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The consumer experience in health care has left a lot to be desired. 

“We recently did a survey with the Harris Poll about what American consumers think about their health care experience. And perhaps not too surprisingly people were not pleased with what they typically experience when they access health care,” said Neil de Crescenzo, President & CEO, Change Healthcare. “One result of that survey was people felt that they had actually avoided seeking care when they needed it because of some of the challenges they encountered.”  

With COVID-19 ravaging the health system, CEOs at leading health care organizations say the problem of consumer engagement must become a critical area of focus. For one thing, COVID has led to people delaying and avoiding care, meaning providers are going to face a wave of complex, sicker patients. Quite simply, providers must perform more effecitvely in allowing consumers to access care than they have in the past.  

“For most people in health care, all you have to do is ask and you get told very quickly what’s wrong with your system and how you could do a better job for the people that you’re serving. Then you have to have the dedication to change the inertia of a very complicated process,” said Terry Shaw, CEO of AdventHealth. 

Shaw and de Crescenzo were joined by Sreekanth Chaguturu, MD, SVP and Chief Medical Officer, CVS Caremark and Associate Chief Medical Officer, CVS Health, Ali Diab, Co-Founder & CEO, Collective Health, and Aimee Quirk, CEO, innovationOchsner in the Health Evolution Executive Briefing webcast, Powering Pandemic Response: Consumer-Focused Innovation.   

The executives shared strategies in how they are engaging consumers during COVID-19 in various ways including: 

  • Leveraging technology for care management  
  • Focusing on care advocacy and preventive care  
  • Improving vaccination outreach and medication access 

The leaders also discussed the challenges and barriers to some of these efforts including: 

  • Dealing with supply chain issues 
  • Aligning incentives to sustain consumer-focused models 
  • Addressing cultural challenges of consumer adoption 

Leveraging technology for care management  

For Quirk at innovationOchsner, the consumer engagement tools used during COVID-19 have been a result of years of work unknowingly leading up to this pandemic. Many of the projects that the “startup within Oschner,” as Quirk describes it, operate are around engaging consumers in care outside the home. 

“What we found was the investments we have been making over time in virtual care—obviously forward-facing telemedicine, urgent-care visits, virtual visits, and our remote monitoring programs for chronic disease, pregnancy, and cancer—the impact they’ve had is huge. And what we’re able to see is that these things we have been building over years, we experienced an accelerated rate of adoption, both from providers and consumers,” Quirk said. “We’re already seeing the value of that. 

Chaguturu at CVS Health said that during the pandemic the company has been addressing key themes beyond simply serving as a testing location for patients. Those themes include improving access to medication, covering treatment costs, expanding mental health services, expanding virtual care, and enhancing care management. The latter two themes tie into each other, as CVS has expanded and promoted telemedicine and e-clinic visits.  

Diab’s Collective Health, which operates a technology service platform for payers and self-insured employers, saw the emergence of virtual care during COVID. He said the virus was validation that its user-experience, consumer-friendly model worked. The platform is able to weave various elements of a consumer’s health plan together: virtual care, in-person care, inpatient and outpatient care, pharmacy benefits, and help them manage their care.  

“We had seen virtual care already, but we really saw it accelerate in the early part of the year. With people afraid to go to the doctor, we turned the dials up in a way to make virtual care and telemedicine a lot easier to access,” Diab said. “We also saw people wanted to seek care for things that were more curious, so we turned up the dials of our care management system to encourage people to fill various gaps in care.”  

To date, he said they’ve filled 40% of Collective’s population’s gaps in care. He said the building out an enticing user experience via technology with multiple engagement capabilities goes a long way in engaging consumers.  

Focusing on care advocacy and preventive care  

AdventHealth, based in Altamonte Springs, Florida, didn’t see a wave of patients until July and August, said Shaw. This allowed them to advance the concept of care advocates in their clinics once the COVID rush came.  

“We actually have a group of people that works with a doctor’s office to help a patient get the care that they need to get through the virus. In case anyone hasn’t noticed, [the U.S.] health system is very complex and it’s hard to navigate,” Shaw said. “We’ve done this in the last four months, we’re up to 41 doctor’s offices, it’s amazing the information, the data flow and the weaknesses you find in your own system if you’re willing to put care advocates in the middle of the consumer experience.”   

Similarly, Ochsner has been on a journey to create a more proactive system that personalizes the consumer experience, Quirk said. The virtual care environment the health system has stood up during COVID has helped bolster these proactive models, especially those centered on chronic care management. The rise they’ve received in net promoter scores during COVID suggests to Quirk that consumers want proactive care. 

“The journey we’re all on collectively to deliver that and find the best way to do that, coupled with the clinical outcomes, is really important,” Quirk said.