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Technology experts predict that more health plans will take advantage of consumer engagement technologies in 2017.
Retailization of healthcare creates an opportunity for health plans to leverage technology to give patients the same customer experiences they would receive from their bank or favorite department store. Technology experts predict that more plans will take advantage of this technology in 2017, as they ramp up marketing efforts.
“Health plans are catching up to trends that are underway in other industries. We see this with the move toward building a more retail-like experience for consumers-becoming a data-driven practice of medicine,” says David Nace, chief medical officer of MarkLogic, a database that integrates, stores, manages, and searches data. “However, moving in this direction does require a paradigm shift in how plans think about their data and the technologies that they use to leverage it.”
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Susan Yeazel, national healthcare principal at Point B, a management consultancy, says that the variety of customers health plans are marketing to makes it challenging to create effective consumer-marketing strategies-but it’s not impossible.
“As critical to who, when it comes to customer experience, is what-the circumstances that bring the customer and the health plan together at a specific point in time,” Yeazel says. “These elements must be considered in an agile framework that will determine the customer experience, and which forms the foundation of the opportunities facing health plans. As the combinations of these elements are considered, landing on those most meaningful to customers can be daunting but, in a consumer driven market, there is increasing expectation that health plans deliver everything from one-touch digital to high-touch compassionate sales and service, based on customer needs and preferences.”
To meet this growing expectation, health plans can look to other progressive industries to better use the existing data they have, and ramp up mobile applications to reach patients with pertinent information and keep them engaged.
“The retail and financial services industries are models for health plan observation,” Yeazel says. “Retail has clearly made enormous progress in both anticipating and customizing the purchase experience and, in some cases, the service experience. Financial services is an important model because of the similarities to health plans in terms of the strict regulatory requirements for privacy and data security.”
Plans have access to vast amounts of patient data, including income, education, housing, and social services data that is not typically stored in electronic health records. This data, coupled with health information, gives health plans the opportunity to market to patients holistically, Nace says.
“More recently, health plans are benefiting from new data technologies that provide a 360 view of all the information regarding a consumer, and can present the information in a meaningful, understandable, and ‘plain English’ fashion,” Nace says. “When consumers contact their health plan by phone, by e-mail, text, fax, or in person, they expect to have answers around their benefit coverage, financial responsibilities, providers that are available, and programs and tools that benefit them.”
Often, this information is in a wide variety of databases and systems within the payer environment, however, it is not immediately accessible as a complete view of everything related to what the consumer needs to know.
Next: Tech that empowers members
In addition to using data to help answer patient questions and assist with interactions, plans should use it to empower patients to seek out information independently. One way is through mobile apps.
The number of health mobile apps continues to grow with more than 259,000 available and 3.2 billion downloads in 2016, according to the mHealth Economics 2016 report by Research 2 Guidance. However mobile apps from health plans are lacking-only 17% of mobile health experts rate health plan apps as above average.
Yeazel says that though many health plans are meeting minimum mobile app requirements by providing payment status, basic benefit and provider network information, there is an opportunity to provide patients with more.
“The ability to look up more detailed benefit and provider network information is a critical component required for use of the product and ideally, an online out-of-pocket calculator when access to a larger screen or phone call is undesirable or unavailable,” Yeazel says.
Robust mobile apps that help patients save money and access care help position health plans as reliable and trusted providers, Yeazel says.
“Easily understood network provider information and the ways in which care needs to be coordinated with the primary care physician are necessary to minimize out-of-pocket expense and unwelcome balance bills for the customer,” says Yeazel.
Using data to create wellness initiatives for employers can also generate customer loyalty. Jaquie Finn, head of digital health at Cambridge Consultants, a product development and technology consultancy, says offering “success kits” that include wearables, apps, online health coaches and online peer groups, can lead to better health outcomes for patients.
“Some plans are targeting [members] who are likely to present with type 2 diabetes and other lifestyle induced chronic illnesses if preventative action is not put in place, heading off huge employer healthcare costs down the line by empowering people to manage their health in a far more proactive way,” Finn says. “The powerful combination of the tools, technology and techniques employed for patient engagement has generated successful results, with reimbursement for each patient provided one year from the start of the tailored program, only if certain key performance indicators have been achieved.”
When offering mobile patient engagement apps, it’s critical to provide and document information that is useful over time, says Finn.
“It is clear from the Fitbit-type gadget that user engagement drops off after six months or so when data is simply descriptive and providing a summary of what has happened in the past,” Finn says. “For anyone to adhere to a fitness or medication regime, they must be motivated and understand what will happen in the future if they are to remain compliant. Successful apps must therefore aim to nudge behavior through a variety of behavioral science techniques such as goal motivation, social reinforcement and habit formation.”
Donna Marbury is a writer in Columbus, Ohio.