Telehealth has long been called a game-changer for the US healthcare industry. It reached a new high over the last one and a half years. Significantly increased virtual care utilization and greater adoption of digital communication channels helped health plans score points with members during the pandemic.
An analysis by global data and analytics firm J D Power shows that 36% of privately insured health plan members in the country accessed telehealth services, up from just 9% a year ago, contributing to a 10-point gain in overall member satisfaction. Undoubtedly, the past year has proved that effective use of digital channels has the power to increase customer engagement, build trust and promote brand advocacy.
Payers like Kaiser Permanente, Blue Plans, Cigna, and Humana have received higher ratings by ensuring delivery of patient-centric care and communication. This came as a sigh of relief for the payer industry, which stands to gain significantly from telehealth.
The success of telehealth can easily be attributed to the multiple advantages it offers to all stakeholders — payers, providers and members. Comprehensive programs for patients and caregivers get well documented, increasing the prospect of arming clinicians with reliable data for more personalized and focused care. The result is improved patient engagement.
Let’s have a look at some of the major advantages of telemedicine services for health insurance providers.
1. Higher Utilization and Lower Costs
Technology gives medics a platform for a thorough utilization of services remotely at a much lower costs associated with higher-risk patients. Daily monitoring of patients helps detect development of any serious symptoms in time and treatment before the need for hospitalization arises. Lower treatment cost is its direct outcome. This is a win-win for both patient and payer.
2. Increased Member Satisfaction
It has been widely observed that remote patient monitoring substantially increases member satisfaction and loyalty. Higher satisfaction levels go a long way in ensuring a member’s loyalty to his health insurer. According to an American Telemedicine Organization survey, levels of patient satisfaction for telehealth services are among the highest of all healthcare, insurance, and financial service industries. An impressive 77% of patients surveyed said they were very or completely satisfied with the virtual care they received. The top three drivers of satisfaction were convenience, the safety of being seen at home, and speed of access.
3. Customer Engagement
It is difficult to keep customer engagement going when elective procedures and regular check-ups get pushed back due to safety reasons. But telehealth emerged as the best alternative for regular visits and health check-ups. What was considered an option to reach out to the patients in rural areas got easily extended to the urban pockets amid pandemic.
4. Better Quality Scores
The third major advantage for payers is quality scores, which emanate from the first two advantages. Lower costs and high satisfaction levels together improve their quality scores, which no organization can afford to overlook given its importance in expanding the customer base.
5. Higher Trust Value
By offering data security and maintaining respect for customers’ data, payers have been able to earn the trust, which is indispensable for digital health. Customers have expressed a high level of satisfaction over the fact that data has been used to create new care models.
Focus on telehealth
An increased focus on telehealth by payers is a pressing priority considering its fast-evolving nature. The J D Power study found a significant jump in digital contact and telehealth adoption in the recent past. Telehealth utilization increased 27 percentage points, with 36% of US health plan members saying that they accessed telehealth services, up from just 9% a year ago. Digital contact with insurers also has increased, with 32% of members saying they connected with their health plans via web, mobile app or text message in the past year.
The overall satisfaction improved 10 points year over year, up from a 6-point increase in 2020 and a 1-point increase in 2019. The year-over-year rise in satisfaction has been driven largely by significant improvement in scores in the cost, information and communication and website factors/subfactors. The member contact was found to be significantly higher among the youth. Members of Gen Z2 and Gen Y have the highest levels of contact with their health plan, with 62% of Gen Z and 52% of Gen Y members accessing their health plan’s customer service channel at least once during the past year.
Conclusion: The increasing number of telehealth use recorded in the past one year is probably just the tip of the iceberg that is poised to emerge in the near future. The pandemic has shown how quickly our normal world can be surrounded by uncertainties. This lays the path for integrating the remote care services within the overall health insurance ecosystem sooner than later. Payers have a key role to play in health care transformation being led by telehealth.