Finding meaningful ways to connect with patients of diverse backgrounds is a struggle for health plans for various reasons. Language barriers, lack of education on healthcare, and ineffective communication efforts leave many minorities underserved.
“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to get plugged into targeted communities using novel, unique, innovative strategies and technology,” says Silas Buchanan, CEO of the Institute for eHealthy Equity. “As we transition into accountable care organizations, plans have to think about reaching out to the patient as a consumer.”
Success in value-based models like accountable organizations also requires higher patient engagement, as people who are more engaged use fewer health services, which in turn lowers healthcare costs, according to research by the American Health Information Management Association.
For that reason, plans and providers must make timely, accurate and culturally appropriate health information a priority in their business strategy. Understanding how underserved communities interact with healthcare systems is key, Buchanan says.
“Payers can keep track of patients when they are in care, but most healthcare happens in the community or the home. A relatively healthy person of faith may spend only 15 minutes per year in a doctor’s office, but more than 70 hours per year at church. So I would have to ask, does a doctor or a preacher have a greater chance of influencing that person’s health behaviors, particularly when it comes to the critically important everyday activities (eating, moving, socializing) that contribute to at least 40% of overall wellness?" Buchanan says.
Specialized skills needed
Though the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has helped millions of Americans gain insurance, there are still millions of uninsured in minority population groups. More than 25% of Hispanics younger than age 65 and nearly 14% of African Americans younger than age 65 lack insurance, as of April 2016, according to the CDC National Center for Health Statistics.
And of those millions of newly insured patients in the healthcare system, many African Americans, Hispanics, and others from large immigrant populations, still need to be educated and encouraged to properly use their new services, say experts.
Some health plans are hiring or consulting with specialists who can help them connect with targeted populations in order to build meaningful relationships, says Liz Reyer, vice president of consulting at GfK Custom Research North America. People who have a deep understanding of health plans, and can also speak in several languages, or specialize in target marketing are hard to find, but necessary, she says. These skills are important for clinical staff, as well as sales, customer service, and administrative staff who spend a lot of time explaining services and benefits to consumers.