Aligning Communications and Incentives for Behavior Change

Thursday, August 20th, 2009
This post was written by Melanie Matthews

Industry experts describe how having a combined communication and incentives program can lead to behavior change in patients.

Blending incentives and communication programs to drive health coaching participation is an effective strategy, says Jennifer Hidding, former director of interactive health management of consumer solutions at OptumHealth. “Incentives are very effective and powerful in a communication program. They are crucial in driving participation and eventually behavior change. There are several different steps we go through as a part of developing that strategy. When we work with an employer who wants to have a robust and committed strategy around behavior change, we highly recommend having a communication strategy that is aligned with and driven off of the overall incentive strategy.”

“The primary lesson we’ve learned is the importance of communication,” agrees Tami Collin, principal with the National Health and Productivity Management specialty practice at Mercer Human Resource Consulting. “Programs with the most effective communication efforts were aligned with incentives appropriate to behavior. Often, a clear connection with benefits was the most powerful indicator of success for individual participation as well as family enrollment. In such incentives, the employee spouse had to enroll in the program in order for the employee to receive the incentive. More often than not, this secured enrollment and continued participation.”

Efficient communication is critical for beginning and maintaining an effective incentive program, Collin concludes. “To that effect, you must be careful with the size of enrollment populations. You want to encourage participation, but be wary of having too many applicable enrollees. Once people enroll, it is difficult to eliminate them.”

“Ultimately, there are several essential principles to consider in crafting incentive programs,” Collin adds. “First, employees must comprehend the rationale behind the incentives, along with the potential benefits. Taking the time to effect quality communication is critical for an effective incentive program.”

There are myriad ways to promote these programs, adds David Chenoweth, Ph.D., president of Chenoweth & Associates Inc. “Opt for the most efficient means with the widest audience reaches. Consider the timetable. It is wise to start months ahead of your launch, depending on how many sites you include and how many people you have to reach at different locations. The awareness and promotional messages you generate should intensify as the program launch nears. First promotions may be monthly, then weekly. You should promote vigorously in the last month to remind participants the start date is right around the corner. Build excitement and impending enthusiasm to secure engagement.”

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