Smartphones, Smarter Health Consumers

Why Health Plan Members are Embracing Mobile Technology in Healthcare

The annual physical with a primary care physician, once the main driver and intersection point for patient care, may soon be considered as antiquated as leeches and ear horns. There is a revolution happening in the ease of access and frequency of information sharing between patients, care providers and payers, and it is all due to the growth of mobile technology in healthcare.

The Era of mHealth

The World Health Organization defines mHealth as ‘medical and public health practice supported by mobile devices, such as mobile phones, patient-monitoring devices, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and other wireless devices.’ Today’s rapid adoption of mHealth technologies is largely being driven by patients. According to medication management solution company, Cureatr, “mHealth is fast becoming the patient-preferred way to access their providers, log in to patient portals, track their steps, glucose, launch a telehealth visit, and manage their medications and conditions.”

Grand View Research finds that, “Availability of mobile applications for users is witnessing a rapid growth, especially healthcare apps that assist consumers in self-management of disease, wellness, and chronic conditions. This increased role of patients coupled with the rising importance in staying updated and informed about their own healthcare decisions, contributing to the rise in adoption of mHealth apps globally.”

Grand View Research predicts the global mHealth apps market size will reach USD 236.0 billion by 2026, and notes that “Physicians are increasingly recommending the use of mHealth apps to their patients, which is likely to increase the adoption rate of mHealth apps.”

Patient interest in self-management of their healthcare is driving this expansion. Patient Engagement IT blog advises, “Using mHealth apps is a critical component of self-management because it brings healthcare into patient hands. When patients keep track of their health on their smartphone – whether that be through a fitness tracker or a medication adherence app – self-management becomes easier and more effective.”


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The Connected Patient

Nearly 81% of Americans use a smartphone in the United States, and that number is projected to grow to 87% by 2023. According to a 2015 report by Referral Md, 52 percent of smartphone users gather health-related information on their phones, so it’s no surprise that mobile technology continues to disrupt industries like healthcare.

As patients take greater control of managing their own health, their expectations about having easy and immediate access to their health data grows. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology finds that, “The ability of individuals to easily and securely access and use their health information electronically serves as one of the cornerstones of nationwide efforts to increase patient and family engagement, and advance person-centered health.”

Consumer’s appetite for mobile technology in healthcare isn’t just driven by access to their own health data. Patients want every interaction with the healthcare system to be convenient and to work for them. Accenture says, “People are increasingly expecting healthcare on their own terms, and they expect digital to be the enabler. From using data to understand meal preferences of a patient in hospital, and delivering those meals exactly when they want them, to delivering information through the right channel based on selected preferences—digital can support delivery of healthcare when, where and how people want it.”

Increasingly, the ability to meet such heightened expectations for a digital connection with patients is becoming a strategic advantage for healthcare providers. In their 2019 Digital Health Consumer Survey, Accenture found that, “More than half of patients surveyed expect digital capabilities-from requesting prescription refills to booking appointments. These expectations increasingly influence who these patients choose in a provider. For instance, in 2019, 70 percent are more likely to choose a provider that offers reminders for follow-up care via email or text, compared to 57 percent in 2016.”

It makes sense. Today’s hyper-connected consumer isn’t willing to make exceptions for any industry that fails to deliver the convenient digital interactions they are receiving elsewhere. A Salesforce report found that, “Three-quarters of customers expect companies to use new technologies to create better experiences, and nearly as many (74%) expect companies to do the same by using existing technologies in new ways.”

The mHealth Member Experience

With mHealth redefining the patient experience, it is no surprise that consumers have these same expectations when it comes to access and convenience on the payer side of the healthcare equation. Deloitte experts predict that for the health plan of tomorrow “convenience will be king: When members need care, they will access it on their own terms through their preferred channels—whether in person or through technology.”

Further, Deloitte says, “Health plans will actively guide members through their care journey through high-touch experiences enabled by digital tools. These tools will help answer what matters most to members, be it their care needs, selecting a provider, expected costs, or billing, using language they understand.”

Members have specific demands for which capabilities they want payers to offer via digital channels, according to Cognizant’s Voice of the Digital Member Survey:

  • Looking up benefits/confirming coverage. (78% rated this as an “important” mobile service; 46% reported having this feature available via mobile.)
  • Checking claim status (71% rated as important; 39% had it available).
  • Researching healthcare providers (70% rated as important; 17% had it available).
  • Determining estimated cost per procedure (67% rated as important; 24% had it available).
  • Viewing statement/explanation of benefits (70% rated as important; 42% had it available).

The hyper-connected member has already embraced mobile technology in healthcare, so for them, having anywhere, anytime access to their plan information is a no brainer. Members expect health plans to deliver the information they want according to the timeframes, channels, and formats they prefer.

Managed Care Magazine emphasizes the importance of aligning plan communications to these preferences, “Many plans possess member data that can provide a wealth of information about how that member prefers to receive communications. Some prefer an email or a phone call. Others respond better to a traditional mailing. Knowing the communication preferences of members is akin to speaking to them in a language they understand and can be crucial to making a genuine connection and facilitating the desired clinical outcome.”


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The Power of Engagement

Health plan web portals and apps do a good job of satisfying the hyper-connected member’s need for anytime, anywhere access to information on their coverage, providers in plan, etc. But what about information members wouldn’t expect from their health insurance carrier?

As Deloitte predicts, “Health plans have traditionally structured their business around managing enrollment and processing claims. However, this business model will likely change. The experts predicted that the health plan of tomorrow would shift to frame its business model around sustaining members’ well-being and keeping them healthy.”

For health plans to reposition themselves as a trusted source of health information, versus just a payer, they need to transition to next-generation member engagement. This entails offering relevant health information members may not be actively looking for from their plan, but which they will appreciate and value. Plans have a golden opportunity to accomplish this transition by capturing members’ attention when they are most likely to be listening—with transactional communications.

In the era of mobile technology in healthcare, transactional touchpoints typically don’t get the same attention as apps and portals, but they have an advantage that will be critical for health plans seeking to become a trusted advisor on member wellness: high engagement.

By adding personalized, relevant information to transactional communications, plans can make members feel understood and demonstrate that the plan is committed to helping them self-manage their health. For example, EOBs can be leveraged to encourage flu shots, promote smoking cessation programs, highlight wellness initiatives, and direct members to relevant plan features. Welcome materials can be tuned to encourage members with known health issues to be proactive about care.

The advantage transactional communications have in communicating such self-management messaging? They get read: estimates transactional communications are viewed by 97% of your existing customers for an average of 2-5 minutes at a time. And delivering health information this way would be welcomed by members. A Salesforce report on the Connected Healthcare Consumer found that members seek value-rich communications from health plans, and 88% want more communications about care programs specific to their health conditions.

As health plans shift to business models oriented around overall member wellbeing, engagement will be key to bringing members along on that journey and persuading them that their plan is a trusted and knowledgeable partner that delivers value – no matter which channel the member prefers.