Survey: Consumers want straightforward tools, not flashy tech, from health plans

By Heather Mack
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Keep it simple. That’s what consumers are saying when it comes to health insurance companies' tech offerings, according to a recent survey by global consulting company PwC’s Strategy&.
 
According to the more than 500 consumers polled, what they want most aren't cutting edge technologies, but straightforward organizational tools that allow them the most basic functions like making appointments, paying bills and accessing their health records.
 
In the United States, there has been a shift in the $3 trillion healthcare industry towards consumer choice, with more and more people taking an active role in their overall health and wellness. Consumers are taking on more risk for managing their own care, and the industry is responding in kind by rolling out new products and services that empower them to do so. But the wave of sophisticated wearables and self-diagnosis tools may be off-target, Strategy& found.
 
While advanced technologies like these ultimately can improve quality of care and reduce overall cost, what Strategy& survey respondents really want is their basic needs met first. The analysis indicated that 94 percent of them choose basic utility and transparency over advanced features, like telemedicine.
 
The four most preferred features were out-of-pocket cost estimators, simple access to health records (both online and mobile), mobile post-care instructions, online appointment scheduling with in-network providers, and a centralized payment portal to both health plan and provider. The second category, labeled as “Nice to Have,” includes things that would enhance current health plans, such as telehealth and mobile consultations, personalized health and wellness predictors, and ratings tools for quality transparency.
 
Even though wearables linking to health records and remote monitoring systems may be flashy (and enticing to health care providers) consumers rank those among the least important, along with health goal-management programs and interactive tools for self-diagnosis.
 
In the era of big data, if sharing personal information and nonsensitive health information equates to better care, consumers are happy to divulge. The survey found 97 percent of them are willing to share personal health data, with just a few ranking data privacy as an important feature of a health plan.
 
The analysis recommended that insurers who want to maximize investments on new technologies should zero in on developing simple digital products and services that align with their existing capabilities. Referencing New York-based insurance startup Oscar Health, Strategy& outlined a path for health plans: be gradual.
 
“The lesson for incumbent health plans is to stick with enhancing convenience and resist the temptation to jump into territory that technologically advanced competitors and industries such as banking and retail are now exploring," authors Keith Fengler, Jaime Estupiñán, and Kenny Chan wrote. "Those companies are pushing ahead only because they have already mastered the basics. Our survey shows that health consumers don’t expect the industry to make that ambitious high-tech leap — and that they don’t want it to. The results imply an awareness that healthcare lags other industries in its adoption of consumer technology.”