Part 2: Applying 5 health consumer engagement trends in the Year of the Monkey

2016 is the Year of the Monkey in the Chinese calendar. While monkeys are hailed as innovative and quick, we are starting to see the healthcare industry adopt these traits as well. Every year, healthcare pundits release their annual predictions, and I’m not exempt. In the second part of this series, I discuss three top topics that I predict we’ll see unfold in the next 10 months: retail clinics will see mainstream adoption, exchanges will finally stem the tide, and wearables and telehealth will continue their steady climb.
The healthcare industry is poised to embrace innovation and speed in the Year of the Monkey.

In my most recent post, I took a look at what I view as two of five top engagement-related issues I’m seeing as we enter the Year of the Monkey:

  1. Quality measures, with Medicare Advantage as the “Star”
  2. Scaling adherence and tools in chronic health management

Considering Nuance’s status in the industry as a leader in intelligent self-service solutions, I’m examining how consumer engagement will impact top healthcare issues for organizations in the coming year. With executives and teams at many organizations dedicated solely to customers’ engagement and experience, those two concepts are no longer a trend, but threads that run through most other industry issues.

So, after you’ve read part one, have a look at what I believe are the other three (of five) top engagement-related issues this year:

  1. Retail clinics attract mainstream adoption: Visits to retail clinics like those run by CVS and Walgreens are expected to increase by 30 percent per year, and why not? Their footprint is exploding, with an estimated 2,400 to be open by the end of this year and patients can pay far less than with a physician or ED visit, if the condition can be appropriately treated. An obvious objective for these clinics is to boost their number of visits, and engage patients so that they will continue to do so. Thanks to a reasonable level of data sharing between these clinics and health system partners, providing an avenue for consistent care to chronic patients is part of the value proposition. The clinic chain I spoke with earlier this month was interested in proactive engagement to remind, say, diabetic patients that they’re due for an A1c test or remind established patients it’s time for flu shots. The added incentive here is to help contracted plans boost their quality compliance: a value add as both commercial and Medicare Advantage plans determine which retail clinics might be part of their narrow networks. And with pharmacies and retail chains offering so many lines of products and services, their initial point of contact with a consumer must clearly route them to their desired resource: Interactive Voice Response (IVR) functionality should be intuitive, conversational and anticipatory.
  1. Exchanges and participating plans finally stem the tide: The health insurance marketplaces saw 12.7 million people enroll by the end of the 2016 period, and these members will continue to shine a light on the issues created by the increasing amount of interactions plans have with shoppers and enrollees. Plans need to ensure their websites are informative and easy to navigate, so one top five plan deployed our virtual assistant using both English and Spanish versions on their desktop and mobile websites. The plan has seen strong results, deflecting 43 percent of inbound calls and 77 percent first contact resolution in its most recent scorecard. The health plan is experiencing a classic win-win situation; shoppers and members are getting their questions answered through an improved, seamless experience without needing to call in to speak with a live agent, and the plan sees reduction in costs. eHealth Insurance – the country’s largest private health insurance exchange – leverages proactive engagement to keep their applicants informed of status changes and agent appointments, thus deflecting incoming calls, saving 94 percent over live calls. Over time, 59 percent of their Nuance proactive engagement traffic has moved to text messaging.
  1. Telehealth and wearables continue their deliberate adoption rate: I decided to combine these two trends under one umbrella because they share three key attributes. First, the market for these devices is still extremely fragmented with hundreds of entries (or thousands, depending on how you count) and more companies entering every month. Second, while adoption has been slower than many of us thought five years ago, the trend line is definitely pointed up (the number of telehealth customers is expected to increase to seven million by 2018, and 47 percent of consumers would consider using wearables in the future – we see current users at around 16 percent). And finally, they both need forms of patient engagement to boost their use. These technologies are all about lifting adherence rates and thus health outcomes, but the adage “if you build it, they will come” doesn’t apply here. These technologies need proactive engagement in the form of text and push notifications, as well as conversational voice capabilities and virtual assistant technology to increase use. Expect more to come.

2016 will be another interesting year, but after 26 years in this industry, I haven’t seen a dull one yet. The striking thing about these five trends, though, is that they don’t change markedly year over year. Perhaps this is the year that we make significant strides in automating patient engagement and get the monkey off our backs.

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Vance Clipson

About Vance Clipson

Vance Clipson, senior principal, industry solutions for Nuance Communications, focuses on vertical-specific strategy and marketing with an emphasis on healthcare, financial services and government. Clipson brings 25 years of experience translating industry needs and data into market strategy and programs for Milliman, PacifiCare Health Systems and other organizations.