Payers meticulous in building mHealth strategies

While the future success of the mobile healthcare industry hinges primarily on adoption and acceptance of technology among providers and consumers, the role of payers is growing increasingly important, as well. With that in mind, insurance companies need to approach diving into mHealth very carefully, according to Paul Nutting, divisional vice president of customer experience with Chicago-based Health Care Service Corporation, and Anoop Bhogal, director, information services and relationship management at Philadelphia-based Independence Blue Cross.

Speaking on the recent FierceHealthPayer webinar "Establishing a mobile strategy for your health plan," Nutting and Bhogal talked about how their respective companies meticulously evaluated the consumer landscape prior to their initial mobile ventures. HCSC, in particular, focused on relevancy, according to Nutting.

"We decided that our strategy wasn't about a big PR splash," Nutting (right) said. "We really wanted to make sure we were delivering relevant capabilities through a relevant medium that the largest portion of our customers would be able to use and get value from."

According to Nutting, that involved first dividing consumers into three types of users: power users, casual users and non-users. Power users, Nutting said, are those customers who use mobile devices to perform a majority of their daily tasks, while casual users only user their devices for checking email and occasional web browsing.

Next, Nutting said he and his colleagues examined the needs of their consumers based on health status, to see if there was a way to create an experience on a mobile device that also would allow for lead generation and the selling of insurance products.

"Ultimately, what we were looking for were the high-volume transactions or needs where we thought mobile could change the experience, and where we found there was a willingness amongst our customers to use those capabilities," he said. We also wanted to understand the ways in which they were using mobile … the goal was just having better overall engagement with our customer base."

Bhogal (left) said Independence's strategy was similar, focusing on ways to decrease customer hassles.

"Payers are kind of perceived to be on the hook for a number of things, some of which we don't necessarily control," Bhogal said. "But that's how consumers view healthcare. That allowed us to think about ways in which mobile solutions could ease stresses."

To that end, Bhogal said, the fundamental tenants of the Independence strategy focused on providing the basics (access to information); mHealth (wellness and medical management); and gamification (for increased engagement).

"People don't really think about healthcare until they have to think about healthcare," Bhogal said. "What we're trying to do is think of ways to get customers involved in more innovative ways," in addition to the basics.

Nutting added that prioritizing security from the outset was a must. HCSC, he said, formed a group comprised of privacy, audit legal and security professionals dubbed PALS that met weekly to ensure security would be considered every step of the way.

"Getting those folks engaged in a proactive way at the strategy development and initial launch made everything go that much more smoothly."

In looking toward the future, both Nutting and Bhogal said new demographics of customers will be key to their evolving strategies.

"The base of our customers is changing," Nutting said. "With the advent of the Affordable Care Act, we plan to grow our member base in both the Hispanic segment and with those who are lower income and previously wouldn't be able to afford coverage. We really, really see mobile as a way to engage those market segments."

To learn more:
- here's the full archived webinar (registration required)