Health care consumer engagement

No "one-size-fits-all" approach

​Imagine a future in which more consumers engage with the health care system—a future that holds the promise of more effective, efficient, and satisfying care experiences and better health outcomes for those individuals and the accountable care populations to which they belong. Findings from Deloitte’s 2015 Survey of US Health Care Consumers suggest we are moving closer to that future as consumer engagement increases in three important areas.

Trends in consumers’ use of online resources and health technologies from the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions 2015 Survey of US Health Care Consumers

The health care industry continues to invest in the development of online information resources, mobile applications, and personal health devices. These tools are designed to increase "consumer engagement"—to help individuals take action to improve their health, make informed decisions, and engage effectively and efficiently with the health care system.

Findings from Deloitte’s 2015 Survey of US Health Care Consumers suggest consumer engagement is increasing in three important areas:

  1. Partnering with providers. More consumers today prefer to partner with doctors instead of relying passively on them to make treatment decisions. Thirty-four percent of survey respondents strongly believe that doctors should encourage patients to research and ask questions about their treatment, and 58 percent feel that doctors should explain treatment costs to them before decisions are made.
  2. Tapping online resources. Consumers’ trust in the reliability of information sources is rising. Fifty-two percent report searching online for health or care-related information; additionally, use of social media, patient portals, and performance scorecards is growing. One-quarter of consumers say they have looked at a scorecard or report card to compare the performance of doctors, hospitals, or health plans compared to 19 percent two years ago. Among Millennials who have needed medical care, scorecard use has grown from 31 percent to 49 percent
  3. Relying on technology. From 2013 to 2015, consumers’ use of technology to measure fitness and health improvement goals has grown from 17 percent to 28 percent. Use is highest among Millennials, at 45 percent of that group. Among consumers with major chronic conditions, tech-based monitoring has jumped from 22 percent to 39 percent in the last two years. More than 60 percent of tech users say that utilizing health technologies has had a significant impact on their behavior.

Some groups are transforming into engaged consumers faster than others:

  • Poor health status. Consumers with major health issues generally show the highest levels of engagement and the biggest increases in the three areas mentioned above, a promising trend indicating that those who may have the greatest need to be more engaged are, in fact, moving in that direction. 
  • Younger. Younger consumers are on a fast upward trajectory, starting at a higher level of engagement and showing greater gains on several measures than the other generations. 
  • Higher income. Although engagement appears to be rising across all income levels, higher-income groups are more engaged than lower-income groups. This may reflect differences in access, awareness, and education.

Looking beyond demographic characteristics at consumers’ behaviors and attitudes, Deloitte identified six distinct consumer segments that differ systematically in their approach to health and health care. Some of these segments are more engaged than others:

  • Four segments, comprising 44 percent of the market, include consumers who are actively engaged in different ways (Online and Onboard, Sick and Savvy, Out and About, and Shop and Save).
  • Two segments, making up a larger share of the market (56 percent), are more passive and less engaged either because they have a less pressing need to be (Casual and Cautious) or they are comfortable with the choices they have made (Content and Compliant).

Not all surveyed consumers engage with the system in the same way and a large segment remains disengaged, suggesting that health care organizations should not use a 'one-size-fits-all' approach in their digital and consumer engagement strategies. Sophisticated users will likely want applications and tools that meet usability standards similar to those in retail industries; other users may have lower expectations, awareness levels, and technology skills.

Although an increase in consumer engagement is evident, the change is taking place slowly. The pace could pick up if health plans, providers, life sciences companies, and other stakeholders take advantage of opportunities to increase engagement by accelerating development of online resources that provide the trusted, accurate, and easy-to-understand information consumers want and the types of health technologies consumers find most useful. 'Layering and tailoring' information and assistance to consumers’ varying levels of interest, need, and technical proficiency may be key to sustainable engagement initiatives.

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Infographic: Meet today’s health care consumer

Implications for the health care industry

Health plans, providers, and life sciences companies face a challenging opportunity. The large gaps that exist between what consumers report they have done and what they say they may do suggest there is an expanse of unfilled consumer demand. Organizations that figure out how to address their customers’ needs for better informational and digital support may strengthen satisfaction and retention through increased engagement, while also enhancing the value of the services and products they deliver.

The trick, however, may be coming up with a set of strategies that will work across the consumer segments that are present in the market—one strategy will not fit all.

Some consumers are not yet aware of resources that already exist, while others are ready for tools that have not been developed yet. Some may be interested, but find the quality and usefulness of available resources lacking. Some may only trust resources and tools that are suggested by their doctor, while others may be comfortable with direct marketing and access. Some may be interested in all forms of support, while others find only certain technologies appealing. Also, consumers’ level of engagement will likely wax and wane as their health circumstances change.

Going beyond traditional views of an organization’s customer base to recognize the unique approaches and preferences of different consumer segments may be essential for accelerating consumer engagement. “Layering and tailoring” information and assistance to consumers’ varying levels of interest and need may be a key component for sustainable engagement initiatives. To respond nimbly to evolving consumer expectations, health care organizations may need to equip their customer operations teams with specialized data analytics capabilities that can identify meaningful differences and patterns of change in consumers’ behaviors and preferences.

The pace of consumer engagement could pick up if health plans, providers, life sciences companies, and other stakeholders accelerate the development of online resources that provide the trusted, accurate, and easy-to-understand information consumers want and the types of health technologies consumers find most useful. Adapting retail-oriented strategies from other industries and improving customer interfaces like websites and call centers may also be helpful.

As the industry shifts toward value-based care models, and relationships among providers and payers become more integrated and collaborative, new opportunities may arise to develop innovative consumer engagement strategies that support a more seamless, streamlined, and personalized customer experience. Delivering a superior customer experience cost-effectively may be key to remaining competitive in an industry that is sharpening its focus on value.

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