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Are You Channeling Your Members?

From Health Plan ID Cards to Invoices: Cross-Channel Engagement Improves Retention

November 18, 2020

The jury is in. The ongoing battle between print and digital for member communications has a winner…it’s both.

This may come as a surprise given how loudly the drumbeat to expand member communications to digital has been booming. Instead of all-digital, health plans should take a multi-channel approach that combines the benefits of paper with the convenience and accessibility of digital. As Ellie Cawthorne, Section Editor at BBC History Magazine says, “The ideal scenario is not print or digital, but a print and digital mix, all of which are adding to the experience for the consumer.”

As marketing guru Neil Patel advises, “Cross-channel engagement involves integrating multiple marketing channels to seamlessly interact with your target audience. You want every interaction to embody brand consistency and offer customer satisfaction.”

In determining which channel is the right fit for a member communication, health plans should weigh three concerns:

  • Which delivers the best member experience
  • Which is the best use of the channel
  • Which will contribute to member satisfaction and secure retention

What’s the best channel for health plan member engagement?

All channels have the potential to engage health plans members. Members are a diverse group, in age, technical savvy, and channel preference. In general, print is better for more complex content members may want to keep and refer to later; digital is best for reminders and time-sensitive calls to action. How do you select the right channels for a member? Ask! Research shows having the ability to select how and when they receive communications from their plan is key to member satisfaction and retention.

health plan ID cards

The Communication Experience

Delivering the best member experience with a communication should be a priority for health plans. Let’s face it, from health plan ID cards to invoices, plans interact with members through their communication channels more than through human interaction. Thus far, payers aren’t living up to members’ expectations.

A Healthmine survey of how health plan members feel about key communication engagement areas found that:

  • Seventy-three percent of respondents don’t think their health plans understand their unique personal health very well, while 60 percent want more communication from health plan sponsors besides their monthly bill
  • Fifty-two percent of consumers with chronic conditions said they only hear from their health plan once per year or less about their disease
  • Sixty-three percent of health plan members say they do not engage with their plan on social media, but 78 percent who follow their health plan on social media say it’s helpful
  • Twenty-one percent of consumers regularly use their health plan’s member portal, yet only 30 percent say the portal helps them answer healthcare questions
  • Eighty-three percent of health plan members say they use digital health tools, but only 22 percent say health plans are utilizing their data to provide member guidance for healthcare services

This disconnect becomes even more of a problem when members don’t take advantage of benefits or services, because they aren’t aware of them. Healthcare analytics company, SPH Analytics, finds that “A surprising number of health plan members are not aware of the specific benefits, features, and requirements of their plan.”

The Best Use of the Channel

For many health payers, a migration of specific communications to digital has been more a matter of cost-savings vs. a considered plan for which channel best suits each type of communication. Obviously, physical health plan ID cards will still be printed and mailed. But for most other materials, print and digital each have unique benefits that should be at the forefront of that choice.

The Case for Print: Attention and Retention

According to the Southwest Healthcare Marketing Report: Consumer Perceptions & Attitudes, “Healthcare content is sufficiently complex that important matters can’t be covered in a sound bite. More than 70% of those surveyed named direct mail in their top-tier media.”

Science cites several reasons why print is better for comprehension and retention:

An uninterrupted reading experience. We’re all familiar with the information overload of a webpage peppered with ads, links, and popups. Print communications are typically more focused and designed to lead you step-by-step through one topic.

The physical experience. We actively engage with print content. When the mailer with our health plan ID card arrives, we pick it up and page through it. Engaging other senses, like touch, has been shown to improve content retention. We passively scroll through digital content, often not really focusing on what we’re reading. In addition, we use physical markers in how we remember content, like knowing a certain passage was at the top left of a page. Paperandpackaging.org found that 74% of those surveyed agreed that “Seeing words on paper helps me remember what I read.”

What does this mean for health plans?

The more complex and important the content, the better suited it is for print. The first contact made with a new or renewing member should convey the value the health plan places on the relationship. Heath plan ID cards and Member Guides introduce the plan’s benefits and features. Having the reader’s undivided attention and ability to retain what they read is critical at this stage.

print health plan id cards

The Case for Digital: Personalization and Convenience

It’s not surprising payers have embraced the opportunities of shifting some member communications to digital. McKinsey estimates that “Digital can have a significant positive impact on payor economics… on average, payors would save roughly 10% to 15% of their SG&A costs—$15 billion to $25 billion industry-wide.”

On the member side, digital channels offer valuable benefits in personalization and convenience:

Make it personal. McKinsey states that “Using personalization techniques pioneered by other industries, health insurers can drive higher engagement and better support the needs of their members.” CMSwire.com advises that “Customers expect carriers to deliver a seamless, omnichannel and highly personalized experience.”

Member’s choice. Once a range of digital options are available to the member, almost more important than the channel is the choice. In a survey, Cognizant found that “Nearly 70% of respondents feel strongly that health plans should request and track a member’s preferred communication channels and then use those channels accordingly.”

Fit the digital lifestyle. As Cognizant points out, “Health plan members routinely rely on digital channel offerings across industries (banking, retail, consumer goods, travel, etc.), and health insurance is no different.” In the McKinsey Consumer Health Insights Survey, 77 percent of consumers said they prefer to use digital channels to pay their health insurance bill. Most members like to have both a physical health plan ID card and a digital version.

What does this mean for health plans?

Transactional communications, such as 1095s, EOBs or invoices, are perfectly suited for digital channels. Allowing members to select how and where they receive certain materials helps them manage the administration of their lives. Digital communications can also be quickly and efficiently personalized, a capability that is quickly becoming table stakes for payers.

Member Satisfaction and Retention

The math on member retention is simple: Improved satisfaction equals higher retention. J.D. Power’s 2020 U.S. Commercial Member Health Plan Study found that “Proactive efforts by health plans to engage with members—by providing advice on how to control costs or helping to coordinate care—drive significant improvement in overall customer satisfaction.” The Medicare Advantage Star Ratings have become a key metric for health plans to measure performance in creating member satisfaction, and the stakes for health plans are about to be raised.

plan ID cards

Member experience measures have always been included as a part of the Star Rating program. SPH Analytics reports that CMS has increased the relative importance of member experience to the overall plan rating by increasing the weight given to these measures. Recently CMS increased them from 1.5 to 2, and then in June announced that they would increase again, this time from 2 to 4.

This makes it more important than ever for health plans to deliver a satisfying member experience to earn the high Medicare Advantage Star Ratings that shoppers rely upon to evaluate health plans.

Print AND Digital: The Value of Both

From the moment a member receives their health plan ID card, payers are in conversation with members and having a voice in that conversation is critical to satisfaction.

A survey from customerthink.com found that that today’s consumers across all generations want and expect the companies they do business with to provide multiple engagement channels. Eighty-five percent of the survey respondents said they expect companies to offer a blend of physical and digital communication channels.

health plan ID card

“Consumers have been conditioned to expect businesses to offer them choices,” says call center company NICE inContact. Their research found that 90% of consumers are more likely to consider doing business with a company that offers multiple ways to communicate.

As the market for payers becomes more competitive, with disruptors challenging traditional service delivery, plans need to engage members with the right content, in the right channel, and according to their preferences. A cross-channel engagement capability is the right strategy for members and health plans.

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