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When people take active roles in their healthcare, they have better outcomes. So, what keeps health engagement low for some people, and what can be done to change that?

Studies have found that people actively engaged in their healthcare increase medication adherence, participate more in preventive care, and have fewer adverse events, among other improved outcomes.

For some people, engagement in their healthcare does not come easily. They may have lost trust because of a frustrating encounter with a healthcare provider where they did not feel heard. They or someone in their family may have had a bad outcome from a test or medical procedure so they are hesitant to seek treatment. For some, seeking medical care and treatment is discouraged within their culture or community. For others, they do not have access to healthcare providers, either geographically or by being un- or underinsured.

Overcome Barriers by Understanding Them

Take the time to listen to people’s reasons for not engaging in their health. Understanding their reasons is one of the first steps in developing the techniques and messaging to help them engage. Using an approach that demonstrates cultural humility fosters a supportive, open, and trusting environment for people to share their reasons for not fully engaging in their healthcare.

People’s reasons for not being fully engaged may come from their personal experiences as well as cultural, community, and social influences. In these instances, a community engagement campaign using supportive, culturally relevant, confidence-building messaging might generate strong enough peer support to encourage people to consider making a change.

When people become open to change, support that intent through engagement strategies that reach them where they are in their journey. Successful engagement and encouragement efforts employ analytics to personalize outreach and messaging based on individual preferences and needs, incorporate broad behavioral science principles, and extend across multiple touchpoints.

Build Outreach on a Foundation of Behavioral Science

Behavioral science can improve messaging strategies that encourage health engagement. Some evidence-based approaches include:

  1. Focus on one, not many, and get personal
    Philanthropic organizations often feature one person’s story because people can become overwhelmed when seeing entire communities in need. The healthcare industry can similarly make an individual the center of their story. Instead of encouraging a preventive screening saying, “All people age 50 or older…” personalize the message: “Now that you’re 51, it’s time…”
  2. Bring in a sense of identity or purpose
    Healthcare messages tailored to a person’s life or lifestyle could be the one that catches their attention and resonates: “Don’t let high blood pressure keep you off the soccer field.”
  3. Offer incentives
    A variety of behavioral science techniques used by retailers can be applied to healthcare consumers as well, since both groups want to make the best, informed decisions for their needs. Many health plans use techniques like providing financial incentives for completing health assessments, receiving recommended preventive care services, adhering to medication protocols, or quitting smoking.

Use a Multi-Channel Approach, Online and Offline

Successful health engagement programs go beyond a single touchpoint strategy, maximizing every opportunity to engage people.

Tools like Gabby for preconception care and ianacare for caregiver resources provide an opportunity to initiate contact and gather information, providing self-driven engagement. These and other digital tools can personalize content to drive engagement, as Amazon and Netflix have both demonstrated.

Engagement activities go beyond digital. Healthcare providers can encourage shared decision-making and employ cultural humility so that people feel heard and continue to engage.

Health plans can incorporate outbound calls and texts timed to healthcare visits or even website and app use. A clothing retailer found that messages sent to shoppers the same day of an in-store or online visit or exactly one week after the visit were the most likely to be opened. Understanding when healthcare consumers are most open to being contacted can help ensure messages are received when people are willing to act on them. Timing could also be personalized based on the timing of previous successful engagements with an individual.

Ensuring all digital and human contact points respect and support people is key to improved health engagement. The healthcare industry can accomplish this by using analytics to understand their consumers’ information needs and provide that information based on individual contact preferences.

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