One of the many highlights at this year’s RISE Star Ratings Master Class was the results of the 2018 RISE/Engagys Survey on Healthcare Consumer Engagement. The survey, now in its third year, included 140 participants who represent the top health plans, provider systems, and pharmacy benefit managers. More than 70 percent of the respondents work in risk adjustment and almost half of them said they also work on Stars and HEDIS. In addition, more participants were from regional health plans, an increase of 26 percent compared to last year. This greater representation of regional plans may indicate their increased interest in consumer engagement, according to Kathleen Ellmore, managing director of Engagys. Here are seven takeaways from the survey results.

Consumer engagement is critical to succeed in an increasingly competitive health care market, but Kathleen Ellmore, managing director of Engagys, said research shows that most payers and providers still find it difficult to reach consumers.

Ellmore, who will discuss the state of engagement in health care at the 12th Annual Medicare Marketing & Sales Summit in Las Vegas in February, said Engagys data indicates that although leaders don’t treat engagement as a top priority, 70 percent indicate that their top leaders are paying more attention to engagement and risk adjustment. Unfortunately, data also shows that even though budgets have increased, they haven’t risen to the level of executive attention. In addition, leaders have not yet invested broadly in mobile applications and instead continue to primarily use paper letters to communicate to their health plan members. They also lack the infrastructure to coordinate marketing channels effectively and they still face data quality and compliance challenges.

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But the opportunities are enormous, she said, and the 2018 RISE/Engagys survey results show that health plans are beginning to move the needle on engagement. Here are seven of the survey’s key findings:

1. Executive attention to engagement continues to grow faster than budgets to support the efforts. More than 70 percent of participants said their top leaders are paying more attention to engagement and risk adjustment. However, 40 percent of respondents said their budgets haven’t changed from the previous year. And though 50 percent said they did see an increase in budgets, only 23 percent of their organizations bumped up their budgets greater than 10 percent to tackle engagement. Essentially this means organizations are trying to do more with less or must make better use of the budgets they have, said Ellmore.

2. Call center agents remain the most commonly used engagement channel. For the second year in a row, organizations cited the use of call center agents as their preferred choice for engagement. While the use of call agents is up, Ellmore said email use and co-branded materials from health plans and the provider groups are down.

3. Working with nurses and care coaches is cited as the most effective tactic. Physician coordination comes in a close second. Text messaging and co-branded materials were reported to be less effective than last year but were only tried by 20 percent of the participants, according to Ellmore. Organizations may be challenged to figure out how to use the channel effectively if it can’t be personalized.

4. A/B testing methods are now used by 8 out of every 9 mid‐to-large sized teams. A/B testing has become more pervasive every year and is up 72 percent since 2016 and used by 89 percent of teams with six or more people. The increase is significant, Ellmore said. It allows organizations to test various interventions and find out what consumers will really do, versus what they say they do. “Being able to take behavioral data and see what consumers do with interventions is powerful and predictive,” she said.

5. Data access remains a significant impediment. Slightly more than 44 percent of the survey respondents said data access has impeded their ability to be successful. But that’s not new. It’s been a top significant impediment since 2016 (30 percent in 2016 and nearly 28 percent in 2017). “Health care is swimming in data, but how we use it is a critical piece. I see great work around claims data. That’s what consumers did. But how we got consumers to do it, the engagement data, that’s the new frontier. Pairing those two data streams uncovers the ‘how’ of how you drive behavior change,” Ellmore said.

6. Health plans that are forward-thinking on mobile are also ahead on other consumer facing technologies. Seventeen percent of the plans that were working on mobile also said they were working on artificial intelligence, personal digital assistants, and virtual reality. But of the 82 percent who said they weren’t working on mobile, only one percent said their organization was working on artificial intelligence.

7. Even among early adopters of consumer engagement, there is confusion and challenges about the best use of new technologies. Ellmore reported these challenges: legacy systems, siloed organizations, lack of captured preferences, limited governance, uncoordinated/integrated ecosystems, and no best practices on new technologies. “Engagement is still in its infancy,” she said. “But those organizations that figure out how to overcome those legacy systems and siloed communications and can harness new technologies will have an advantage.”