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Commercial Plan Members Slow to Embrace Digital Health Tools, Survey Finds

Article

© Prostock-studio  stock.adobe.com

© Prostock-studio stock.adobe.com

Patients who might theoretically benefit the most from digital health tools —those with the poorest self-reported health statuses — largely avoided the tools, according to the results of a J.D. Power survey

Commercial health plans are accelerating their investment in digital health tools, but a new survey suggests it will take more than more than money to get users to take advantage of the tools.

The findings come from a new report by the business intelligence firm J.D. Power. The company surveyed more than 32,000 members of commercial health plans in the United States, asking respondents about a wide range of topics, from their overall satisfaction with their plan to their use of tools like chronic disease management software.

Overall, the survey showed patients satisfaction declined modestly in 2023, down 13 points on a 1,000-point scale. The report’s authors said dissatisfaction with customer service was the primary driver of the drop, followed by dissatisfaction with coverage and benefits. There was also a generational aspect to customer satisfaction; patients born between 1977 and 2004 (“Gen Y” and “Gen Z”) were particularly dissatisfied, the survey showed.

When it came to digital health, JD Power found that usage rates for all digital health tools and services were below 50%. That category includes things like member portals and mobile apps, but also customer service challenges like chat, email and text messaging.

Christopher Lis, Ph.D., of JD Power

Christopher Lis, Ph.D., of JD Power

Christopher Lis, Ph.D., the managing director of global healthcare intelligence at JD Power, told Managed Healthcare Executive there are many reasons for the relatively low uptake levels.

“First, many consumers are still not aware of all the tools and technologies that are available to help them manage their health,” he said.

Other reasons include generational differences in terms of patients’ comfort level with such tools (younger members were more likely to use the tools than older members). Also, some patients rejected the tools over privacy concerns.

However, Lis said the problem also has to do with the tools themselves. He said many members find them difficult to use and navigate. He said help plans should do more to make their digital services more user-friendly.\

“Health plans should consider making these tools more personalized, possibly starting with journey mapping by generational segments to customize the tool for the unique needs of each generation,” he said. “Over time, plans should evolve to further customization on the individual level, so that they can better understand and deliver upon individual needs and wishes.”

Notably, even the patients who might theoretically benefit the most from digital health tools —those with the poorest self-reported health statuses — largely avoided the tools. Just 18% of the sickest patients used online health assessments, 10% used online triage and nursing support, 8% used chronic disease management tools, and just 6% used remote monitoring technology.

Lis noted that care coordination is “suboptimal” among these same patients, which he said is a problem digital tools can help address.

“Health plans need to drive greater awareness in vulnerable populations and make digital tools easy to find and easier to use,” he said.

In addition to care coordination, Lis said better engagement with digital health tools also has the potential to improve member satisfaction, since such tools can allow patients to better understand their coverage, benefits, and costs.

“There are big opportunities to advance forward in this area, and certainly healthcare can learn best practices from other industries that have taken their digital adoption and effectiveness to the next level to create excellence in the member/customer experience,” he said.

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