How to Engage With a Population to Break Down Barriers to Health Improvements

In addition, Sutherland wrote, “Patients are motivated more by personal goals rather than potentially overwhelming healthcare metrics. Patients care more about spending time with their grandkids or being able to walk their dog rather than controlling blood glucose levels or lowering blood pressure.”

Relevant, personalized messaging that takes into account personal goals is more likely to prompt health-related behavior change. After all, it’s impossible to impact the health of a population if you can’t convince patients to regularly schedule visits, whether it’s to manage chronic issues or improve wellness. With this in mind, a number of organizations are looking at strategies that include tailored outreach and/or engagement messages.

But how can healthcare organizations be sure that the populations they want to reach will be receptive to their message?

Bassett Healthcare Network in New York had this concern when it turned to patient outreach solutions. The organization wanted to grow the productivity of its increasing base of clinicians in a way that would support improvements in population health management. As it transitioned to value-based care, the healthcare system set a goal to target individuals with chronic needs in primary care, pediatrics, and women’s health, with an emphasis on areas such as depression, immunizations, and diabetes.

Outreach and engagement were at the heart of Bassett’s plan to encourage chronic patients to regularly schedule checkups. But before implementing an automated plan through IBM’s Phytel® Outreach solution, Bassett had to address the concern that patients might react negatively to the proactive outreach. The organization did so through a concentrated education effort and by avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach.

For example, throughout the pilot implementation, Bassett published brochures and press releases, updated its patient portal, and trained inbound call staff to explain and promote the new outreach service. In addition, the organization worked to tailor message content and delivery to reflect the perspectives of different groups based on demographics, care requirements, and other factors. For example, Martha Sunkenberg, senior director of health center operations, notes in the IBM case study, “We found the way we needed to describe the mammography screening recommendations varied by age group.”

The pilot group exceeded management expectations for patient and caregiver acceptance, as well as booking ratios.

The language of the message is an important factor to consider, but many organizations are finding that texting is becoming a preferred method of outreach. “For patients comfortable with their mobile device, secure texting provides a feeling of tighter connection between them and their provider, rather than other technologies that feel and act more like email,” Harter says.

Overcoming location-based hurdles 

Outreach efforts hinge on targeted populations being able to reach their appointments, a significant challenge for many groups. The Transportation Research Board found that an estimated 3.6 million Americans miss medical appointments each year due to transportation issues, and a number of solutions have been launched to bridge this gap.