Innovative Opportunities to Improve Healthcare Consumer Engagement During COVID-19

In many ways, COVID-19 has altered life as we know it. In some cases, these changes are ushering in opportunities previously unrecognized or once seemingly slow to take hold.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently stated, “We've seen two years' worth of digital transformation in two months.” Personal relationships have changed. In-home food preparation has increased. The workplace has evolved as telecommuting is the new norm, with 78 percent of survey respondents saying they are as effective or more so working from home.[1]

So how are we seeing these changes impact healthcare? The obvious answers are related to telehealth and hygienic routines. However, the pandemic offers us even more opportunities to innovate. A recent J.D. Power survey has found that Medicare Advantage plans struggle to communicate effectively with members—at their own peril. For health plans, optimizing communications has frequently been a struggle, one that is only exacerbated by the current pandemic. J.D. Power’s survey concluded that “information and communication is a weakness for member satisfaction, which is driving a general lack of engagement among consumers and increases the likelihood of health plan members switching plans.”

The assertion that communication directly impacts engagement and ultimately churn is huge. More importantly, in a world where there is little that we can control, proactively addressing healthcare communications and member engagement is one that we can directly influence. Weak communications negatively impact health consumer trust and decrease retention. Add to this CMS’ new Stars guidelines that place a higher weighting on member experience, and it becomes clear that there has never been a better time to focus on improvements to healthcare communications.

Where do we start? Engagys is in the business of addressing healthcare communications challenges. Below are some considerations for those plans who elect to prioritize addressing the challenges highlighted by J.D. Power.

Medicare Advantage Plan Communication Considerations

J.D. Power finding: Effective communication drives satisfaction and trust

MA Plan Challenges Described by J.D. Power

Engagys Considerations

  • Clear, helpful, proactive communication provided by MA plans is a key driver of overall customer satisfaction and consumer perception of trust.
  • Overall member satisfaction increases 209 points (on a 1,000-point scale) when plans meet three key performance indicators related to information and communication:
    • Making sure members fully understand their out-of-pocket costs
    • Providing health education
    • Delivering useful reminders for preventive services

Health insurance is an intangible service, and communications represent a significant portion of members’ experience with the insurance offering. When executed well, communications are powerful levers for brand, trust and satisfaction. Key questions:

  • Are you personalizing your member communications? Personalization has been proven to increase member engagement in many domains including screenings, pharmacy adherence and retention.

Example: A pharmacy outreach that was personalized lifted 93% over the control in getting consumers to refill.

  • Do you know the entire annual volume of communications sent to your members? Mapping communications inventory to member segments enables an intentional and optimized experience.

Example: A health plan found that a single member received dozens of communications in a single month.

  • Are you governing your communications? Consumers experience communications fatigue when communications are disjointed, too frequent or not relevant to the member.

Example: Prioritizing, combining, and sequencing can improve engagement rates by 10% or more.

J.D. Power finding: Missing the mark on communication

MA Plan Challenges Described by J.D. Power

Engagys Considerations

  • Despite the significant positive effect on member satisfaction, just 15% of MA plans deliver all three information and communication performance indicators (see above).
  • This gap has been amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic as consumers are 3.3 times more likely to receive a helpful communication from their bank than from their health plan.

It is not enough to simply reach out to seniors. Embrace a comprehensive C360 approach and leverage best practices that the consumer products industry has utilized for decades to improve effectiveness:

  • Behavioral economics—Behavioral economics are the messaging tactics that nudge consumers to act.

Example: Applying the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) tactic with a simple question, “Are you sure,” has been shown to increase healthcare engagement 10% - 30%.

  • Health literacy—Many health plans give lip service to health literacy; however, without centralized and disciplined oversight, many educational communications fall through the cracks—and in the end, critical messages may be delivered, but they are not received. Many seniors who may be functionally literate still have difficulty comprehending healthcare information. In fact, 1/3 of Medicare patients treated in public clinics have low health literacy. Our work has shown that more frequent communications containing a less complex message will out-perform fewer, more complex messages.

Example: When an ANOC call followed a wellness call, the average net promoter score of recipients in both programs rose from 8.8 to 9.0.

  • Barrier breaking—When sending reminders for preventive care, soliciting why a member is unlikely to make or keep an appointment will increase engagement rates.

Examples: Frequent barriers include lack of transportation, cost, fear of the test or preparation, and simply a belief that the procedure is unnecessary.

J.D. Power finding: Digital plays key role in plan selection

MA Plan Challenges Described by J.D. Power

Engagys Considerations

  • Despite MA plan members being older, more than 40% utilize digital means when gathering information regarding their health coverage.
  • Information gathering in general is significantly more likely among MA members (87%) than among those commercially insured (82%).
  • MA members are just as likely as auto insurance customers to have an online account with an insurer.

COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of digital channels by seniors. Grandma knows how to “Zoom” with the grandkids, and she has seen her doctor with Facetime. Using digital channels to outreach to MA members increases engagement. Act now:

  • Preference Capture—Learn how individual members wish to interact and in which situations.

Example: Adding email as a channel for Medicare members substantially increased compliance with preventive screenings.

  • SMS text messaging—Once consent for text messages is collected, leverage this channel for personalized communications.

Example: A campaign which added two-way SMS text to an automated hypertension management program doubled the number of members which successfully completed the 12-week program.

  • Social media—Health plans are advertising on Facebook right now to recruit your members. With many states in varying degrees of lockdown, this is a great time to leverage social media to reinforce current relationships.

Interested in learning more? Contact us at

[1] Coronavirus Disruption Project, AARP,

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.