There are plenty of reasons why it’s difficult to engage consumers in their health, but stakeholders have yet to find the right formula to overcome those barriers. In today’s opportunity era, the innovators who can solve this problem — with solid data to back it up — will be the most popular kids on the block.

Providers know patient engagement is paramount for adherence to care plans, better outcomes, higher satisfaction scores, and, of course, revenue. It’s truly become a C-suite issue. But what do we really know about engagement at this point?

[Related reading: Four Consumer Health Trends That Can Make or Break a Business]

1. Financial incentives provide mediocre results. Sure, consumers will engage in a certain behavior if the payoff is generous, but once the reward is reduced or eliminated, that healthy behavior fizzles out. A scientific study of workplace wellness programs revealed that those efforts produce neither health improvements nor cost savings, which was quite a jaw-dropper for employers. (JAMA) Meanwhile, in a recent survey only 27% of clinical leaders said they view financial rewards as effective engagement tools. (NEJM)

2. Patients aren’t thrilled with portals. According to the Office of the National Coordinator, in 2018 about 3 in 10 individuals were offered access to and viewed their online medical records. Another 2 in 10 were offered access but didn’t take advantage of it. (ONC) Portals simply aren’t convenient for the average consumer, so it’s clear that their effectiveness in driving engagement is limited.

3. Apps and wearables are rife with integration issues. While cool tech tools are popular with consumers, the challenge is how to plug them into the larger workflow of healthcare delivery. There are some 320,000 health-related apps and 340 wearable available devices out there (and counting!) but shuffling all that data around and distilling it into some sort of actionable intelligence requires precision programming and a significant upfront investment. (IQVIA) Placing a big bet on apps and wearables for engagement seems risky, especially considering the pace at which new options are brought to market and the difficulty in tracking ROI. It’s something to watch but hardly a silver bullet.

4. Support from friends and family holds promise. Teamwork structures among consumers seem to have accountability and supportive factors that drive behavior in the right direction. In the NEJM survey, 35% of providers said they view family or friends’ support as an effective influencer of engagement. And we see this theory prove out in the addiction treatment space all the time. Those in recovery who have family and peer support experience better outcomes. (SAMHSA) Stakeholders would be wise to investigate the engagement potential of this type of friendly, human support.

5. Community-based organizations are providing valuable connections between consumers and the health system. Speaking of human support, health systems and CBOs increasingly are working together to leverage each other’s networks and capabilities around the broader goal of total health. And we know the majority of these partnerships have produced cost savings. (Health Affairs) With their high-touch approach, community-based organizations can drive engagement, but more must be done to address the immediate workforce shortages these groups are experiencing nationwide. (Mercer)

Our Take: The definitions of “health” and “outcomes” are changing, especially under value-based reimbursement models. Organizations must devote more resources to facilitating the consumer’s own contribution toward improving health status in a methodical way, with a well-developed strategy that produces both cost and quality results.