Health care insurers roll out fancy apps to appeal to customers

Written on Feb 20, 2018

Health care firms are making a hard push to engage patients where they spend the most time: on their cell phones. The goals: savings and building customer loyalty.

This year's flu epidemic is resulting in a surge of consumers turning to telemedicine appointments for doctor visits, but Oscar Health has been working on building virtual engagement with its members year round.

Last year, the insurer engaged in virtual interactions with nearly two-thirds of its members, ranging from telemedicine visits and phone consultations, to scheduling visits with in-network doctors. That's up from less than half in 2016.

Those virtual interactions have meant greater utilization and has also helped to drive down overall medical costs for conditions like asthma. The cost of care for an asthma episode without telemedicine is about $946. It often involves more than one in-office visit. The cost of care for an asthma encounter with telemedicine is only about $260.

For hospitals, which are seeing greater competition from urgent care providers and retail clinics, virtual engagement is a priority not just to reduce costs but to keep patients engaged with their health system.

Kaiser Permanente has seen digital patient interactions top in-office visits. Last year, Kaiser did more than 140,000 video visits and 8.4 million telephone visits with its members, which now number nearly 12 million.

According to PwC, this year nearly two-thirds of health systems will have an executive in charge of boosting patient experience. Many are also looking at how they use digital tools internally, as a way to retain staff and reduce turnover.

Analysts say the trend began long before the threat of new health care entrants like tech giant Amazon, which touts itself as "building the earth's more customer-centric company." But when it comes to being more customer-friendly, health care firms have a long way to play catch up with consumer companies.

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