Given the unprecedented nature of the current pandemic, institutions of every kind have struggled to effectively share information about COVID-19—and health plans are no exception. According to a recent J.D. Power analysis, 60% of private health plan members were never contacted by their insurer with guidance related to the virus. In addition, 48% said they felt their insurer had not shown concern for their health since the onset of the pandemic. 

These findings signal an urgent need for health plans to improve their communication surrounding the pandemic itself. What other gaps in member engagement is COVID-19 exposing—and what steps can payors take to close them?

Leverage Telehealth as a Channel for Member Engagement

The same J.D. Power analysis sees telehealth as a missed opportunity for member engagement. Just 9% of plan members said they’d taken advantage of telehealth services. Additional research from J.D. Power also found that 54% of consumers don’t understand their coverage for telehealth benefits.

Social distancing guidelines dictate that telehealth must, by sheer necessity, become more prevalent. In a recent Accenture survey, nearly 50% of patients said they’re now receiving care not at a healthcare provider’s office but in their home. However, savvy payors are not content to merely take advantage of this temporarily increased demand. They’re ramping up their telemedicine offerings with an eye towards fostering access and engagement.

For example, telehealth is a prominent component of Aetna’s Time for Care campaign, which promotes the importance of accessing primary healthcare during the pandemic. The initiative features a national TV spot, a website, digital content, and member program components both for people with chronic conditions like diabetes and those with specific health issues such as preeclampsia. In addition, Aetna will waive out-of-pocket costs for most telehealth visits through the end of September 2020.

Increase Member Satisfaction with Price Transparency

As Florian Otto, Co-founder and CEO of Cedar, wrote in a recent article, “The uncertainty around what COVID costs, from testing to treatment, has put a spotlight on the need for price transparency and highlighted the importance of improved digital patient engagement in all areas of healthcare–especially the financial experience.”

Research seems to support this sentiment. In a new CVS Health study, 91% of consumers said that cost was somewhat or very important in terms of their health, and 35% said that cost was an obstacle to remaining healthy. Meanwhile, 78% of respondents in a recent HealthSparq study said they want accurate information on healthcare costs, and 66% of those who have access to digital transparency tools through their health plans have used them in the last 12 months.

Not surprisingly, payor engagement with members on cost-controlling measures has been shown to drive customer satisfaction. According to the J.D. Power analysis, when a health plan actively works with members to maintain low out-of-pocket costs, its average overall satisfaction score increases by 15.2%.

Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC) offers a prime example of this type of engagement. The payor has implemented both online and telephone-accessible transparency tools that can outline provider and hospital cost information and help members choose their benefits options. 

As Tom Meier, vice president of Market Solutions at BCBS of Illinois, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma & Texas, said in a written statement, “It’s important for members to have access to transparency tools that provide meaningful, actionable information, such as comparing quality and cost metrics to make informed decisions to get the best healthcare value.”

Communicate on Members’ Terms

Evidence of consumers’ preference for modernized communication from their health plans abounds. To cite just two examples, in a recent Harris Poll 71% of patients expressed a desire for their health plan to engage them using modern technologies. In the HealthSparq study, 59% of respondents said they prefer to receive updates from their health plan via email—versus 39% for regular mail and 31% for phone. 

As in the cases of telehealth and price transparency, COVID-19 is injecting no small measure of urgency into the matter.  Sixty percent of respondents in the Accenture survey “felt that based on their experience during the pandemic, they want to use technology more for communicating with healthcare providers and managing their conditions.”

One of the more novel member engagement strategies has come from Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Ohio. In partnership with Amazon, the payor has introduced an enhanced “Anthem Skill” for use on Alexa-enabled devices—for example, an Amazon Echo or a phone equipped with the Alexa mobile app. After linking their account, members can ask Alexa to help them accomplish a number of tasks related to their plan benefits, including:

  • Scheduling, rescheduling, or canceling a call back from member services
  • Checking HSA or HRA balances
  • Assessing progress in meeting the plan’s deductible
  • Looking up their plan’s out-of-pocket maximum
  • Ordering identification cards
  • Refilling prescriptions

“People want secure and easy-to-use access to their health information across multiple devices,” according to Steve Martenet, President of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Ohio. “Enhancing the Anthem skill for Alexa is just the latest step in our digital-first approach to healthcare.”

Next Steps

While the payors highlighted here offer a glimpse of the industry’s trajectory, we’re still very much in the early stages of a paradigm shift. It’s impossible to forecast all of the innovations that are sure to come. But one thing is certain: Better member engagement is—and will continue to be—essential in the new normal. 

To learn about shifting consumer preference for care, patient satisfaction with telemedicine, and the most in-demand digital tools, view our eBook, Telehealth: Taking the Healthcare Consumer’s Pulse in the New Normal.

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