Your members may feel that taking charge of their own health is like swimming upstream. Overwhelmed by an increasingly complex sea of medical choices and data, Americans can easily get lost, and carried away by the inertia of leaving their healthcare to providers. The consequences are grave, particularly for those with health risks and chronic conditions. In healthcare, being an engaged consumer is essential to promoting positive outcomes and lowering costs.

The problem lies in an imbalance of health intelligence. Before the Internet, smartphones and social media, knowledge about conditions, treatments and medication lived mostly with providers. Diagnostic tools and devices were accessible only in the doctor’s office, and the patient’s health record sat in the physician’s file cabinet. Recently, advances in technology have enabled a shift of information directly to patients. But not everyone is accustomed to finding, interpreting or applying the vast amounts of health data now available to them.

That’s why providers are beginning to implement new tools and strategies to educate and empower their patients to become more active participants in their healthcare. These include providing a clearer look at care options, making complex information simpler, and improving access to electronic records. All of these tools swing the balance of health intelligence to the patient.

The benefits are measurable. According to a 2013 study in the journal Health Affairs, patients who were encouraged by health coaches to review options and get more involved in choices had 5.3% lower overall medical costs, 12.5% fewer hospital admissions and fewer elective surgeries.

But providers aren’t the only members of the healthcare system who can help shift the balance of health intelligence. Health plan sponsors have a role to play, too. You can throw a life vest to members by giving them greater insight into health status and risk, sharing clinical guidance on necessary health actions, and offering personalized motivation to close gaps in care.

To improve health intelligence in a population, plan sponsors must first shore up their own programs and systems. Five key strategies can help: 1) strive for 100% engagement, 2) go digital, 3) close gaps in care, 4) move to a single integrated platform and 5) implement constant intelligent improvement in real time. In subsequent posts we’ll examine these strategies one by one.

As the current of healthcare changes with advances in technology and shifting payment models, the healthcare industry must do a better job of buoying consumers with knowledge and guidance. For plan sponsors, making members feel lighter and stronger in their healthcare journey lifts everyone up.

[Photo credit: Ruth Hartnup via Creative Commons.]