Lessons in patient engagement from Lowe's, Starbucks

Healthcare leaders should look to hardware chain Lowe's for pointers on consumer engagement, argues a Health Affairs blog post.

In the early part of the last decade, Lowe's adopted a disease management program managed by a health plan, which identified and reached out to chronically ill employees. The program never generated a positive return on investment or achieved more than 10 percent participation over a five-year period. The program failed largely because employees did not trust a program run by an unfamiliar third party, according to Lowe's Senior Vice President of Compensation and Benefits Bob Ihrie and Accolade co-founder Alan Spiro, M.D.

With this in mind, Lowe's pivoted to a behavioral economics-based strategy, providing incentives to employees who ask their doctors for generic prescriptions and obtain them through the company's benefits provider's mail order service. Under this consumer-focused strategy, along with a communication strategy that helped employees identify the options that were best for them, generic equivalent use of prescriptions climbed 28 percent, according to Ihrie and Spiro.

Healthcare leaders must adopt similar patient-focused strategies, the blog post argues. "Healthcare leaders--anyone designing a population health program or benefits plan--should recognize the complexity of navigating today's healthcare system by understanding that families and individuals are faced with making critical decisions about medical care usually at a time of high stress," Ihrie and Spiro write.

Nor is Lowe's the only company offering lessons for healthcare; Starbucks' success is due to the company's commitment to catering to individual preferences, Angelo Volandes of Harvard Medical School writes for Forbes, but the healthcare industry has long incentivized doing the exact opposite for end-of-life care.

While nearly nine in 10 Americans say they want to be at home with family in their last months of life, he writes, less than a quarter of Americans older than 65 die at home, which Volandes compares to the majority of Starbucks baristas getting customer orders wrong. Volandes attributes this disconnect to providers' failure to communicate with patients on their end-of-life preferences, which he calls one of the direst problems in modern American healthcare.

Other companies have lessons for patient engagement as well, such as Zappos' high levels of transparency and "micro-devotion" to individual consumers or Disney's increased personalization and transition to digital identification, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- here's the Health Affairs post
- read the Forbes article