Consumer engagement: Do insurers have it wrong?


Flying back to the east coast from Seattle, I had a lot of time to reflect on the major themes I heard at this year's AHIP Institute. The speakers put a lot of focus on how to engage and connect with consumers. Even the preconference forums on data analytics and health insurance exchanges had an underlying theme of consumer engagement.

And it makes sense. The industry is in the midst of shifting from a business-to-business to a business-to-consumer market--so the topic is a timely one for health plan leaders. But after crowdsourcing Twitter for attendees' biggest takehome from AHIP, I began to question whether the consumer engagement theme missed the mark.

Ingrid Lindberg, chief customer experience officer for Prime Therapeutics, laid it out straight: "Lots of talk about #engagement. I'd love to find a person who has a goal of "engaging" with their #healthplan"

As a healthcare journalist, I've often covered the issue of consumer engagement, writing about the challenges and opportunities for building relationships with health plan members. And I have to admit I drank some of the consumer engagement Kool-Aid served up at the AHIP show, armed with new industry insights.

But when I wear my healthcare consumer hat, I further Lindberg's argument. I've never felt the need or desire to engage with my health plan. And as someone interested in healthcare, I've been completely content with interacting with my health plan only when necessary--even then I wouldn't call that engagement but transactions.

I heard several panelists speak about the need to turn consumer transactions into relationships--which sounds all well and good. But do healthcare consumers want those relationships? Honestly, I can't say that I do. But I can say I hope the transactions I make with my health plan are timely and efficient, and I hope the transactions my plan has with my providers are as well.

If insurers want to succeed in a new consumer-driven environment, they may be going about it the wrong way. Is it worth the time, money and energy spent talking about, developing and then implementing consumer engagement strategies? If consumers just want to interact with their health plans for insurance purposes, maybe insurers should direct resources toward creating the best consumer transactions.

Many new consumers under the Affordable Care Act never had insurance before. They don't need a relationship with their new plan. What they need is insurance coverage and access to healthcare services. What they want is efficiency, simplicity and affordability. And insurers can satisfy those wants and needs without engagement.

How have your members responded to engagement efforts? Does the associated return on investment justify the time, effort and money? - Alicia (@HealthPayer)

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