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Health care payers and providers are focused on improving consumer centricity while, at the same time, working to digitize patient engagement and communications. These parallel trends are setting the stage for a transformation of member and patient communications. To learn more about how communications impact the member experience, SmartBrief recently interviewed Jeremy Urbas, vice president of health care solutions for customer communications at Broadridge.
How are health insurers and health care providers prioritizing consumer-centric communications?
At each point in the health care delivery chain, whether it’s a visit to a pharmacy or doctor, or a phone call about a claim, that interaction or transaction is coupled with communication that should support member health and the patient relationship. This post-sale communication is what differentiates one hospital from another or one health plan from the next. Every communication presents an opportunity to be patient centric – whether it’s wellness outreach, policy documents, intake forms or bills. And they need to be delivered to the channel(s) of the member’s or patient’s choosing, including digital, print and emerging technologies, like online storage tools and smart home devices.
Health insurers and providers have been investing heavily in communications and other tools such as patient portals and apps to help people manage their care, their benefits and their health. At the same time, we are seeing patients behave more like “consumers.” They want new ways of connecting and understanding their health and benefits; they seek simplicity and integration with the rest of their lives. All of these things have really advanced the consumer centricity of health care.
How can companies better engage consumers through digital channels?
Health care consumers aren’t moving into digital channels at the pace they have in other sectors because the digital experience is not compelling. I’ll give you some examples.
Because insurers and providers have to be careful with protected health information, they have largely created ways of interacting with patients within channels the company controls. This means a patient must sign up to access a portal and then remember the log-in information to sign in. The portal process involves too many steps and falls outside of daily routines, so the member is less likely to engage.
Similarly, although consumers have adopted online bill pay and are used to getting and paying bills in one consolidated site, very few payers and providers are offering online banking. It is a great engagement opportunity to have bills securely delivered in a way that provides the patient or member with the statement and a means to immediately make the payment. And it’s a great opportunity to deliver on the simplicity and integration we know consumers want.
By reaching members in the digital channels they are already using, payers and providers will see higher adoption of digital channels, saving on print and postal costs while accommodating member preferences. However, print communications are also important. Many consumers prefer print and are likely to continue to feel this way until the digital experience exceeds the print experience, so companies must also integrate robust print communications into their strategies. An omni-channel communications approach is really a patient-centric approach.
What is the opportunity for health care stakeholders to streamline and unify customer outreach?
Consider a single visit to the doctor: a patient may receive communication from the practice, a pharmacy, the insurer and possibly other companies. That’s a lot of communication from one encounter, with each piece created independently yet often communicating the same information. Similarly, within a provider or payer organization, numerous departments may reach out to the patient, and companies may outsource certain functions to a vendor that also sends materials. Collectively, this is a missed opportunity for efficiency, and it may create a disjointed, overwhelming experience for the member.
Companies can do a mapping exercise to better understand the member experience and all of these touchpoints — from presale and enrollment to using benefits for payers; from making appointments to receiving care and paying the bill for providers.
All stakeholders involved in the delivery of care have an incentive to provide clear information about the encounter, next steps and payment. As providers and payers increasingly collaborate, this information could be developed and disseminated as part of these partnerships. Everybody benefits, particularly the patient.
What advice would you give payers and providers to improve communications?
I would recommend starting with the basics. It begins with understanding the diversity of your population. Age, health and level of engagement with health and health care are a few of the important factors. Then you need to identify the current experience of each segment. For instance, evaluate the experience of millennials vs. seniors, those who are well vs. those suffering from a serious illness, and those who receive print vs. digital communications. This is where you will start to see opportunities to improve the experience, reduce costs, instill brand loyalty and meet other goals. These opportunities should guide development of a customer communications management program that handles all the optimization we’ve been talking about.
It’s important that you don’t approach communication, especially in digital channels, as “send and forget.” You want to make sure you or your vendor has a way of tracking engagement with every communication. You can use this information to evaluate the effectiveness of your communications and continually evolve, so outreach improves and members increasingly take the actions you want them to take.
Finally, this is a long-term commitment. Identifying and fixing a problem in the short term is a good thing, but your communications have to evolve along with technology and population change.