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With the use of virtual and telemedmedicine services increasing, health plans must continually use the data available through digital channels to listen to and learn from members, adjust content to answer their questions, and respond to their needs, to build both a lasting member relationship and enhance future digital capabilities.
The emerging challenge of healthcare in a world full of social distancing and quarantine has created a secondary challenge for the U.S. health system. Critically, healthcare providers have dedicated the majority of their resources to dealing with the front line of the coronavirus. This has left a gap in everything from non-emergent care to understanding future healthcare options and coverage for individuals in uncertain times.
A massive number of Americans are under shelter in place orders. Leaving only digital and virtual channels available for people to engage with the healthcare system and to seek answers to their healthcare questions. Due to the resource constraint that providers are currently under, people are turning to and will need to turn to healthcare insurance plans for answers, and in some cases to assist with longer term care needs.
However, digital engagement has not traditionally been a strength of health plans, or the U.S. healthcare system in general. Most plans have websites, apps, social media presence, and telehealth channels available, but operationally, they are unprepared to adapt to ever-changing questions and needs of their members. A prime example is the unprecedented growth in demand for telehealth services, with one service provider reporting demand increasing 300% nationwide. Data on wait times is sparse, but anecdotal information and news stories are reporting people holding at times for many hours.
In addition to the increased demand, there have already been significant changes made to regulation to help ease the crisis. Health plans need to be able to help members, prospects, and the general public understand what these changes mean for them.
This is clearly an intensely unsettling and disruptive event for individuals and the industry. How can health plans best meet the needs of this new and captive audience digitally, today, so they can build trust and capabilities for the future? Now is the time to establish strong digital capabilities. To be successful, health plans must continually use the data and information that is available through digital channels to listen to and learn from members, then adjust content to answer their questions. Rapidly assessing and responding to their needs today will build both a lasting member relationship and enhance future digital capabilities.
Listen to the questions members and prospective members are asking
Over the past few weeks, the information members are seeking from health plans has changed significantly. Searches are up for finding in-network providers and viewing claim statuses to understand specific coronavirus coverage care and how to access telehealth professionals. The reason these interactions and information members are seeking services will continue to evolve quickly and it is imperative that healthcare payers look for those changes and adapt content accordingly. This is a critical first step toward becoming the trusted source for reliable health information and care.
Health plans have tools and data to accommodate these requests and searches. There is no need to invest in new technologies. Most companies collect analytics from their websites, social channels, apps, and contact centers. It's important to focus on the insights that can come from or be inferred from available data now, not the data to be collected next year.
Basic information on what members are reading, searching for, trying to access, and calling about will provide the core of this insight. The ancillary information about how long and how frequently members engage with health plans will show successes in delivering the tools, information, and experience needed. The most effective health plans will go beyond creating dashboards and metrics and instead focus on highlighting actions to respond to the changing needs of their members.
Dynamically tailor content to answer those questions
Once the insights have been gleaned, health plans should coordinate amongst the digital, marketing, and IT teams to understand what changes can be made to address the needs and collaborate with other subject matter experts as needed. For example:
Health plans should be using all digital channels to signal to users that they are being heard. Create social media posts to drive traffic toward timely topics through the best available digital channels. This information is top of mind for the general public, members, and prospective members, and is helpful and valuable to share now.
Don't stop listening, learning, and responding
Health plans can monitor interactions by adding new tracking tags to digital channels to understand if the changes that were made are answering member’s questions and identifying additional changes that could be made to further meet member’s needs. The trust built with members will continue to grow as they feel they are heard and responded to. Similarly, health plans can create an empowered, insight-oriented, digitally savvy culture that can spot patterns quickly, find a solution, and implement the change in a fraction of the time it takes today.
This change is not just needed to respond to the coronavirus, it is key to the survival of health plans in an increasingly digital world. It is possible that current events will end up kick-starting a new wave of digital health engagement. If that is the case, those who are able to quickly listen, learn, and respond to their customers' needs will benefit from a deeper level of member trust, engagement, and enhanced digital engagement capabilities built and tested out of necessity.
Emily Graham is a healthcare expert at PA Consulting. Graham is focused on helping health payers transform their operations to meet the demands of a rapidly changing industry.