Connected Membership: A New Breed of Patient and Member Engagement

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Low angle view of female nurses pushing patients on wheelchairs with doctor walking at corridor in hospital

By Dave Wieneke and Stephanie Cohen

Healthcare has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address low levels of trust and consumer loyalty in the industry. The pandemic reaffirmed the critical role providers play in our lives but also revealed gaps in how people receive care. Organizations that are innovating on what it means to be a member, fostering a stickier and deeper relationship between brand and customer, are forging the future of healthcare.  

One Florida-based healthcare system, BayCare, is reinviting what customer loyalty means. While every hospital wants patients to make meaningful use of their patient portal, attend appointments and be addressable by email, BayCare saw a chance to gain value by turning customers into members. BayCare weaved otherwise disconnected patient tasks, such as online appointment booking, reminder alerts and personalized wellness content, into a coherent joining experience and offered a $20 gift as well as status as “general members.”  The goals of the program, BayCare’s Senior Vice President Ed Rafalski said in an interview, were “to elevate awareness of the BayCare brand; to strengthen connections between the entire system of hospitals, facilities and healthcare professionals; to generate ‘stickiness’ for BayCare’s health and wellness services, and to create a patient-centric culture.”

BayCare is among an increasing number of healthcare organizations that are leveraging membership programs to drive loyalty and engage patients and members. Healthcare is characterized by low levels of consumer trust – a 2019 Gallup survey found that just 38% of the general public has a positive view of the industry. With heightened consumer expectations for convenience and personalization, membership programs help health systems engage healthcare consumers in new ways, improving their understanding of individual patient and member needs, enhancing care and business outcomes, supporting stronger relationships, and fostering greater brand affinity and trust.  

Through our work with brands across industries, we’ve seen the impact that compelling membership structures can have on the consumer-brand relationship. In the process, we’ve developed our own model of connected membership designed to cultivate products and interactions that touch customers before, during and after care episodes to increase engagement and consumer loyalty.

Connected membership defined

Connected membership enables easy omni-channel engagement based on the things that are relevant for each member. It requires creating deliberate and curated journeys that extend beyond the healthcare transaction, building relationships and fostering differentiated value.

Here’s a simple example of connected membership: Until recently, Kate, a 32-year-old with no chronic health conditions, rarely thought about her doctor unless she was sick. But then she signed up for her provider’s membership program and filled out a questionnaire about her health needs, including  her interest in learning more about particular topics. Because she listed exercise as one of her interests, she was prompted to visit the smartphone app version of the provider’s proprietary portal, where she is able to track her daily runs. She also receives daily reminders to exercise and emails with health tips, such as vegetarian recipes that don’t include broccoli – a food she hates. The experience is highly personalized to her lifestyle and preferences. Kate’s doctor confirmed that her exercise and diet were working well, as she had lost five pounds, putting her at a healthy weight.  

“A healthcare loyalty program does not have to reward patients for using more of its services,” Rafalski told the American College of Healthcare Executives. “In fact, it’s the reverse. By providing easier access to its services, consumers will become more loyal because of the simplicity of access, become more engaged in their health and use the health system more efficiently.”

Among the benefits of connected membership: 

  • More engaged patients:  Connected membership extends the reach of healthcare organizations to engage individuals. Traditionally, consumers have had little contact with healthcare organizations in between doctors’ visits, so they’ve had little opportunity to build a relationship with their provider. Providers also have back-to-back appointments, so they have little time to spend on outreach. However, when provider organizations build stronger connections with patients during care episodes and maintain them post visit—using experiences, benefits and services that engage consumers in their health and removing roadblocks that may have prevented optimal results—they can create greater stickiness and improve outcomes.
  • Greater brand affinity and trust: Consumers care about ease, efficiency and efficacy, but healthcare providers often struggle to meet and exceed consumer needs and expectations, according to Kaufman Hall’s most recent State of Consumerism in Healthcare report. When combined with a system that has historically been difficult to navigate, frustration increases and trust plummets. That matters because consumers who have greater trust in their healthcare providers are more satisfied with their treatment and have fewer unmanaged symptoms.   

According to our own research, younger healthcare consumers are more than twice as likely to trust CVS and Walgreens with their healthcare than they do a traditional provider organization (Footnote: PK research, 2020-2021). To help improve trust, healthcare organizations can borrow strategies from more consumer-focused industries, such as offering better digital tools, targeted experiences and thoughtful outreach before, during and after care.

  • Better health outcomes:  Poor health habits and healthcare spend are intrinsically linked, and non-adherence to medication currently contributes to $100 to $300 billion in annual healthcare costs. A connected membership program that encourages people to take the medications they are prescribed could reduce that waste and prevent the approximately 125,000 deaths each year caused by this noncompliance. Additionally, empowering consumers to take better proactive care of their health by assessing specific needs and determining services, experiences and benefits that will address those needs can result in fewer acute incidences and ER visits, not only saving money but also improving health (particularly in vulnerable populations).

About Dave Wieneke

Dave Wieneke leads PK’s focus on serving the digital experiences of healthcare organizations, establishing a baseline method of measurement as outlined in PK’s Hospital Digital Experience Index. He’s partnered with executive teams at Harvard University, KinderCare Education, OHSU, and Everence Financial to advance their digital business capabilities. Prior to agency life, Dave directed digital teams for Thomson Reuters, the Christian Science Monitor, Sokolove Law and the states of New Jersey and Massachusetts. Dave is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design and teaches about customer-centered management at the Rutgers Business School.

About Stephanie Cohen

Stephanie Cohen serves as Senior Loyalty Strategist, Integrated Loyalty Solutions at PK, where she leads loyalty engagements to deliver innovative and bespoke loyalty strategies and experiences to customer-obsessed brands and their customers. Working with clients across industries, she is responsible for ensuring that clients meet their objectives and improve customer loyalty, engagement and profitable behaviors.

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