Reclaiming ‘Self Care’ to Include Preventive Healthcare

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caring african medical nurse comforting senior patient in office

Photo credit: Depositphotos

Engaging members in preventive care, even when it lacks the allure of spa treatments. 

By Travis Rush, Reperio 

Every day, consumers are told they need to make time for “self-care” and “wellness.”

These terms, co-opted by marketers targeting wealthy, white-collar consumers, have become synonymous with indulgent food and meditation retreats. The efforts have been successful: over the last five years Google searches for “self-care” have experienced a steady climb and peaked in May 2020.

The irony is that the populations who desperately need to take time for actual self-care — healthcare screenings, services, and treatments — have the least access to the tools and resources to engage in self-care. According to one study, older working adults in lower income brackets were “significantly” less likely to receive breast cancer, prostate cancer, and cholesterol screenings than their “working non-poor” counterparts. 

As a result, healthcare is trending in the wrong direction. An estimated 6 in 10 Americans live with one or more chronic conditions, and a lack of preventive care only contributes to high-cost hospitalizations and other events. What’s tragic is that many of these chronic diseases, such as diabetes, are preventable.

It’s true that preventive and/or routine screenings don’t have the allure of binge watching your favorite show or taking a bath, but health plan members are in dire need of real self-care — and it’s up to the healthcare industry to reclaim the term and give it to them. 

Why Health and Self-Care is Neglected

Everyone needs basic healthcare. So why aren’t we regularly checking our blood sugar, weight, or BMI? Why are one quarter of millennial-aged patients missing their annual physicals but going to self-care activities like yoga classes? 

The first answer to both questions is often “lack of time” — as in, time to take off work, pop into a walk-in clinic for a blood test or visit the doctor’s office even when we feel fine. 

Also, when asked why they’re not carving out time for preventive care, many individuals cite the lack of an immediate benefit akin to other ‘self-care’ services: no one’s going to walk out of a doctor’s visit with a new house plant or acrylic nails. 

If a benefit isn’t apparent, there’s the perception that we don’t need it. This is particularly true for parents, who frequently prioritize their children’s health over their own unless they have an urgent issue that requires immediate medical attention. Perhaps that’s also why urgent care centers are thriving, even when patient copays are higher. 

We’ve also done a bad job of marketing healthcare, when compared to the personal care and beauty industries, which recognized escalating work-life balance challenges among American workers in the late 20th century. By marketing beauty treatments and wellness services as “self-care,” they convinced a generation of stressed-out Americans to not feel bad about taking time to pamper themselves. 

Reclaiming Our Health

So, what can payers and employers do to help consumers perceive “self-care” as “healthcare”? 

It’s time to take a cue from the personal/cosmetic services industry and improve our approach, starting with our messaging. We can do this in a few ways: 

1. Appeal to consumers’ need to feel cared for. Healthcare organizations probably can’t transform doctor’s offices into havens of euphoric escape, teeming with lush potted plants and the aroma of eucalyptus wafting through the air. It wouldn’t necessarily work, either. But they can do more to personalize the patient experience and demonstrate they care. One option: text-based reminders gently urging patients to “take time for self-care” and schedule their annual flu shot, mammogram, or wellness visit.

A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Journal showed that texting patients offered a simple, cost effective, and timely way to increase vaccination uptake (the most effective text-based “nudge,” which consisted of two texts sent 72 and 24 hours before appointment, produced a 4.6 percentage point boost in vaccinations).  

 2. Make healthcare more convenient and accessible. Health plans can appeal to their members’ time concerns by bringing health to where they’re at — literally.One way to do this is to send them at-home health screening kits, such as app-connected wellness assessments that measure cholesterol, glucose, blood pressure, and resting heart rate and can be done anytime and anywhere. Not only are at-home options more convenient, but the cost of home testing kits typically ranges from $25 to $200 per person, which is far less expensive than a medical-based facility screening for health plans or individuals. 

3. Incentivize health engagement. When you go to a massage studio or hair salon, you’re paired with a professional who is engaged in your wellbeing, listens to you, and works with you to fulfill your wishes (e.g., an elevated state of relaxation). Leveraging health coaching platforms, which pair individuals with providers, dieticians, and fitness experts to set goals and record progress, can help members feel like they have a dedicated wellness team on their side. Positive reinforcement for meeting health goals can also come in the form of financial incentives, like providing gift cards for completing smoking cessation programs.  

While consumers should continue to make time for themselves, the healthcare industry needs to do its part to gain consumer buy-in for self-care in the form of preventive screenings, vaccinations, and routine wellness visits. Only then will health plans and providers truly reclaim the term “self-care” and win over those who lack the time and desire to stave off burgeoning health issues before they escalate into bigger health problems.  

Travis Rush is the CEO and cofounder of Reperio