With more than 40,000 medical apps and 250 million downloads, mobile is clearly becoming a key channel for payers to reach healthcare consumers. For health insurers who are grappling with the task of leveraging the mobile channel to reach consumers, this creates the additional challenge of differentiating their mobile offerings among so many apps.

The Healthcare Reform Act is forcing health plans to shift their digital strategy from employer-centric to consumer-centric. Given this new model, health plans should step back and look at the industry’s best practices that have worked in other vertical markets – such as banking and retail – to build the right digital marketing strategy for consumers.

But marketing to consumers is only a part of the value that mobility can deliver to health plans. Empowering patients by putting health information and tools right at their fingertips will dramatically transform engagement patterns between health plans and their members. Mobility will be key in:

Increasing member satisfaction and loyalty;

Reducing costs by engaging consumers in proactively managing their health; and

Improving service experience.

Health plans have already started strategizing to embrace the value of mobility for patient empowerment, but it is in the execution that many organizations tend to stumble.

Creating meaningful engagements with health plan members at every stage of their membership – from acquisition, service and care to ongoing wellness management – requires careful consideration of the insurer’s mobile app portfolio, roadmap and execution tactics.

Multi-channel a key consideration

The major part of the Affordable Care Act, including mandatory health plan insurance, will start taking effect on Jan. 1, 2014. This date is pushing healthcare insurers to be more nimble in implementing a health plan app to service more than 47 million uninsured with at least basic functionalities, while simultaneously engaging existing members.

Some are ahead of the game. For example, Aetna went live with its first mobile app in 2010, which it later rebuilt – with help from Kony – to better scale to multiple channels. Delivered in four months, the Aetna Mobile app now consists of nearly 100 screens and has been deployed across native channels for iOS, Android and Blackberry operating systems, as well as through the mobile Web using HTML5. Realizing the diversity of its member base, Aetna information is available to all members through its mobile app or on the mobile Web, regardless of which device or operating system members use. Aetna’s success with its mobile Web and apps demonstrates the value of adopting a truly multi-channel mobile strategy.

One common pitfall for many health plans – under pressure to deliver mobile apps quickly to cope with healthcare reform – has been to either select a single channel or platform, or to select HTML5 only. Industries with more history in serving consumers via mobile, such as banking and retail, have learned their lesson, and have realized a single-channel approach is unsustainable and doesn’t scale. The mobile landscape evolves quickly, with new devices, platforms and browsers entering the market every month. This fragmentation makes it both expensive and time consuming to maintain mobile apps that will reach all consumers.

It is clear: Mobile is the new face of client engagement for the healthcare industry – and it is important to have a mobile strategy to address all clients. For instance, in 2012 a Pew Internet study reported that one in three cell phone owners have used their phone to access health information. And according to a Nielsen study, minorities are leading adopters of smartphone and tablet technology, and seniors are the fastest-growing segment of smartphone users. It is important to understand the diversity of health plan members and adopt the right mobile strategies to engage them.

Features that truly empower

Another pitfall for health plans occurs when trying to replicate existing website features to create a mobile app, as this is not a sustainable mobile development strategy. Instead, what they need to do is to re-imagine the possibilities of mobile, and approach it as a whole new channel to create a different user experience and enable different activities than a website. For example, leverage GPS capabilities in the application to enable mobile users to find facilities or contacts with one click.

“Even though there’s a plethora of information you can enable through a mobile device, there’s a limit to what you should do,” says Matthew Penwell, director of the Web office at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina. “It’s about providing the right experience and easing the customer’s life.”

Delivering mobile service experience

When designing a health plan application, insurers need to plan with a “mobile first” approach in mind and prioritize the key features that empower consumers most. Besides click to call, the following features are among the most popular:

  • Find a doctor/facility;
  • Benefits details;
  • Account and claims summary; and
  • 3-D identification cards.

Moreover, prescription drug research is yet another feature that puts information right into the patient’s hands, helping to compare available options.

Serving new members

Health insurers are starting to implement features to engage individuals and then enable these consumers to shop for and compare plans. With that, it’s clear that mobile plays an important role in healthcare customer retention and loyalty programs. Moreover, with mobile and tablet devices infiltrating the sales side as well, agents are able to be more productive in enrolling new members and managing the sales cycle. Various features – such as benefits overview, plan comparison, low-cost alternatives, lead management and application status – significantly streamline the sales and enrollment process.

Empowering with wellness management tools

In line with tremendously improving the self-service experience, mobile devices help to provide proactive patient care by delivering easy-to-use healthy-living resources. For example, wellness management and symptom research apps are among the most popular tools to empower patients to live healthier lives. Aetna provides access to unique, innovative mobile tools to help consumers make better, smarter and safer healthcare decisions and become more engaged in their healthcare. Among these tools is iTriage, which allows users to research their symptoms, find a medical provider that best serves their needs and book appointments all from their smartphones. Aetna also works with Mindbloom, which blends the principles of behavioral science with social gaming to offer a fun, simple experience to inspire people to live healthy, productive and balanced lives. Finally, Aetna gives consumers access to the CarePass platform, which offers simple, convenient access to some of the best health and wellness apps in the marketplace. CarePass allows consumers to share information across these apps to create a more personalized experience and help manage their whole health, from getting care to staying well to earning rewards.

Health insurers are now beginning to realize the true value of mobile in educating, encouraging and developing habits for a healthier lifestyle that has the potential to significantly reduce costs in the long run. In order to truly embrace the power of mobility, health plans should be prepared to overcome numerous implementation challenges, which include prioritizing the application roadmap, choosing the best strategy, offering the right features and choosing the right delivery methods for a diverse member base. With today’s innovative mobile development tools, healthcare insurers don’t need to lock themselves into a multi-year strategy, but rather can have the flexibility to adapt their efforts to improve their offerings incrementally. HMT

About the Author

For more on Kony Solutions: www.rsleads.com/302ht-203

The Source for Healthcare Information Systems Solutions