Next-generation healthcare engagement is one of the necessary ingredients for moving healthcare forward today. The better patient and health plan member engagement is, the better health and wellness decisions are made, and those better decisions prevent illness, reduce unnecessary care and limit the need for long-term chronic care management. And all of those factors improve quality outcomes and costs for everyone involved.

The path to improved healthcare consumer engagement almost always requires innovation of some kind—new ideas, new technologies, new ways of tackling new challenges. Evidence of that is seen in the number of healthcare innovation centers and think tanks established across the industry in recent years. Yet a proven and sustainable way to get to those lightbulb moments that power engagement advancements is greatly underutilized: the work of optimizing your current efforts.

What do we mean by optimizing? We mean those incremental processes of testing, analyzing, challenging and learning—usually driven by known but unmet needs—to achieve better effectiveness and efficiency.

Fertile ground for healthcare engagement improvement

Optimization processes, and their resulting data and insights, are areas rich with the potential for new ideas. Those step-by-step tests, implementations and gained knowledge can shed unmatched light on critical consumer needs and communications challenges. And they can ultimately lead to fresh, enterprise-wide thinking and a health plan (or health system) that is continuously pollinated with new concepts.

In our work at Carenet Health as a clinical and consumer engagement support partner for over 250+ healthcare organizations, we’ve found that optimization can be especially successful when used in these five organizational scenarios.

#1   You have an existing consumer need that’s not being met by today’s current engagement initiatives.

For example, perhaps your patient population includes significant numbers of Spanish-as-a-first-language parents who aren’t making and keeping Well Baby appointments. Optimization can inform questions such as: What’s worked in the past to engage with this particular audience? Are translation apps being used productively to their fullest extent? Could staffing resources be used differently?

#2   Your efforts are working well for one type of consumer, but you’re now serving a different kind of population in the same way.

This can be a common problem for health plans entering or amping up their presence in the Medicare Advantage market. It’s also a growing issue for organizations who need to find ways to better engage millennials (as that group makes up more and more of the total U.S. healthcare consumer population). What’s worked for other audiences may or may not work, but optimization can help you uncover that information.

#3   You’ve been using a healthcare engagement technology for some time, but want to explore other ways it could be used.

Maybe you’ve been using mobile messaging for appointment reminders, or even for quality data collection after surgeries. What is that data telling you? Could mobile be used for transition-of-care management? Patient satisfaction surveying? Warm transfers to telehealth? How can you combine the technology with a human component?

#4    You’re seeing problematic developments in your trend data.

For example, your data is telling you that unnecessary emergency department (ED) visits are on the rise. You know educational outreach in other areas, like readmissions reduction, has worked. How could some of those elements be used for ED diversion?  What haven’t you tried? Could you use better predictive analytics for high-risk communications? What about better promotion of your nurse triage service? Voice assistants?

#5   New regulations or a major organizational change requires you to rethink established engagement strategy.

For this scenario, delivering better and faster behavioral health crisis support is a good example. You know many state managed care contract requirements have changed. How can you augment what you already have in place that’s working well in other areas to find a new solution for behavioral health support that’s cost-effective?

Part of a comprehensive consumer engagement innovation plan

Certainly, other sources of innovation are also useful in many circumstances, and your organization needs that variety to support your holistic improvement efforts. But we urge you to keep in mind that innovation through optimization is a proven approach for taking healthcare engagement to the next level. You may also want to make sure your health plan or health system is truly ready for engagement innovation. (See our five questions to ask to determine readiness.)

If you’d like to explore this topic further, we’ve covered it in-depth in our white paper, Fueling Innovation in Healthcare Engagement: Harnessing the Not-so-Secret Power of Optimization.

Not sure what type of innovation approach is second nature to you? Take our quick quiz for insights.