For Cigna, UnitedHealthcare, digital innovation is all about the customer

By Jonah Comstock
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Health insurers Cigna and UnitedHealthcare both took the stage in deep dive sessions at the Health 2.0 Fall Conference in Santa Clara, California this week. The two insurers both spoke on the same general theme: what it means to be a customer-centered health insurer in 2017, and how technology can support that vision.

“‘Putting the customer at the center of all we do’ is an easy phrase, but for a company that historically has made its bread and butter off of a B2B type of relationship, has been a big shift for us to turn that statement into actual action,” Jackie Aube, VP of customer adoption and personalization, said. “So putting the customer at the center of all we do doesn’t mean that employers aren’t critically important to us or providers aren’t critically important. But our mission is, if we can all collaborate and put the customer at the center of all we do in terms of the design and the decisions we make, maybe we can actually get this right.”

Cigna’s latest attempt to support this vision is a patient-facing app called OneGuide, which is currently in use by 1.7 million of Cigna’s 15 million covered lives. OneGuide evolved out of a digital health pilot called Compass.

“What we did with Compass was we tried to rethink the whole way we drive digital engagement. We had great tools but it was on the customer to figure out what to do next, how to earn that incentive, how to find a doctor. We said, we’ve got all of this data, why don’t we flip that model on its head, run a bunch of different algorithms and then proactively push out to the customer what they should be doing next to maximize their care,” Cigna Senior Director Cameron Ough said. “So we launched that, ran that for a couple of years, then took the learnings, took the insights, and through a very user-centered design approach brought that together and launched OneGuide.”

What Cigna’s team is most proud of in OneGuide is the notion of context-driven interactions.

“We realized that through all of the insights, there’s certain moments that matter more to customers and you really have to get them right,” Aube said. “We focused around the moments that matter. We understand that our customer segments experience those moments in different ways, and we really need to invest in analytics. … Our predictive models had always been focused on health conditions and we had decades of experience in that, so that’s not really where we needed help. It was more combining the health aspect of when to intervene with the likelihood and propensity for someone to act based on who they are and continuing to hone those analytic models, using AI and machine learning to continue to get smarter every day and find better ways to get individuals to respond.”

At the UnitedHealthcare deep dive, Chief Strategy Officer John Cosgriff positioned customer-centricity as customer empowerment, something he described as crucial in bringing real change to healthcare.

“For us really, we want to be a great healthcare company, but we also want to be a great consumer company,” he said. “Because our view is without serving the consumer and without activating the consumer to be a real force in healthcare, then all these changes we want to make — in terms of making healthcare like so many other consumer service businesses, with transparency, warrantees, etc. — without getting the consumer engaged that’s going to be impossible.”

He spoke about non-technological operations where UnitedHealthcare employs a patient-centric strategy, such as home visits. The company also employs tech on the back-end to streamline its communication with patients. After losing some members who the company communicated with too much, they integrated their member communications into one screen a call center operator can see. The operator then schedules whatever visits a member might need to address their gaps in care while on the phone with the member, to keep the interaction points on the customer side to a minimum.

Even in its home care business, UnitedHealthcare is looking ahead to how technology could be transformative.

“It’s fascinating to see at conferences like this all the different sensor packs and tools that can be sent out to homes, so some of these visits can be done without needing an actual practitioner in the home,” he said. “I think that’s important generally for scale but also if we think about some of the more rural areas that we serve, it would be wonderful if eventually your phone or your phone with some sensor pack could accomplish much of what we do today with a home clinician visit.”

SImilarly, Ough said Cigna’s future plans will also use more kinds of patient-generated data.

“Going forward we need to think about the whole person and all the things that are unique to them,” he said. “That’s going to include ventures that support people in a specific condition segment, building up that tapestry where we can personalize and find that wraparound context. It gets into telemetric data, fitness devices, information all floating around in realtime, integrated as much as possible.”