Healthy Behavior Incentives
Preventive Measures to Deflate Healthcare Costs
Skyrocketing healthcare costs have affected all of us – patients and families, providers and hospitals, public and private payors, pharma, and others. Overeating, inactivity, smoking, and excessive drinking or drug use are some of the behaviors that result in rising healthcare costs from resultant obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, liver disease, cancer, and other chronic disorders. In 2016, total direct cost for health care treatment of chronic diseases was more than $1 Trillion. If lost economic productivity was also considered, the estimated total cost of chronic diseases increased to $3.7 trillion. Preventive care can diminish the incidence and, in those already affected, decrease the burden associated with chronic diseases, but these services are often underutilized. Employers, insurers, and policymakers are learning to apply innovative efforts embracing incentives to improve each individual’s health and lifestyle and to curtail the incidence and impact of chronic disease.
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These programs, which are being implemented both in the private and public sectors, are supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) through its Healthy People 2020 and Healthy People 2030 programs. Both government organizations advocate use of incentives to encourage patients to take greater self-responsibility to improve their health outcomes and thereby reduce overall healthcare costs. Most commonly, programs focus on modifiable behavioral risk factors, including inactivity, excessive weight, poor nutrition and eating habits, hypertension, smoking, and excessive alcohol intake, that contribute to escalating healthcare costs.
Providers, the direct conduit to their patients, underutilize preventive measures. In a recent study, industry experts report that most providers do not prioritize preventive care services, even with the knowledge that these services reduce the incidence and ultimately the liability of chronic diseases. Providers are reimbursed more to treat illness rather than to prevent disease. However, even minimal incentives including rides to and from appointments, customized reminders, and educational materials will increase patient awareness and drive modifiable and healthier behaviors.
Workplace efforts including wellness programs have successfully engaged employees in on-site programs. Small companies may provide exercise classes, walks, yoga classes, meditation, or gym memberships, while larger companies can tackle multiple issues including smoking cessation, weight loss, and activities to decrease hypertension. These efforts provide support to employees who are considering ways or are motivated to improve their health. Engaging employees in their health outcomes becomes a win-win for everyone. Employees have a higher quality of life, and the company saves by decreasing its healthcare premiums and rates of absenteeism.
Hospitals are learning to promote and incentivize healthy behaviors including encouraging standard and annual vaccines, incentivizing for well-care visits, and scheduling routine follow-up appointments. Incentives may be as simple as sending the patient a free ride to and from their clinic visit, providing a free or discounted vaccine, or delivering a gift card in recognition for achieving a health-related goal.
Insurers are also more actively engaged in increasing public awareness and understanding of the determinants of health, recognizing the impact they have on decreasing healthcare costs. Promoting healthy behaviors can be highlighted by programs targeting general wellness and disease reversal, accessing online libraries that provide preventive health guidelines, sharing well-being discounts including gym memberships, and supporting tools for managing a healthy lifestyle. Insurers have also recognized that some populations will require further assistance including access to better food sources, rides to and from doctor appointments or procedures, educational support, and even utility payments. Focusing their efforts on patient and family healthcare needs and lifestyle can often prevent costly emergency room visits, potential hospitalizations, and future medical expenses.
Several studies show that tailored incentives encourage a patient’s efforts, providing a longer, more sustained compliance and overall program success rate. Tailored incentives can be defined by the incentive itself, but the accompanying message is equally important. Customized messages offering encouragement, support, and acknowledging progress become critical in maintaining the patient’s efforts, so the patient can sustain this new healthy lifestyle without incentives for the long term.
TruCentive offers a unique opportunity to connect with patients or employees in a more direct, immediate, and personal way. Anyone trying to change an unhealthy behavior needs motivation, and with TruCentive’s customizable tools, messages of encouragement can be sent with positive results. Reminders and gated incentives further enhance these messages, ensuring that patients follow through with their healthier behaviors. Employers and payors are supporting a broad array of incentive programs and need flexibility and immediate payment options. TruCentive offers comprehensive reporting across multiple incentive options, including branded digital gift cards, the ability to pay to debit card, and the opportunity to pay directly to bank account. TruCentive also offers 100% refunds on the value of unopened incentives, thereby optimizing the use of the funding.