by Scott Zimmerman
Managed and preventive care is playing an increasingly critical role, as technology is being thrust to the foreground, tracking and enabling care compliance. Technology’s potential to enable preventive care and advance the outcomes of managed care, rather than simply being deployed as an administrative tick box, is a force to be acknowledged in the healthcare industry.
Payers and providers might say that healthcare would be simpler if it weren’t for the patients. A new category of engagement communications technologies, which combines the advances in high-tech communications with a human touch, will benefit Medicaid, Medicare and commercial healthcare in service delivery and reduced cost. These technologies are poised to play an important role in the shifting responsibility of preventive care compliance, for example, by increasing patient accountability in proactive healthcare management.
Consumers are dealing with more competing priorities. This is compounded by the fact that they do not follow entirely rational paths. They will miss a colon-cancer screening because of fear or perceived embarrassment of the procedure. The irrational decisions not only negatively impact the cost of healthcare, but they can have potentially catastrophic effects on their lives.
The field of behavioral economics—which involves using social, cognitive and emotional factors in understanding the economic decisions of consumers, borrowers and investors, and its resulting effects on markets—has been around for some time, although mainly as an academic notion rather than a business application. There is early usage of it taking shape today in the form of advanced engagement communications applications.
Engagement communications blends advanced communications, such as voice messaging, SMS, email and Web portals, with a human touch. Together they create points of engagement. Getting in touch with a consumer might inform but it doesn’t necessarily activate. Create engagement points, and the path is opened up for activation.
Healthcare is an example where engagement communications is now playing an important role. Engagement communications in the form of regular tailored communications, such as text reminders about smoking cessation or medication regimens, help create an early intervention. But they must also have an escalation alert that notifies health providers when a patient hasn’t responded.
Such early intervention comprises, albeit primitive, behavioral economic technology applications. The outcomes improve health and well-being of people while reducing costs to healthcare—allowing funds to be directed to research and other patient needs.
Once a healthcare practice understands its patients’ points of failure, it can take action to intervene and modify behaviors. For example, sending tailored reminders involving friendly automated voicemails the day before an appointment, which also presents the option to reschedule, pre-empts a no-show. This, followed up with a text SMS message a couple of hours before an appointment, further engages and activates busy patients to show up to their appointment on time, resulting in a significant reduction of no-shows.
The economics of intervening and creating positive actions in human behavior are far reaching. Connecting and engaging members with timely, relevant touchpoints, and leveraging advanced communication tools provide the healthcare industry with a high impact and cost-effective channel to engage and empower people to take a greater and more proactive role in their own healthcare.
Originally published in Managed Healthcare Executive, August 1, 2010