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Three Key Concepts to Know in Preventive Screening Utilization One Year Into COVID-19

March 03, 2021

Steve WiggintonBy Steve Wigginton, CEO, Icario

COVID-19 has exacerbated one of the biggest challenges already facing health plans—motivating people to complete preventive visits. People are choosing to delay routine visits, such as cancer screenings and immunizations for children. Delaying health care will have a continued adverse impact on preventing and managing diseases, ultimately contributing to an increase in chronic conditions. Re-establishing the routine of preventive screenings despite the pandemic is critical to keeping the public and health plan members healthy.

Throughout the last year, there have been great innovations to provide people more opportunities to access health care, such as telehealth,1 but we are not back to normal and health care utilization continues to trend downwards. Now is the time for renewed focus on preventive screenings through targeted health action programs to keep members healthy, despite the ongoing pandemic.

How do we get members back on track? Here are three things you need to know to engage and motivate people to seek appropriate care and to close preventive care gaps.

#1—People Are Concerned About Costs

Understanding why people are foregoing care is the first step to figure out how to motivate them to re-engage and come back. In the beginning of the pandemic, people were avoiding care because they had to—stay-at-home orders were in place, offices were closed, and the clinics themselves were encouraging people to reschedule. Others skipped routine visits because they were trying to limit their potential exposure out of fear of getting COVID-19.

According to a Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Civic Life and Public Health Survey,2 29% of survey respondents reported missing a preventive care visit during the pandemic. Further, 58% who had a scheduled preventive care appointment missed the appointment.

This was not only a result of COVID-19 fears, but a larger trend emerging over the course of the last year—the burden of paying for health care. Many that lost their jobs or didn’t understand their benefits feared how they would pay for the visits. Consumers also reported that navigating how to access and pay for health care activities was a challenge2 saying, “not one health care activity was described by consumers as effortless.” That’s a problem.

How to Overcome the Cost Challenge

Effective communication. Make it clear what members are responsible for paying up-front and how you will be supporting their care. If the preventive screening you are trying to drive is 100% covered, let the member know in plain language. Education and personalized messaging can help evolve assumptions and perceptions, leading to health actions. In addition, offering an incentive or reward for completing the health action is a proven way to drive visits.

#2—Member Experience is Paramount

There is no question that people are cautious about seeking care right now. Whether the reason is fear of contracting COVID-19, financial, or otherwise—focusing on providing excellent member experiences that foster trust and engagement are now at the forefront of health care.

There is a looming crisis driven by the 94% drop in preventive screenings for breast and cervical cancer last spring, and 86% drop in screenings for colon cancer.3 As a result, cancer cases could go undiagnosed or diagnosed at a more severe stage where more intensive and expensive treatment is needed. We will have a lot of work to do to return to normal screening levels (while also encouraging those that typically skip these visits, pandemic or not) to achieve early detection and save more lives.

This is where the proactive communication and the importance of member experience and satisfaction come in.4 A positive member experience can make all of the difference when someone is deciding whether to take action or not.

How to Enhance Member Experiences

While preventive services and vaccinations are critical in health care, we can’t ignore the importance of member experience and its relationship to health care utilization. Icario works with health plans to develop programs that deliver positive member experiences and communicates with members as people. We learn about their health care attitudes, how and when they like to communicate, and what messages are most likely to resonate. These personalized health action programs result in high engagement and many times, it only takes one messaging sequence to make a difference and save a life.

#3—Plans Can Drive More Visits with Personalized Outreach

Personalization is key to connecting with members meaningfully, and tricky to get right if you don’t have the appropriate resources in place. The last thing you want to do is send the wrong message to a member during a volatile time. This can drive dissatisfaction and decrease the number of members completing preventive health screenings.

It’s also important to note that members want this! According to a new Icario survey conducted online by the Harris Poll, 86% of members want their health plan to personalize communication,5 care, and services. If this is what members want and it will help close critical care gaps and boost preventive care screenings during a pandemic, then now is the time to act.
While people may be satisfied with their current plan, and understand their benefits, there is a desire for greater personalization around their care.6 We often experience plans generically engaging members through the same message, modality and approach, which doesn’t universally resonate or inspire health action. The directive for greater personalization is consistent and where member engagement is directly correlated to a member’s personal and sentimental association with the message and calls to action that are aligned with a member’s values.

How to Meaningfully Engage

Successful personalization that drives health outcomes can look different depending on the member. Some will take action because a message resonates. Others will respond because the communication came at the right time.7 And some will schedule an appointment because the incentive is too good to pass up. All of these are important and deserve consideration—that’s why a multi-channel approach is the best way to drive real results.

By intelligently matching the right messages, channels and outreach sequences, along with knowing what rewards and incentives will resonate (if any), each individual, will receive something unique to drive the right health actions.

Encouraging individuals to re-engage in preventive screenings and care is a critical priority. If we continue to ignore the decline in utilization trends,8 we’ll have a much bigger health care crisis on our hands down the road.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Population Health Learning Network. Any content provided by our bloggers or authors are of their opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything.   


  1. Bowman CA, Nuh M, Rahim A. COVID-19 telehealth expansion can help solve the health care underutilization challenge. Am J Manag Care. 2021;27(1):911.
  2. Lagasse J. Finances, fear of COVID-19 among reasons why Americans are avoiding care. Healthcare Finance. Published January 22, 2021. Accessed February 2021.
  3. Delayed Cancer Screenings. Epic Health Research Network. Published May 4, 2020. Accessed February 2021.
  4. Wigginton S. 4 healthcare predictions from Icario for 2021. Published January 12, 2021. Accessed February 2021.
  5. Lagasse J. A quarter of Medicare Advantage subscribers changed providers in 2021, poll finds. Healthcare Finance. Published January 28, 2021. Accessed February 2021.
  6. Ratner S. New Icario survey demonstrates the importance of a member-centric approach to drive health plan success. Published January 19, 2021. Accessed February 2021.
  7. Icario. Condition Management Enrollment: Connecting to Care Program. Accessed February 2021.
  8. Wheat D. Another voice: Don’t overlook preventive care during COVID-19. The Buffalo News. Published January 20, 2021. Accessed February 2021.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Population Health Learning Network. Any content provided by our bloggers or authors are of their opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything.   

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