3 Tips to Design a Successful Healthcare Incentives Program

As healthcare consumers, we all know the reasons why we should get our cancer screenings, make a well visit appointment, and refill our medications. However, being a human in this day and age is a tricky business and there are many things competing for our attention. Our own healthcare can often fall to the bottom of a long and ever changing ‘To Do’ list. We could all use a little extra encouragement for engaging in our healthcare and bumping it to the top of the list.

Incentive programs that dole out rewards can be an effective way to nudge consumers to take a healthcare action. Whether that reward is a gift, cash or cash equivalents, or goods or services offered at free or reduced rates, incentives can incrementally increase a population to drive specific, preferred behaviors towards a desired action or outcome within a certain timeframe.

Healthcare incentives programs work well in driving healthcare actions such as enrollment in various healthcare programs, attending provider appointments, and completing surveys such as CAHPS. While it should be noted that CMS has regulations in place on incentive programs for Medicare populations, they are allowed for this group and effective for all population segments. Through our decades of healthcare incentive design experience, we’ve learned many insights into what constitutes a great incentives program that drive results. Here are three tips to consider when designing an incentive program:

1. Size matters less than you think

While reward size should be considered, the design of the offer - not the size of the incentive - drives success. A $500 offer can be less effective than a $50 incentive if the goal (i.e., consumer action) is less attainable. Rewards have to be attainable to be motivating.

2. Switch it up

When implementing recurring incentive programs or if a certain population or segment is targeted for more than one incentive program, make sure that you vary rewards. Research shows that consumers are more likely to change behavior when rewards are unpredictable.

3. Sign, seal, and deliver

Make sure your reward ducks are in a row and ready to go out the door before you hit start on an incentives program. If you promise rewards but then don’t deliver or don’t deliver quickly enough, you’ll lose credibility, and the incentive will become meaningless. Not to mention consumers will be less likely to take you up on any future incentives offers.

These are just a few of the levers to pull when designing an effective incentives program but when done right and combined with other tactics, will produce results. For example:

  • More than 5-point increase in HEDIS score for a Medicaid population that was offered movie tickets for making wellcare visits
  • More than triple the rate of transfers versus previous program for a commercial population to learn about plan benefits when offered a free book

To improve healthcare consumer engagement, healthcare entities need to employ different tactics. Incentives are another tool to ratchet up engagement and should be included in a comprehensive C360 consumer engagement strategy.

Kathleen Ellmore

Ms. Ellmore is one of the earliest pioneers in bringing the best of consumer marketing and data driven methodologies to healthcare. Instead of getting you to eat when you are not hungry and buy things you don’t need, we can finally use the same strategies to instead change the health equation in America. Kathleen previously led the Consumer Engagement consulting practice for Welltok (formerly Silverlink) for 12 years, leveraging its data repository of over a billion consumer health interactions, the best of behavioral economics, and the latest in clinical research, to create evidenced-based communications on what works to drive consumer healthcare behavior yielding better outcomes and lower costs. She is often quoted in the trade and national press and is a regular speaker on the national stage, having spent the first twenty years of her career in brand marketing at leading consumer marketing organizations, including General Mills and P&G. Additionally, she was a Vice President at Digitas, a leading direct marketing firm. Recently she was selected as Consultant Member of the first ever FDA’s Patient Engagement Advisory Committee.