By Mandi Thomas, Senior Director of Member Engagement, Ontrak Health.
How human-centered, empathy-based outreach can drive program participation—and change people’s lives.
In this blog Mandi explains why member outreach and engagement is so critical for health plans. What makes Ontrak’s approach work. And how meaningful connections can empower members to overcome barriers to care.
A recent study by Evernorth found that 22% of people have a behavioral health diagnosis—and this group accounts for 41% of total healthcare spend. So, it’s no surprise we’re seeing health plans invest significantly in treatment programs, integrated care, and other managed care programs.
The challenge, of course, is that such programs are valuable only insofar as they achieve participation. If you don’t reach your members, you can’t make an impact.
This is true for other managed care programs, too. Including diabetes management, cancer screening, nutrition, wellbeing, PCP engagement, and more.
That’s why Ontrak Health continues to expand our services to get more members to participate in—and take advantage of—available programs. Ontrak Outreach is a new targeted solution designed to support health plans in their outreach and solicitation efforts. Not just for integrated behavioral health programs—but for many physical and mental wellness programs.
Combining insights from the behavioral sciences with empathy-based interviewing practices, we’ve shown tremendous success in helping people understand their options and get the care and treatment they need.
Our mission animates our work.
It starts with our unique mission-driven approach to behavioral healthcare. We’ve been doing this for more than two decades—and it’s all we focus on. Many of our Enrollment Specialists are managing (or have overcome) behavioral health conditions of their own. Others have helped an immediate family member get treatment for their conditions.
Everyone at Ontrak approaches their work with the same kindness, concern, and empathy they give to their loved ones. They know the stakes are high. And they want to make a genuine difference for the members they serve.
Motivational interviewing builds trust.
Ontrak Enrollment Specialists all practice motivational interviewing, an evidence-based, human-centered approach that seeks to drive positive behavior change.
Motivational interviewing is mostly unstructured, unscripted, conversational, and informal. The goal is to create genuine, meaningful connections with members, which helps elicit candor and build trust.
Most importantly, motivational interviewing always starts with the members—where they are. So, among other things, we use:
– Open-ended questions
– Active listening
The goal is to gain concrete insight into what’s most important to members. What they’re worried about. What they’re thinking. And feeling.
We’re working with extremely vulnerable populations. Many of whom are ‘lost to care’ and living with conditions that take a deep toll on their lives and their families.
This trust-building approach puts us in position to truly help them—and make a difference in their lives.
Members need help overcoming barriers.
In our work, we constantly encounter practical and psychological barriers that prevent members from getting the treatment they desperately need.
First, there’s mental health stigma. Our society brings too much prejudice and too many discriminatory attitudes toward those living with mental health needs. Instead of compassion and grace, those living with behavioral health needs encounter both public and institutional stigma, which in turn sparks negative attitudes and internalized shame.
There’s nothing wrong with mental health needs—and we reinforce that with the members we talk to. So much of our work involves helping members truly realize that it’s okay not to be okay.
Second, many members are treatment avoidant. They may have a formal diagnosis. They know they need treatment. But they just don’t take the next step.
And this makes a lot of sense. Working with a psychologist or therapist can be scary. There’s the unknown. And then of course the stigma associated with it. This is why so much of our work involves building confidence by helping members see what treatment involves, what to expect—and how it can change their lives.
Finally, there are barriers to care associated with health-related social needs (HRSN). This may include cost concerns, limitations in access or availability, transportation, discrimination, even nutrition and dietary needs. Because we work with many vulnerable populations enrolled in Medicare and Medicaid, HRSN figures prominently in our day-to-day conversations.
Motivational interviewing helps us understand these barriers, then strategize a path to help members overcome them.
Success requires being persistent, but not pushy.
Among those who enroll, approximately 40% sign up on the first call. We think that’s a testament to our proven approach to outreach. Consider that in a single phone call we’re able to uncover member needs, build trust, and help them take that first step to getting the care or treatment they need for their behavioral health.
But what about the rest? 60% of those who enroll need a little more outreach, a little extra nudging, a little bit more time.
Consider these enrollment percentages among those who join the program:
– 2nd outreach: 23%
– 3rd outreach: 14%
– 4th outreach: 7%
– 5th outreach: 5%
– 6th outreach: 13%
Clearly, it pays off to be persistent. 13% of participating members talked to an Enrollment Specialist six times before joining the program.
And this is where our Enrollment Specialists truly shine.
We never quit on members. We never give up. We’ll do whatever it takes to find that common ground and help people get help.