Cracking the patient engagement code at the Next Edge: Health Experience Summit

Patient and consumer engagement is one of health care’s holy grails and most-bandied buzz phrases.

But there may be a big problem: As much as providers, payers, pharma, and everybody else in health care want to woo people into being  vested in their health, the object of those desires just may not be all that into it.

“The challenge we run into is whether consumers really want to be engaged,” says Eric L. Steager, corporate development and innovation director at Independence Blue Cross in Philadelphia.

Steager was one of the speakers at the Next Edge: Health Experience Summit meeting yesterday in Philadelphia. Managed Care was one of the media sponsors of the two-day event.

The meeting was devoted to discussions of how to make health care “person-centric” and getting all aspects of the health care system to work together “to create an engaging and seamless experience for the people that need our care.”

But the person in the person-centric ideal that everyone seems to have bought into—he or she has lots of other things on their mind. Steager pointed out that with a couple of exceptions—he mentioned mothers caring for children and cancer patients dealing with a possibly life-threatening condition—many people pay attention to their health care only very occasionally: “You think about your health care two or three times a year.”

When it comes to pharmaceuticals, one manifestation of that inattention is lack of adherence. Scott Weintraub, chief marketing officer for Healthcare Regional Marketing(link is external), who was on a panel with Steager, noted that “personalization” with wraparound services, such as having nurses make follow-up calls, can improve adherence.

But, he noted, from the pharmaceutical company perspective, the economics may not work for conditions like hypertension and diabetes, which are treated with relatively inexpensive drugs, compared with, say, cancer or multiple sclerosis

“Personalization is a way to get people engaged,” said Weintraub, “but it is not always affordable.”

Some of the presenters expressed skepticism about the enthusiasm for big data, at least in its current form and execution. Steager sounded a more hopeful note  (“I come to praise big data,” he quipped) and spoke of the potential for identifying people at risk of developing diabetes and other conditions so patient engagement efforts might be targeted at preventing conditions before they occur.

In an earlier talk, Dyan Bryson, a patient engagement and strategy consultant, made a case for drug companies focusing more on the needs of the patient, even when drugs are still being developed.

Another presenter, Rory Stanton(link is external), a data analyst at Manhattan Research, presented data on consumer attitudes. Based on a survey with about 6,600 respondents, Stanton reported numbers showing that people are increasingly concerned about the cost of their health care while also wanting service that resembles the service provided by Amazon and other online businesses. Stanton said 28% of the respondents preferred using their smartphone for all aspects of their health care.