2 Keys to Improving Communication with Medically Underserved Patients
When the Commonwealth Fund surveyed safety-net healthcare organizations about the challenges of serving medically underserved populations, 86 percent of respondents put patient engagement at the top of their list. Not surprising, perhaps, since most healthcare providers see patient engagement as a crucial component for reducing healthcare spending and improving health outcomes.
However, the need for effective patient engagement programs soars when healthcare providers work with medically underserved patients who access healthcare less frequently, despite higher rates of chronic disease.
Boosting Patient Engagement to Among Medically Underserved Populations
Among the 181 urban and rural community health centers and clinics that responded to the Commonwealth Fund survey, 89 percent identified patient engagement as a critical tool in chronic disease management. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlight why the need is so great. In its 2015 policy brief on “Addressing Chronic Disease through Community Health Workers,” the CDC points out that 33 percent of American adults suffer from high blood pressure, while the hypertension rate among African American men is 42 percent.
Likewise, 9.3 percent of American adults have diagnosed or undiagnosed diabetes, but the CDC notes, "There is a disproportionate burden of diabetes among racial and ethnic minorities including American Indian/Alaska Natives (15.9%), Non-Hispanic Blacks (13.2%) and Hispanics (12.8%).”
What can healthcare providers—especially those serving at-risk populations—do to improve patient engagement?
1. Find Out What Makes Individual Patients Tick
Medically underserved populations may be defined by where they live, how much money they make, or what language they speak, but a cookie-cutter approach to communicating with individuals in those populations won’t deliver the results healthcare providers need. Neither will outreach that segments medically underserved patients by their diagnoses.
If you want to drive adoption of healthy behaviors and compliance with care plans, you must appeal to patients with relevant, personalized communications based on how individuals feel about health and wellness, what motivates them to modify health-related behaviors, and more. Pulling from c2b solutions’ psychographic segmentation examples, we know:
- Balance Seekers (18 percent of the general population) are proactive about health issues, but they prefer to explore their treatment options and make their own decisions, considering healthcare professionals as just one of many possible resources for health information.
- Priority Jugglers (18 percent) , on the other hand, are reactive about their own health issues, however they are more motivated and proactive when it comes to the health of their loved ones.
- Self Achievers (24 percent) are very proactive about their health and appearance, and like to be given measurable goals to achieve.
- Direction Takers (13 percent) are likely to turn to their doctor at the first sign of a health problem, but struggle to follow care plans that don't fit their routine.
- Willful Endurers (27 percent) are self-reliant and resistant to change, going to the doctor only when necessary.
These five psychographic segments are found throughout all populations, but the distribution of the segments will vary.
Willful Endurers are overdeveloped among Hispanic, Medicaid and uninsured patients, while Self Achievers are also overdeveloped among Hispanics and Balance Seekers among the Uninsured. Each psychographic segment is driven by different motivations and have different communication preferences, responding to unique messaging and word choice.
When healthcare providers utilize psychographic segmentation to gain insights into individual patients, they can develop patient engagement communications that truly “speak” to the patients and improve engagement.
2. Make Technology Work for You
The Commonwealth Fund survey notes that medically underserved populations tend to have high levels of cell phone adoption. Findings by Pew Research support this fact, further noting that for many of these populations, smartphones represent their primary link to online resources. This is especially true for:
- 15 percent of young adults ages 18-29
- 13 percent of households with annual income under $30,000
- 12 percent of African Americans
- 13 percent of Hispanics
High reliance on smartphones for internet access—in addition to traditional voice or text messaging—makes targeting medically underserved patients via mobile a promising approach for patient engagement.
“Text messaging represents a desirable, low-cost means to amplify and reinforce patient-empowerment strategies among the populations they serve given the high penetration of cell phones, high literacy with text messaging, and low costs of implementation,” writes the Commonwealth Fund.
The survey of safety-net healthcare providers found that the biggest barriers to implementing mobile were lack of funding (94 percent) and limited human and technical resources (91 percent). Integration of mobile health solutions with EHRs was also cited by 65 percent of respondents.
An automated patient engagement platform that leverages psychographic segmentation helps address these barriers. In addition to facilitating highly relevant messages via a patient’s communication channel of choice—email, interactive voice response, text messaging or apps—automation helps healthcare providers use their human resources and budgets more effectively.
For example, the easy-to-read dashboard in PatientBond allows healthcare providers to spot and manage exceptions within the patient outreach program, rather than requiring a hands-on approach for all patients.
A Nevada health system uses PatientBond for automated patient engagement among its patient population, which is primarily comprised of Medicaid, Hispanic and rural patients. PatientBond reduced missed appointments by 22 percent, helping ensure that underserved patients get the care they need. A side benefit is that the health system has been realizing an additional $75,000 per month in revenues.
Ultimately, understanding your patients through psychographic segmentation and spurring higher engagement levels using customized communications via mobile technology can help medically underserved populations.
And the value doesn’t end there. The Commonwealth Fund report sees much greater potential, saying: “In addition to improving patient engagement, mobile health solutions can support critical components of health reform, like patient-centered medical homes and accountable care organizations. On a larger scale, using technology to promote patient-centered, coordinated care can help make significant advances in improving population health and reducing inefficiencies in care delivery.”
Are you making the most of technology to reach your at-risk patient populations?