Developing a Consumer Engagement Strategy

Safe, high-quality, accessible patient-centered health care is essential to helping individuals stay healthy or manage a chronic condition. However, even for a patient with a chronic condition, health management relies most on his or her actions outside the health care system. These may include diet, exercise, taking medication, monitoring health markers, and learning about, seeking, and participating in appropriate medical care. Effective consumer engagement builds and supports consumers’ capacity to manage their health and health conditions. By offering a range of programs and resources, communities can help consumers not only manage their conditions, but also understand, demand, and choose high-quality health care.

The Aligning Forces for Quality (AF4Q) Alliances have had successes and challenges in engaging consumers. Alliances’ collective experience provides some insight into the factors that contribute to consumers’ involvement in their own health care or in managing their own conditions. Alliance efforts have focused on engaging consumers to:

  • Understand their own health;
  • Understand their health condition and take actions to manage it;
  • Understand and make informed decisions about treatment;
  • Understand and recognize health care value and quality; and
  • Choose providers based on information about their ability to deliver effective care.

Achieving engagement with consumers involves creating meaningful interactions. A well-thought out, well-considered plan to engage consumers not only provides the most value to consumers—it also helps appropriately match consumers with an organization’s programs, materials, and resources. For example, the Humboldt County, CA, Alliance developed a framework identifying various levels for appropriate consumer engagement, whether individual or systemic. The framework also provides options for involvement, key consumer characteristics, and necessary support.

Using a framework can assist a regional collaborative in aligning efforts, policies, and funding to enhance consumer engagement, develop strategies to drive engagement, and create evaluation strategies to assess consumer engagement.[1]

Engaging consumers in their health care and in managing their conditions are complementary strategies, not an “either/or” approach. Individual consumers engage in their health care or in managing their health conditions for different purposes. Engagement may occur at a given point in time, such as when a consumer seeks to identify a high-quality health care provider or hospital, or interacts with a clinician at an office visit. For some consumers, engagement in their health care is an ongoing process. Cultivating ongoing engagement involves complementary, purposeful approaches with targeted outreach to the populations most likely to receive and apply the information (e.g., patients with chronic conditions or employees at open enrollment). Efforts to engage consumers in their own health care should also work together to engage consumers in managing their own conditions.

Health matters everywhere, not just in the health care system. Since consumers spend a great deal more time outside the health care system than in it, efforts to engage consumers within the health care system need to be paired with support to help consumers manage their health. Developing complementary strategies that engage consumers in their own health care and in managing their health conditions requires detailed planning, dedicated personnel, and resources.

[1]The different consumer engagement models are available as resources here.