America’s Health Plans Get Social
Our sales team at ShapeUp recently returned from the America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) Institute conference in sunny San Francisco. At this annual gathering of health plans, the major themes were obviously health care reform, the impact of the inevitable health insurance exchanges, and the changing business model for our nation’s insurance companies. As expected with Tim Pawlenty, Judd Gregg, Tom Daschle, James Carville, and Mary Matalin headlining the event, there was plenty of debate about individual mandates, accountable care organizations and more. On one topic, however, there emerged great clarity and consensus: the need for health plans to build relationships directly with consumers.
Numerous speakers and sessions highlighted an increasing nationwide focus on member engagement and consumer-centric business practices. Panelists pointed to consumer brands, like Disney and Southwest Airlines, which have built meaningful relationships with their customers. As focus starts to shift away from employer-based health care to the individuals who are purchasing their own insurance directly on the exchanges, health plans acknowledge just how important it is to differentiate their offering, build brand loyalty, and provide an engaging experience that helps solve the problems that individuals are facing – like how to save money; organize their increasingly complex health care ecosystem; and improve their health through weight loss, smoking cessation, and managing chronic disease.
But when it comes to real member engagement, health plans as a group have a questionable track record. Most people only interact with their health plan when they need to use the online “doc finder” tool or when they need to dispute a denied claim. Rarely do we hear our neighbor extolling the virtues of her health plan and encouraging us to join up. The good news, however, is that health plans are sitting on a tremendous and largely untapped opportunity. Nowhere are they better equipped to engage their members and build meaningful relationships than when it comes to wellness. Every member or potential member wants to achieve better health or maintain good health, and health plans are in a position to provide extraordinary value by helping people achieve their personal goals.
Of course, this effort has already begun in earnest. Consider Humana’s recent investment in Vitality, which will lead to the launch of a financial incentives-based wellness program designed to motivate their members to achieve optimal health. Some health plans, like Blue Cross Blue Shield Vermont, have begun to offer free mobile apps aimed at assisting members with managing and improving their health.
A few of the innovative health plans have turned to social networking as a way to communicate and form bonds with their members within the context of wellness. Harvard Pilgrim has well, then, a member-focused wellness site that connects to popular social networks like Facebook and Twitter. And several plans have deployed the My Blue Community platform, a collection of online discussion boards that center on various health topics.
At ShapeUp, we’re building robust solutions designed specifically to help health plans use social strategies to engage their members and improve their health. The value proposition is that social networking provides a low-cost communication channel; generates valuable profile data about each individual member, such as health goals, interests, and email address; allows members to motivate and support each other, building a community of support; generates powerful user-created content that serves as a health resource; allows members to feel a sense of ownership and control over their health; and offers a viral mechanism that gives plans a chance to extend their reach to new potential members. Plus there’s plenty of research to show that healthy behavior change happens most effectively and sustainably when people work together with their peers.
Every industry in the world is grappling with how the widespread adoption of social networking can help achieve business goals. The business case for health plans to use social networking for member engagement and health improvement is clear and compelling. Now is the time for America’s health plans to get social.
social networking, member engagement, health plans, health insurance exchanges, health care reform, ahip