Insights from the Frontlines: Reflections from Healthcare Consumer Focus Groups

healthcare member focus group

For the past seven years, Engagys has conducted focus groups for clients and conferences, enabling us to track evolving trends over time.

An increasing number of consumers are starting to take more proactive steps to engage in their unique health journey. However, many still feel they lack the necessary tools for success. Active engagement is so much more than giving the consumer the right knowledge and resources. It means empowering them to make important healthcare decisions, ask questions, understand whom to contact for assistance, and advocate for themselves to access high-quality, affordable care.

Throughout these discussions over the years, participants candidly shared their experiences – positive and negative – shedding light on several key issues that emerged across all focus groups.

Let’s start with the positive. Across a variety of focus groups over the past year and a half, we have heard participants cite that overall, they were happy with their doctors — although some still find it hard to get timely appointments. This isn’t surprising, given the headlines about staffing shortages in healthcare. The majority of folks in these groups were largely up to date with their preventive care and screenings, and almost all were open to using telehealth services.

Digital communications are the future. More recently, there’s been a noticeable increase in the amount of seniors who prefer digital communications, such as emails or text messages from their health plan, versus traditional phone calls. Andrew, a senior from our RISE West focus panel, expressed frustration, “Stop inundating seniors with mail. My file cabinet is full, and I’m trying to go green. It’s annoying when a lot of the stuff comes that I already know, or I could find it online if I go to the site.”

Engagement and empowerment are on the rise. When Engagys first started conducting focus groups, none of the seniors knew the difference between a yearly physical and an annual wellness exam. They had not heard of Stars, the rating system for Medicare Advantage. Fast-forward to today, and seniors are more knowledgeable about co-pays, premiums, annual wellness visits, and other aspects of healthcare. However, there’s still plenty of opportunity to improve their understanding of communications.

Alternatively, we've noticed consistent barriers over the years, which in some cases, have evolved over time.

  • Barriers that have changed over time include a growing concern over the high and rising cost of prescriptions and the cumbersome process to secure transportation referrals. Locating in-network providers or those accepting new patients is becoming more difficult in today's labor market.
  • Barriers that have persisted over time include concerns over higher co-pays and the nearly universal call to provide easy-to-understand communication around benefits, as opposed to the traditional thick packet of information.

Healthcare consumerism, like so many other aspects of the industry, is undergoing rapid change. Throughout this evolution it is integral that we listen to the consumer’s voice and not lose sight of their needs.

Gone are the days of a one-size-fits-all approach to healthcare. Many consumers wonder, “When are plans going to enter the 21st century?” Despite occasionally lagging behind other industries, healthcare is undergoing a transformative shift in how care is accessed, delivered, and experienced. There is a broader movement to adopt:

  • advancements in technology
  • digital health tools to accommodate shifts in patient expectations
  • patient/member-centered care models

For example, we've increasingly heard from consumers expressing the desire for health plans to cover natural and alternative treatments, including acupuncture or naturopathic care. Over time we’ve heard more requests for short instructional videos aimed at educating them on living with chronic health conditions. Another prevalent theme is that consumers want communications to feel more personalized to them whenever possible.

These seem like pretty reasonable requests – some of which Engagys can help you with. When we improve a member’s experience with their health plan through simplicity, personalization, and improved accessibility, we see results, including 50% reduction in grievances, 40% increase in screenings, 100% improvement in home delivery enrollment, and 30% lift in in-network care.

There is also a growing recognition of the importance of addressing social, emotional, and cultural aspects of care. As healthcare continues to evolve, plans must acknowledge and incorporate measures to reduce these disparities into health programs and services. This will effectively meet the needs of all members and improve health outcomes.


A major takeaway from these insights is that plans will succeed when they take the time to actively engage with their members. Learning about member concerns, preferences, and experiences is key to sustained and improved engagement. This proactive approach will not only drive improvements, which will be mirrored in plan performance metrics such as Star ratings and consumer satisfaction gauges like CAHPS and HOS, but also strengthen the overall reputation and effectiveness of your healthcare organization.

Tracy Clements
  • Tracy Clements

Ms. Clements is a writer who has worked in healthcare for more than a decade.  Her experience covers the agency, client, and payor sides of healthcare and technology, and has honed an expertise in leveraging consumer data to perform test-and-learn strategies for optimized consumer engagement. She brings a wealth of copywriting experience for IVR calls, live agent calls, print, and digital media, and is well-versed in behavior change principles to lead consumers to desired outcomes. Competencies include specialized health communications that are sensitive to health literacy and cultural humility.