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Consumer-driven healthcare: 'We are them; they are us'

Insurers must catch up to consumers who are making purchasing decisions online.

Susan Morse, Managing Editor

LAS VEGAS - Healthcare is in the age of the consumer.

But before the industry can cater to what the customer wants, it needs to determine just what that is, according to Anthem's David Poole, speaking at the conference for America's Health Insurance Plans Wednesday.

To do this, Anthem turned to successful consumer driven businesses, such as Harley-Davidson.

The team found empathy for consumers is number one. When employees have empathy, they can develop a connection between the work they're doing and the positive impact they can have.

Harley-Davidson achieved empathy by hiring its customers, said Poole, staff vice president of Consumer Experience.

The motto of the company's former head of services, Lara Lee, is, "'We are them, they are us,'" Poole said.

Not surprisingly, Anthem also found that consumers want a streamlined experience rather than a stack of paperwork.

[Also: Anthem names John Gallina as CFO, replacing Wayne DeVeydt]

At a doctor's office, patients are given a clipboard and a stack of papers to fill out.

"The reason why you get all those papers is because it's convenient for your doctor's office," Poole said.

Anthem was also aboard the paper train, delivering 13 separate pieces of mail to its members, Poole said.

They decided to streamline the mail into one sleek welcome box that holds ID cards, an easy overview of the plan and all of the legalese the insurer is mandated to send out.

They changed terms that could be confusing. Instead of the using the word "premium," they substituted "monthly payment"; instead of "provider," the language now says, "doctor."

Anthem was also having customers print out a form, fill it out, and fax it back in, even though most people no longer use fax machines.

[Also: Anthem's profits slide 19 percent despite revenue, enrollment gains]

Most consumers want to do business online, Poole said.

"We completely missed the mark," he said.

Addie Braun, a digital marketer with Google, said payers need to catch up to where consumers are online, especially with mobile.

There is a huge gap between the large number of people doing searches on their mobile devices and the relatively small amount of money health plans are spending to reach this market, Braun said.

Plus, insurers are giving consumers information on price when 98 percent of people who are starting their search are looking to be educated about what kind of plan that's best for them, she said.

Close to 100 percent of consumers start at the initial stage when insurers are paying attention only to phase 4, the purchase of a plan, said Braun, head of industry for health insurance at Google.

"No one is really there in a big way helping them understand," she said.

People are searching on their mobile devices for health insurance at a rate of 1.75 million times a week, she said. There are spikes at the beginning and end of year due to open enrollment, but the interest is there year round, she said.

"In health insurance, everyone's waking up to the idea, we can't be health insurers anymore, we have to be marketers," she said.

Braun used her own healthcare experience to show how patients are using technology.

Braun recently ran into a glass door, injuring her nose, and while she sat in the emergency room waiting to be seen, searched on her mobile device for information about her condition.

She googled "how to tell if your nose is broken," and also typed in, "People running into … " and "glass doors" immediately popped up.

This told her, she said, "This is happening multiple times a day. People are sitting in the ER doing searches."

What she wants to see has been pushed into the Google search engine. But insurers have yet to fully realize how much of consumers' decision-making is done online.

"We don't go online, we live online," Braun said. "Everything is moving to an online world in this path to purchase."

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Insurers have also not met the consumer demand for information through video. On YouTube, the only organization that's there in a big way is ehealth, she said.

Poole said customers remember a great experience and pass that on as a recommendation. This drives tremendous value,while unhappy customers chase away future potential customers.

Companies that are exceptionally good at customer experience hold a belief that consumers are the top concern, he said.

Anthem has created a consumer experience team that tests new ideas before rolling them out nationwide.

For consumer-driven healthcare, Poole recommends insurers: See the world as the customers do; design with customers; wire the customer into every decision; and empower associates to challenge the status quo.

Rules and regulations leave front line employees hamstrung, he said.

While healthcare is a highly regulated industry, there's much that can be done to allow front line employees to make decisions, he said.

Twitter: @SusanJMorse