Doing more with less, better. Patient Engagement Communications

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As the healthcare reform bill leaves Washington and makes its way into the American health system, the rhetoric is over and the task of implementation begins.

From the greater regulation of private healthcare insurance, to the coordination of chronic disease management and care compliance, the prohibition of preexisting condition exclusions, to the establishing of performance measures on quality of care and improved health outcomes, and removal of barriers to preventive services in Medicare – the next five years or so will see the healthcare industry struggle with now ‘mandated’ expectations to do more with less.

Regardless of the politics, one thing is certain, managed and preventive care will play an increasingly critical role in the long-term health of healthcare – and Americans. The role of technology will be thrust to the foreground. It already plays a strong role tracking and enabling provider-patient managed care compliance; and outbound notification communications to patients reminding of health visits and check ups are pretty much standard across all healthcare providers now. But it is technology’s potential to truly enable and positively impact preventive care and advance the outcomes of managed care, rather than simply being deployed as an administrative tick box, that the healthcare industry should be paying attention to.

A new category of patient engagement communications technologies – one that combines the advances in high-tech communications with a human touch – will benefit Medicaid, Medicare and commercial healthcare both in service delivery and cost of service. These technologies are poised to play an important role in the shifting responsibility of preventive care compliance – for example in the case of increasing patient accountability in proactive healthcare management.

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 business application. However, 2008 saw it enter Gartner’s Hype Cycle, a graphic representation of the maturity, adoption and business application of specific technologies. In 2008, Behavioral Economics was at the early “technology trigger” stage, with mainstream adoption forecast to be some five years off. From my industry perspective, there is early usage already taking shape in the form of advanced Engagement Communications applications.

Engagement Communications comprises the blending of advances in communications – such as voice messaging, SMS, email, web portals – with a human touch. Together they create points of engagement rather than simply connecting with or touching a consumer. ‘Touching’ a consumer might inform but it doesn’t necessarily activate. Create engagement points, and the path is opened up for activation.
TeleVox spends a significant portion of its R&D budget investigating how to apply high engagement communications in a way that creates as authentic a human touch as possible in order to engage and activate consumers through web, email, SMS, phone and traditional snail mail. The focus is not one-directional customer ‘contact’, but two-way engagement. Once you establish a two-way street with patients, the possibilities open up, creating the ability to understand and react to their motivations and needs – in real time.

Healthcare is an example where Engagement Communications is playing an important role. Behavioral researchers tell us that people do not act in their best interests – however irrational that might seem. Smoking, obesity and other preventable conditions contribute to 40% of premature deaths. Not to mention the number of people who don’t stick to a regimen of pills that keep diabetes or high blood pressure at bay. Here, Engagement Communications in the form of regular tailored communications that not only text reminders about smoking cessation or to follow med regimens, but also have an escalation alert that notifies health providers when a patient hasn’t responded, help create an early intervention. 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. The economics of intervening and creating positive actions in human behavior are far reaching.

Advances in technology and communications from voicemail to Facebook to SMS to email mean that people are reachable most anywhere. Connecting and engaging them with timely, relevant and impactful touch points, leveraging these advanced communication tools, provide the healthcare industry with a compelling, high impact and cost-effective channel to engage and empower people to take a greater and more proactive role in their own healthcare. Everyone wins.

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