How payers can harness the 'wild world of digital' in the new consumer marketplace


I had the pleasure of recently hosting a dinner, sponsored by FierceHealthPayer, with insurer and provider executives. The group talked frankly about how the healthcare industry can best transition to a more consumer-oriented, post-Affordable Care Act market.

What was the invite-only group's consensus? Digital solutions are the key.

Digital strategies are a necessity for payers and providers who want to survive and thrive in an individual-based market. That's because the uninsured who are now buying insurance coverage are constantly on their phones. "We have to be more," one dinner attendee said.

The problem, up until now though, is that so many payers have focused on engaging consumers instead of simply ensuring their fundamental business operations are working properly. "Insurers must create the baseline experience before they can earn the right to engage. It's about providing value and trust," said Ingrid Lindberg, chief customer experience officer for Prime Therapeutics, a pharmacy benefit manager headquartered in Eagan, Minnesota.

She added that there's a core set of services that are lacking in health plans today, making the insurance industry a "negative service industry." What's more, she asserted, "no one has a goal of being engaged with their health plan."

If a digital approach is the agreed-upon best method to reach out to individual consumers and gain their satisfaction and trust, a comprehensive strategy must be implemented across the entire organization. That means obtaining executive buy-in, the dinner attendees said. But that's not often an easy task.

"Transitioning into marketing and outreach directly to consumers is a completely different ball game," says Melanie Wilhoite, director of marketing and brand management for Seattle-based Premera Blue Cross and its affiliate, Mountlake Terrace, Washington-based LifeWise Health Plans. "So there's a lot of education that needs to happen with executives to help them understand what kind of approach is required."

Once executive buy-in is achieved and they're incorporating their digital strategies, payers should be willing to make adjustments and even fail sometimes. For example, Premera and LifeWise "embrace the 'fail fast' idea, especially with social media," Wilhoite explained. Essentially, the companies always intend to learn from any mistakes and move on. "That's the right attitude in this space," she added.

Michael Sturmer, Cigna's senior director for consumer health and engagement, agreed. "The speed of growth and development has been both an opportunity and a challenge," he said. "It's difficult to figure out which [strategies] are going to work, which ones the consumers want, which ones are quick fads. So we're deciphering between the tools on the marketplace and where the consumers' interests are."

To read a full account of the conversation with payer and provider execs during the event, download a free copy of the FierceHealthPayer executive intelligence report, Digital Strategies for the New Insurance Marketplace.  - Dina (@HealthPayer)