3 Things to Know About Preventive Screening Utilization One Year Into COVID-19

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preventive health visits

Photo credit: Depositphotos

By Steve Wigginton, CEO of Icario

COVID-19 has been a tragic pandemic and it has caused a major shift in the way people choose to seek healthcare, including delaying important annual visits, skipping cancer screenings, and forgoing immunizations for children. While motivating people to complete preventive visits has always been a challenge, it has become even more difficult and more critical to re-establish this routine despite the pandemic to keep the public and health plan members healthy. 

Telehealth was one of the many great options allowing more access to healthcare for people throughout the last year, but the rate of healthcare utilization continues to trend downwards. Declining healthcare utilization will have a sustained impact on preventing and managing diseases because screening and vaccinations are critical in prevention and mitigation of more serious chronic conditions, and early treatment of cancers and other diseases. In response to the pandemic, we have an opportunity, through targeted health action programs, to help close preventive care gaps and keep members healthy. 

How do we engage and motivate members to take action? Here are three things you need to know to drive the best results and get your members to seek appropriate care.

#1—People Are Concerned About Costs

Understanding why people are foregoing care is the first step to figure out how to motivate them to re-engage and come back. In the beginning of the pandemic, people were avoiding care because they had to — stay-at-home orders were in place, offices were closed, and the clinics themselves were encouraging people to reschedule. Others skipped routine visits because they were trying to limit their potential exposure out of fear of contracting COVID-19.

According to a Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Civic Life and Public Health Survey, 29% of survey respondents reported missing a preventive care visit during the pandemic. Further, 58% who had a scheduled preventive care appointment missed the appointment.

This was not only a result of COVID-19 fears, but a larger trend emerging over the course of the last year — the burden of paying for healthcare. Many that lost their jobs or didn’t understand their benefits feared how they would pay for the visits. Consumers also reported that navigating how to access and pay for healthcare activities was a challenge saying, “not one healthcare activity was described by consumers as effortless.” That’s a problem.

How to Overcome the Cost Challenge

Effective communication. Make it clear what members are responsible for paying up-front and how you will be supporting their care. If the preventive screening you are trying to drive is 100% covered, let the member know in plain language. Education and personalized messaging can help evolve assumptions and perceptions, leading to health actions. In addition, offering an incentive or reward for completing the health action is a proven way to drive visits.

#2—Member Experience is Paramount

There is no question that people are cautious about seeking care right now. Whether the reason is fear of contracting COVID-19, financial, or otherwise — focusing on providing excellent member experiences that foster trust and engagement are now at the forefront of healthcare.

The two most popular cancer screenings, mammograms and colonoscopies, dropped 90% last spring. While mammogram and colonoscopy screening utilization did return to more normal levels over the summer, the seriousness of missed screenings should not be passed over. As a result, cancer cases could go undiagnosed or diagnosed at a more severe stage where more intensive and expensive treatment is needed. It will take work to return to consistent normal screening levels, while also making sure we are communicating with members who typically avoid these types of visits. Early detection is key to save more lives.  

This is where the proactive communication and the importance of member experience and satisfaction come in. A positive member experience can make all of the difference when someone is deciding whether to take action or not.

How to Enhance Member Experiences

While preventive services and vaccinations are critical in healthcare, we can’t ignore the importance of member experience and its relationship to healthcare utilization. Icario works with health plans to develop programs that deliver positive member experiences and communicates with members as people. We learn about their healthcare attitudes, how and when they like to communicate, and what messages are most likely to resonate.

Our health action programs are proven to drive appropriate cancer screenings, resulting in high engagement. We’ve learned that it only takes one messaging sequence to make a difference and save a life. When you understand member preferences, you’re much more likely to achieve desired results and member satisfaction.

#3—Plans Can Drive More Visits with Personalized Outreach

Personalization is key to connecting with members meaningfully, and tricky to get right if you don’t have the appropriate resources in place. The last thing you want to do is send the wrong message to a member during a volatile time. This can drive dissatisfaction and decrease the number of members completing preventive health screenings.

It’s also important to note that members want this! According to a new Icario survey conducted online by the Harris Poll, 86% of members want their health plan to personalize communication, care, and services. If this is what members want and it will help close critical care gaps and boost preventive care screenings during a pandemic, then now is the time to act.

While people may be satisfied with their current plan, and understand their benefits, there is a desire for greater personalization around their care. We often experience plans generically engaging members through the same message, modality, and approach, which doesn’t universally resonate or inspire health action. Behaviors and beliefs cannot be changed with a general, universal approach, when the barriers and perspectives of individuals were developed from individual experiences. The directive for greater personalization is consistent and where member engagement is directly correlated to a member’s personal and sentimental association with the message and calls to action that are aligned with a member’s values.

How to Meaningfully – and Personally – Engage

Successful personalization that drives health outcomes can look different depending on the member. Some will take action because a message resonates. The likelihood of influencing an individual’s behavior lessens when the messaging is not person-specific. Others will respond because the communication came at the right time. And some will schedule an appointment because the incentive is too good to pass up. Reducing the emotional and behavioral barriers preventing action, especially fear, will help motivate members. Fear can immobilize action, so it is important to share fact-based information with members, while also sharing information the normalizes the process, it will overall help address any objections. 

Another way to meaningfully engage with members, is to help reduce any logistical barriers preventing them from taking action. For example, not knowing where to go, what the experience will be like or how to get started. Helping members understand the process, where to go, costs, and other safety measures will reduce logistical barriers and promote action. All of these are important and deserve consideration — that’s why a multi-channel approach is the best way to drive real results.

By intelligently matching the right messages, channels and outreach sequences, along with knowing what rewards and incentives will resonate (if any), each individual, will receive something unique to drive the right health actions.

Now is the time to encourage individuals to re-engage in preventive screenings and care, making it a top priority. If we continue to ignore the decline in utilization trends, we’ll have a much bigger healthcare crisis on our hands down the road.

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