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    Four critical tech tools plans and providers should offer consumers


    Having technology tools for member engagement is no longer a novelty. Members now expect and prefer digital communications, and it is critical for MCOs to stay on top of technology trends to compete in the market. Nearly 84% of members prefer digital interactions with their health plan, according to a 2015 survey of 1,600 health plan members by marketing firm Cognizant.

    Members also prefer to use mobile tools, such as a mobile app to access digital features, compare plans, schedule appointments, locate pharmacies, and refill prescriptions, according to the survey.

    Almost 40% of survey respondents say that health plans have room to improve their technology offerings including digital self-service tools, and web and mobile features.

    “Clearly there is room for improvement, particularly when it comes to handling claims digitally, the study authors wrote. “About one-third of members are only somewhat to not at all satisfied with their plans’ communications, claims handling operations, and customer support. Members consistently said availability of digital features in these areas was important to them, such as apps for digitally submitting claims and estimating costs for procedures.”

    A 2016 study by Strategy& and PricewaterhouseCoopers found that healthcare consumers want basic technology tools from their plans and providers, including out-of-pocket cost estimators, access to health records, online scheduling, and payment portals.

    Survey respondents also said they want more collaboration between payers and providers, and said they are open to receiving health and wellness advice from their insurers. “In short, they’re worried more about the clock accurately telling time than about all its bells and whistles,” according to the study authors.

    Here are four critical tech tools plans and providers should offer consumers. 

    A lot of the information in patient portals is not very contextual. For patients with chronic conditions or complex health situations, it can be hard to figure out what it all means, says Brian Eastwood, lead engagement analyst for Chilmark Research, a health IT research and advisory firm. He adds that patient portals can lead to more questions than answers, such as if a patient is viewing a series of test results with no provider to walk them though what the results mean.

    Eastwood says that in the next few years, patients will be able to click a link within portals to access telehealth, specialists, ancillary services and individualized discharge information, instead of having to call in the office, or look on other websites. “There will be better capabilities to help patients find specialists and ancillary services,” Eastwood says. “A lot of health plans have wellness and weight management programs integrated in their services, but members don’t know about them. Links to those services and educational resources should be in the patient portal.”

    Patient portals can also offer more robust and individualized discharge instructions to patients, featuring guidelines that integrate information from a patient’s health record, Eastwood says.

    “If a person is diagnosed with diabetes, recommendations will include things like, ‘eat more vegetables.’ But for someone with colitis or irritable bowel syndrome, that general instruction doesn’t work for them,” Eastwood says. “If a patient portal can communicate with the patient record, then it can give a smarter recommendation.”

    There is also an opportunity for patient portals to help patients be more proactive with their wellness goals. Eastwood says, instead of patients on care plans receiving paperwork and phone calls from their doctors, patient portals will be able to integrate with apps and programs for chronic condition management.

    “Health plans are further along than provider organizations when it comes to technology, but consumers don’t think of the payer as the place that helps manage their conditions,” Eastwood says. “These robust technology tools give health plans leverage when it comes to partnering with provider organizations. If there’s already a product available that has been demonstrated to lower costs, it can be ‘white labeled’ with a hospital system.”

    Next: Reaching members with social media



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