When December rolls around, health plans know that the weeks ahead will be busy ones. December is a wrap-up month in many ways. Annual enrollment is underway and member services departments increase their staffing levels. The priority is on member care and scheduling appointments before year-end.
At the same time, health plans and providers are strategizing for the year ahead. That means developing compelling programs for new member onboarding, as well as identifying and implementing new quality improvement programs. The goal is to ensure that the first quarter member experience is stellar.
Of course, this year is different…
A Positive Consumer Experience Is More Important Than Ever in 2021
In 2020, the healthcare sector has been heads down, dealing with COVID-19. As we head into December and the holidays, public health experts have warned that COVID-19 lockdowns are a real possibility.
Although many people have been wearing their masks and abiding by social distancing guidelines, the level of “pandemic fatigue” is growing by the day. Stress is inescapable whether individuals are unemployed, working from home or serving on the front lines in service industries. Add in the pressures associated with childcare, homeschooling or supporting aging parents, and you have a perfect storm of circumstances that can lead to a host of physical and mental health issues.
This year has shown health plans that deploying a strong customer experience strategy in 2021 will be more important than ever before.
Here are five things for health plans to keep in mind when developing their consumer experience and engagement strategies for next year:
- Know your members. It’s critical that plans understand the health challenges facing members, particularly those who are the most vulnerable and at highest risk of serious conditions. In 2021 this is essential, since many individuals with chronic diseases are at higher risk of severe complications from COVID-19. The best way to understand your members is by using data, including social determinants of health. Analytics are a powerful tool for stratifying members and identifying those in high-risk groups.
- Communicate clearly and frequently. Comprehensive customer experience strategies include a thorough member communication plan that addresses the complete member lifecycle. Welcome and onboarding campaigns are critical for new members. However, communication can’t stop there. Member engagement must occur throughout the year. Keys to success include multi-channel communications, as well as messages that plans tailor to each member’s unique health needs. For example, members who live in COVID-19 hot spots may need information about testing, access to telehealth services and tips for staying healthy. As you develop your communication plan, articulate when, how and what you will engage with your members.
- Support high-quality healthcare. During 2020, COVID-19 prevented many people from following preventive care guidelines. Looking ahead to 2021, health plans must find new and innovative ways to deliver quality care to members. The pandemic has shown that audio and visual consultations can be effective for many types of visits. Shifting care to the home, including home lab kits for various types of testing, is a trend that contributes to member satisfaction and is unlikely to disappear after COVID-19 fades away.
- Gather and respond to feedback on the member experience. As you develop your customer experience and communication strategies, it’s important to balance thorough planning with flexibility. Throughout the year, plans must gather feedback from members and respond to it. Input may be provided through established mechanisms, such as the Medicare Advantage CAHPS and HOS programs. Plans may also want to deploy their own member surveys to identify what’s working and what isn’t. The ability to pivot quickly shows members that you’ve heard their concerns and are taking action.
- Instill trust. Healthcare can be confusing. Misinformation about medical conditions and plan benefits often abounds. This is especially true during times of uncertainty, as witnessed this year during the pandemic. A positive consumer experience is defined by clear, accurate and targeted communications. It’s our responsibility as healthcare professionals to deliver that information to members in 2021 and beyond.
With effective COVID-19 vaccines on the horizon, early signs suggest that 2021 will be a better year. However, we still have several months to go before the pandemic is a memory. Now is the time to develop a strong consumer experience strategy for the New Year.
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