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Increasing telehealth utilization boosts member satisfaction with health plans

The effective use of virtual care has potential to increase customer engagement, as well as build trust and promote brand advocacy.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Photo: Aekkarak Thongjiew EyeEm/Getty Images

Significantly increased telehealth utilization and greater adoption of digital communication channels has helped U.S. health plans boost their popularity among members during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the new J.D. Power 2021 U.S. Commercial Member Health Plan Study.

In fact, 36% of privately insured health plan members in the U.S. accessed telehealth services, up from just 9% a year ago, contributing to a 10-point gain (on a 1,000-point scale) in overall member satisfaction.

What this indicates is that the effective use of virtual care holds the potential to increase customer engagement, as well as build trust and promote brand advocacy. This is a byproduct of a significant increase in digital contact and telehealth adoption.

WHAT'S THE IMPACT

Telehealth utilization increased 27 percentage points over the past year, with 36% of U.S. health plan members saying they accessed telehealth services, up from just 9% a year ago. Digital contact with insurers also increased, with 32% of members saying they connected with their health plans via web, mobile app or text message in the past year.

Overall satisfaction improved 10 points year over year, up from a 6-point increase in 2020 and a one-point increase in 2019. The year-over-year rise in satisfaction has been driven largely by significant improvement in scores relating to cost, information and communication. 

Net Promoter Scores also improved, having risen seven points during the past two years. Similarly, perceived levels of trust in health plans have increased two percentage points during the past two years.

Not surprisingly, virtual engagement was higher among younger generations. Members of Gen Z and Gen Y had the highest levels of contact with their health plan, with 62% of Gen Z and 52% of Gen Y members accessing their health plan's customer service channel at least once during the past year. That number falls to 49% among pre-Boomers and Boomers. While contact lifts satisfaction for all members, the effect is 20 points higher among Gen Y/Z members than among older members.

Despite these improvements, however, more than one-third of health plan members had no engagement with their health plan. Nearly half (44%) of pre-Boomers/Boomers had no engagement with their health plan, the highest percentage of any generational group.

THE LARGER TREND

Before the pandemic, there were hurdles when it came to touching base with a doctor remotely. Now, though, with many of those hurdles at least temporarily lifted – due to policy changes at the federal level – more consumers have received a taste of what telehealth is like. And most liked it, at least enough to want to keep using it after the pandemic has become a memory.

That was the main finding of an April Sykes survey that polled 2,000 Americans in March on how their opinions on virtual care have changed within the past year. And it comes at a time when most Americans have now experienced telehealth in some form: In March 2020, fewer than 20% had experienced a telehealth appointment. By March of this year, more than 61% had undergone a telehealth visit.

Numbers recorded over that same time period suggest virtual care is resonating with patients. A year ago, about 65% of Americans felt hesitant or doubtful about the quality of telehealth, and 56% did not believe it was possible to receive the same level of care as compared to in-person appointments. 

Now, almost 88% want to continue using telehealth for nonurgent consultations after COVID-19 has passed, while almost 80% say it's possible to receive quality care.
 

Twitter: @JELagasse
Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com