Health insurers can play a crucial role in fostering patient engagement, according to a study that looks at how UnitedHealthcare encouraged some of its beneficiaries, including about 133,000 of its employees, to become more involved with their care.
“Many proponents of delivery system transformation have framed patient engagement in terms of what providers can do with their patients, without considering the role of payers,” says the study “UnitedHealthcare Experience Illustrates How Payers Can Enable Patient Engagement,” in the August issue of Health Affairs.
United’s HealtheNote program, in place since 2009, sends a message to both the patient and provider when someone is overdue for a diabetic eye screening, for example.
The study states that “consumers and their physicians who receive these messages closed 64% more gaps related to medical management and 30% more gaps related to missed therapy over a three-month period” than those who do not receive the messages.
The study also talks about treatment decision support, which it defines as being able to discuss with patients their options for care and then helping them stay on course.
United began a program through Optum, a division of United that medical practices hire so they can operate as ACOs. “About 25% of patients who engaged with the program ultimately selected a more conservative, evidence-based treatment than was originally proposed, with savings per treatment of more than $11,000, on average.”
Perhaps the best evidence for the fruits of patient engagement involves a program the insurer used on its 133,000 employees. The Rewards for Health program allows employees to earn points when they get screened or lose weight.
Using 2009 as a baseline, employees showed improvements on seven quality metrics in 2010 and 2011, generating $107 million in savings in the process compared to industry averages. Employees saved $1,200 per family per year in premium reduction.