How BCBSNC meets its members' mobile needs

By Rob M. Kurtz

Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from the FierceHealthPayer eBook, Payers and mHealth: Best Practices for the Move to Mobile.

Smartphone users have come to expect their mobile browser to provide access to a variety of resources that not only render clearly and function efficiently, but provide continuous access to information. Delivering on these expectations is encouraging more insurers--including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC), based in Chapel Hill--to develop mobile-friendly versions of websites.

"Providing our customers with critical information at the point in time at which they're engaging in healthcare was the driving impetus for us to develop a mobile site," says Matthew Penwell, director of the BCBSNC web office.

"It's about getting them the information they care about at a place and a time when it's important to them."

Whether that's in a physician's office or supermarket, insurers are devising practical and clever ways to meet their members' mobile needs.

Penwell says that when developing a mobile website the insurer "really looked at [identifying] the information our customers would most likely need in a provider setting or if they're looking to select BCBSNC as a potential insurer," he says.

This approach resulted in a site with secure features for members and several features for users not requiring a login.

Members who log into the mobile site can view claims, see their current plan benefit information and determine approximate treatment costs. Even if they don't log in, users can still find a physician, shop for plans, locate the nearest urgent care center and contact customer service.

These specific features were chosen based on website use statistics and the most common reasons for calls into customer service. But not every feature the insurer considered was included in the launch.

Penwell says BCBSNC did not include information it determined was not easily accessible from a mobile device, including any Adobe PDF report (such as an explanation of benefits) and lengthy copy not critical for viewing while in a physician's office or pharmacy. "Just because you can put something on a mobile device doesn't mean you should," he says.

An early analysis of site traffic revealed users are using the mobile site to access claims, view the deductible balance, check health savings account balance, and search for providers. That kind of analysis both before and after launch is important. In fact, the insurer uncovered at least one surprising trend when it analyzed user behavior post-launch.

"We had a very large percentage of folks coming to our shopping Channel--about 60 percent of our traffic [came to look] at plan information," he says. "I was surprised to see that much because we haven't made a strong focus on using our mobile site for pure-play e-commerce."

A new feature will allow members to calculate their true out-of-pocket cost for a service; currently members only receive an estimated out-of-pocket cost.

"We believe that to be able to provide them with relevant information [when] they have to make a decision is critical … for our customers," Penwell says.

To read the rest of this and other articles, download FierceHealthPayer's free eBook, Payers and mHealth: Best Practices for the Move to Mobile.