How health plans can bring 'omnichannel' thinking to member marketing

BALTIMORE—COVID-19 has driven significant interest in alternatives to brick-and-mortar, including spikes in both virtual care and home healthcare use.

That interest offers a notable opportunity for insurers to think differently about their marketing strategies to better attract and retain members, experts said Monday at the Healthcare Innovation Congress. CVS Health, for instance, has made an "omnichannel" approach central to this, as it pulls strengths from its diverse business assets.

"The term 'omnichannel,' I think, is sort of a nebulous term," said Daniel Knecht, M.D., vice president and chief clinical innovation officer for CVS Caremark, on a panel at the conference. "I think from a CVS Health perspective the way we see omnichannel is really meeting patients where they are."

How does that translate to member engagement? You'll reach people more effectively by meeting them "where they want to be met," Knecht said.

At UnitedHealthcare, that means evaluating members' unique needs and finding the avenues they're most receptive to. Members who are the most active in managing their care already, or the most familiar with digital tools, may just need a quick nudge or reminder about logging to their portals, said Alex Kurth, vice president of omnichannel engagement at UnitedHealthcare, on the panel.

Other members, however, may be more comfortable with a traditional phone call. That call may allow an operator to direct them to digital options or to triage their concerns fully telephonically, Kurth said.

Health plans have a wealth of data on members they can deploy effectively for more targeted and personalized outreach, Kurth said. In an era where many apps and tools are competing for people's attention, "generic mass marketing" doesn't work as well as it used to.

"Having all of that history and data helps us understand our unique membership populations," he said.

At GoMo Health, a health tech company, the team will often "whitepaper" its outreach to make it feel more welcoming and personalized. GoMo's branding may not even be visible; instead, the message will feel like a letter from a member's doctor.

Personalizing messages in that way helps build trust and connection with patients, said Nakecia Taffa, director of Medicaid and Medicare quality improvement at GoMo Health, on the panel.

"Having that trust enables a member to feel like a part of their healthcare journey," she said.

Kurth said providers are key collaborators for health plans looking to make messages stick, as they're a trusted source that already has a connection with the member in a way that their health insurer may not. There are also certain topics that feel worse to a member when the payer is the one reaching out to them, such as news about prior authorization approvals and denials.

Sending something that's more tangible, rather than a simple email or letter, can also be key, said Knecht. CVS Health, for example, wanted to reduce the negative impacts of poor oral hygiene on surgical outcomes, as it is a top driver of postoperative pneumonia.

Instead of emailing the patient urging them to bring a toothbrush to the hospital, or sending a pamphlet in the mail, CVS sent out oral health kits that included toothpaste, mouthwash and other supplies that the company then prompted them to take with them to the procedure.

"If you're willing to send something of value, it can really move the needle," Knecht said.