Health IT Doesn't Please Insurance Customers

Despite major technology investments, insurance users don't see a customer service benefit, says Accenture study.
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As health insurance companies prepare for a more heightened competitive landscape, a study from Accenture reveals that over the last five years insurers have not been able to dramatically improve their customer service experience, despite large technology investments designed to improve it.

Released last week, the "The 7 Things Your Health Insurance Customers Are Not Telling You" report found that only 11% of respondents strongly agreed that the increased use of technology in customer service has significantly improved the level of service in the past five years.

The survey of 1,000 insured individuals between late December 2010 and early January 2011 also revealed that, to date, health insurers seem to have failed to provide the personalized experience customers crave, even though they've made huge investments in technology to meet that goal.

Only 10% of respondents strongly agreed their health insurers "tailor my customer experience to match my needs, preferences, and/or value to them." More than twice that amount (22%) strongly disagreed. Similarly, only 9% agreed that their health insurers' "communications make me feel a connection to them." In contrast, 32% strongly disagreed, the report stated.

The findings come at a time when major shifts are occurring in the delivery of healthcare due to last year's passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. As the provisions of the health reform law take hold, insurers are bracing themselves for an increasing demand in consumer-directed healthcare and the additional 40 million new customers that will enroll in health plans.

"We expect more personalized customer service to emerge as a major source of healthcare differentiation, much like other industries today," said Russ Nash, who leads Accenture's U.S. payer business. "The health insurance industry must use insight-driven health to better understand the expectations of its unique customer segments and how to enhance customer relationships to impact revenue growth."

Certainly, there has been an effort on the part of health insurers to implement technology with a view to helping patients better manage their health insurance plans.

For example, Aetna and Healthline Networks, a provider of intelligent health information services, have built a website that delivers meaningful, personalized health and health benefits information to Aetna members. UnitedHealthcare has improved its online patient information by providing physician-specific pricing, information on diseases, as well as customer-specific health plan information to estimate a patient's medical bills.

At Kaiser Permanente, more than 3 million members are using the My Health Manager personal health record (PHR), which allows members to securely access their PHRs from home, as well as email their physicians, order prescriptions, schedule appointments for themselves or for family members, and even view lab results, all on the Web.

Nevertheless, Accenture suggests several ways that health insurers can improve the delivery of service to patients through technology. Among the recommendations are:

-- When making technology investments, the voice of the customer should be heard and should influence how the self-service experience is designed. By leading with what the customer wants, the other benefits will follow: reduced costs, increased satisfaction, enhanced brand image, and differentiation from the competition.

-- Health insurance companies should invest in proactively developing comprehensive social media strategies that focus on customer concerns and opinions to identify any current context, culture, processes, people, policies, and metrics that may need to be modified to support the social media strategy.

-- Customer-facing channels such as the Web, interactive voice response (IVR), mobile, contact centers, and social media generate tremendous amounts of data. Insurers need to implement technology that will help them analyze, interpret, and act on the new data.

Find out how health IT leaders are dealing with the industry's pain points, from allowing unfettered patient data access to sharing electronic records. Also in the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek Healthcare: There needs to be better e-communication between technologists and clinicians. Download the issue now. (Free registration required.)