June 29, 2010
UPMC Health Plan has announced the launch of live chat, an Internet technology that allows member to engage in live online discussions with a UPMC Health Plan representative about any subject that could previously have been discussed over the phone.
The Pittsburgh-based health insurer said last week that the technology will enable company representatives to advise members online on everything from claims, billing, covered benefits, eligibility, enrolment forms, ID cards, and changing a primary care physician. As the healthcare industry shifts away from paper-based systems and increasingly relies on the Internet for online communications, health insurance companies have been enhancing their websites with tools that give their members a wide range of services including offering patients the ability to pay their bills online, assist with cost estimates, receive medical advice, and locate doctors. "This is another example of how we strive to provide great service for our members and providers," Mary Beth Jenkins, chief operating officer of UPMC Health Plan, said in a statement. "We place special focus on ease of service and on giving our members and providers another option for contacting us." The effectiveness of real-time chat, however, is highly context-dependent, according to Liz Boehm, principal analyst at Forrester Research. "Chat receives extremely low satisfaction ratings for members who have used it with their health insurer -- only 34% of U.S. commercially insured adults under age 65 who have used chat with their health insurer report satisfaction with the experience," Boehm said. She also noted that the real opportunity -- and challenge -- for any insurer using chat is still fundamentally how clear and reasonable are their benefits, which will determine the clarity and acceptability of their claims explanations. Boehm also made a distinction between clinical and insurance claim conversations, saying patients were much more comfortable and familiar with the former. "Patients have more familiarity with describing their symptoms to a medical professional than they do with trying to make sense of their insurance," Boehm said. "Chat affords them a level of access and privacy that can facilitate better medical decisions." UPMC Health Plan conducted a survey of members who had used live chat and found that more than 89% said they would more than likely use online chat again to contact the company. More than 73% of providers indicated that they were likely to use live chat again. "At a time when many companies are looking for ways to cut corners and reduce the cost of customer service, UPMC Health Plan continues to invest in ways to provide new and more helpful tools for its members and providers," Jenkins said.
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