Seven Things Payers Can Do to Increase Consumer Engagement


A study commissioned by Change Healthcare found that 72% of consumers say their engagement experience with both providers and health plans hasn’t improved—or has worsened—over the last two years. Yet at the same time, investment in consumer engagement is a top priority for 80% of payers, who invest up to one-third of their health IT dollars to improve the consumer experience.

Clearly something is amiss. But it doesn’t need to stay that way. Here are seven things payers can do to close that gap and improve consumer engagement.

1. Think Like a Consumer Business

If you look at other industries that have been successful at engaging the consumer, you’ll see that many are not doing anything overly complicated. They are simply making things easy for their customers. For example, the credit card industry sends one simple statement outlining all charges incurred or reimbursed in a specific period. It is simple for consumers to understand and act on. In healthcare, members can have a difficult time getting a simple explanation about the status of their bill, what they owe, and who they owe it to. As consumers’ financial responsibility continues to increase in healthcare and provider bad debt continues to rise, simplifying the experience for members, as has been done in other industries, can help drive better engagement, satisfaction—and, most importantly, a propensity to pay.

2. Start Using Gamification

Gamification is successfully used to engage consumers in many other industries. People love games, contests, quizzes, and challenges. Payers could use gamification as part of their consumer strategies in a host of different ways: wellness challenges, rewards for making cost-effective decisions, portal registration challenges, etc. Leveraging gamification can be a great way to break down many of the consumer barriers with payers, make it fun, and drive increased consumer behavior.

3. Make Things Simple

While payers are investing to better engage their members, healthcare remains complicated, and today’s benefit plans are as complex as they’ve ever been. Indeed, the Journal of Health Economics found less than 14% of people understood their benefits and the most basic benefit terms like “deductible,” “co-insurance,” and “co-pay.” And benefit plans have only become more complex for the average consumer to understand since that study was published in 2013. Today’s plans can include narrow networks and different benefit coverage for up to five tiers within the same network. To drive better consumer engagement, payers need to simplify their offerings, present them clearly, and make it easier for their members to decide which doctor to go to, and to know how much they will pay—all with a high degree of accuracy.

4. Instill Trust

Consumers tend to have a low level of trust with payers. Whether it is general benefit information, inaccurate cost estimates, or digital tools, people feel underwhelmed with the current experience. There are several ways payers can build more trust with their members (in addition to what has already been mentioned). People don’t trust what they can’t understand. While we’ve mentioned making things simpler and personalized, payers can build trust by finding ways to offer assurances in certain circumstances (for example: prices shown in digital tools are the prices they pay) to build confidence that the information being provided is accurate and the plan will stand behind it.

5. Automatically Register Members for Payer Portals

Payers make it far too difficult for people to register for their web portals. Some registration processes are so archaic that many people abandon them altogether. What a missed opportunity! A simple solution is to auto-register members. Many industries already do this, and allow the consumer to opt out at any time. This eliminates the need to register, which often requires people to input a lot of personal information that the payer already has. We’ve conducted user testing that found people are reluctant to enter their personal information via the web to register for a health portal, but they are comfortable seeing it presented back to them for verification. So, payers can pre-populate all the necessary information, which is already in their possession, and eliminate one of the largest barriers to better consumer engagement.

6. Collaborate with Providers

There are plenty of opportunities for payers and their network providers to collaborate more closely to deliver a better consumer experience. One already happening today is bundled payment. Payers and providers are collaborating to establish a clear price for episodes of care, helping members understand the costs more clearly, and structuring payments with high-value providers to improve outcomes. Making the cost of care and billing clearer for the consumer can result in broader consumer engagement and satisfaction.

7. Do the Little Things

Payers need to reach their members on a personal level. Consumer businesses do this well. Payers can learn from consumer businesses to propel their strategies forward. Doing this doesn’t necessarily mean executing on big, complex initiatives. It means taking what they already know about a member and using it to delight them. It can be as simple as saying “Thank You,” “Happy Birthday,” or “Congratulations.” There are certainly opportunities to do more with the amount of data payers have. However, sometimes it is the simplest of gestures that can delight and build trust in the payer/member relationship, just as in a more retail-oriented consumer business.

Consumer engagement is a journey, and there is no single roadmap to the destination. By following these guidelines, and adopting a consumer-oriented mindset, health plans can make serious headway in the quest to engage members.

Tate McDaniel is Senior Vice President of Engagement Solutions at Change Healthcare