patients to become more involved in their health and making the promise of healthcare consumer engagement a reality.

By enabling a variety of interactions across different technologies, an effective consumer engagement platform puts the consumer in control of how and when they interact with their care teams to optimally manage their health. Successful engagement strategies will combine back-end data and analytics with a variety of tools and consumer-facing solutions — a healthcare services communications hub that generates a consistent message to the consumer via the channels of their choice. This next-gen healthcare consumer engagement platform is a smart and centralized source of truth, avoiding uncoordinated or duplicated messages, providing brand consistency and control, tracking consumer contact preferences, and measuring and refining the effectiveness of your programs.

If your organization is ready to take their care management strategy to the next level, ZeOmega supports a growing ecosystem of consumer-centric engagement solutions that integrate with Jiva in real time to enable successful, measurable interventions. Get in touch today or reach out to your account manager for more information.