Health Insurers' Customer Communications Is Fractured

Most health plans say they want to improve customer communications, but they have not developed IT systems needed to send reminders to patients to take meds or start exercising, IDC Health Insights reports.
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More than half of health insurers say they will invest in trigger-based communications to prompt consumers to improve their health. Yet, most plans have not realigned their organizational models and technology investment strategies to actually make it happen, according to a report from IDC Health Insights.

"Health Payer Consumer Communications: Strategies for Engagement", commissioned by Pitney Bowes Software, asked senior executives at 44 health plans about their consumer communications strategies and future investment plans.

The poll, which was taken between December 2011 and January 2012, suggests that although insurers are focused on engaging onsumers through the Internet, for example, the insurers are not coordinating their communications efforts. That often means that when one business unit--the marketing or customer service department, for example--initiates contact with a consumer, that information is not shared with other business units, including the disease management department, the claims unit, or the billing department.

"Consumer information is sent through corporate silos — unmanaged, unfocused, and frequently uncoordinated," the report states.

"There's definitely room for improvement in the industry," said Bill Sinn, strategic marketing director, insurance and healthcare at Pitney Bowes Software. "In many instances these carriers don't have a 360 degree view of their customer, and the question for a lot of these payers is how can we make that customer experience better? How can we improve the outcomes for these medical initiatives? And how can we reduce costs at the same time?"

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In a new era where healthcare reform is moving toward pay-for-performance and encouraging cost reductions by focusing on care prevention, health plans are expanding their focus from merely managing disease to encouraging health and wellness.

To do this, health plans need to invest in technologies that encourage consumers to take greater responsibility for their health. But they also need trigger-based communications to share consumer information across business units. These triggers are designed to prod individuals to take their medications on time, schedule a visit to their physician, or even start an exercise program.

Sinn used the example of a patient on diabetes medication to explain the value of such trigger-based communications. If the claims department of a health plan is aware of the medication, the health plan would want to have a trigger-based program that shares this information with the customer service group, the health and wellness group, or the clinical care group. That second business unit can then help the patient find doctors in a specific location or send reminders to manage prescriptions.

As health plans enter a more competitive environment, the survey revealed that at least 50% of health plans surveyed reported initiating consumer communications from each of the major business units queried. But even with the benefits health insurers could gain from coordinating communications across such business units, the study shows that survey participants, who represent health plans with fewer than 100,000 members as well as those with over 10 million members, have a long way to go.

"Just half of the health plans surveyed indicated that their organizations considered consumer communications a strategic initiative," the report states. The document added that: "None of those interviewed believed that their organizations were implementing fully automated, comprehensive, organization-wide consumer communications strategies."

The report recommends that health plans develop a strategy that incorporates the mobile technology and social media that consumers routinely use at work and in their personal lives. Furthermore, health insurers should deploy analytics software that identifies best practices and personalized communications trends that will help them develop an effective consumer communications program.

The 2012 InformationWeek Healthcare IT Priorities Survey finds that grabbing federal incentive dollars and meeting pay-for-performance mandates are the top issues facing IT execs. Find out more in the new, all-digital Time To Deliver issue of InformationWeek Healthcare. (Free registration required.)