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Overcoming Healthcare’s Mountain of Mistrust – Part 2: Payers

This is the second part of our series in which we’re discussing the increasing need to build trust among healthcare consumers. The analytics and opinion-polling firm Gallup has found a decline in Americans’ trust in many institutions and industries, including healthcare. This means building strong, ongoing relationships with consumers and members will be more critical than ever.

To recap:

  • Part 1 of the series focused on providers
  • This part, Part 2, focuses on payers (insurance companies)
  • Part 3 (by Marlana Voerster) will focus on medical-device organizations

First off: the bad news in trust for payers

Gallup’s polling data among U.S. consumers shows health insurance companies declined 11 percentage points among respondents rating their experience “Excellent” or “Good.” This is a disappointing reversal for payers, as the 2010 results showed a nine-point gain compared to the 2003 figure. But the 2023 results now put payers two points below where they stood 20 years prior. Among those in the healthcare industry, only nursing homes had a lower “Excellent/Good” ranking.

If that weren’t enough, Gallup’s data shows that 36% of respondents rated their interactions with health insurance companies as “Only fair” (the highest in that category). And 32% rated their interactions as “Poor” (the third-highest in that category, trailing only pharmaceutical companies and nursing homes).

Gallup’s researchers noted several factors that may account for the healthcare industry’s nearly universal decreases in customer trust and satisfaction. For payers, likely the largest contributing factor has been increases in healthcare costs, both in general and those in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Is there any good news in trust for payers?

Quite frankly … not much. Payers at least didn’t drop as far in their consumer rankings as many in the industry, particularly pharmaceutical companies, physicians and hospitals. Payers are still quite a bit ahead of nursing homes and now on a similar level as pharmaceutical firms in terms of consumer satisfaction.

So there’s not much to celebrate in these results. But there are opportunities for advancing your position.

What opportunities are there for your trust-building efforts?

Let’s dig into what these results could lead to for helping you build trust and gain market share:

Make your costs and benefits easy to find and understand

With consumers more cost-conscious than ever about their healthcare, they’re looking for transparency in what they’ll have to pay for their plans. In keeping with government mandates, we’ve seen shifts away from costs buried in tables and PDFs and toward more understandable resources for members. And we’ve seen some forward-thinking organizations creating thoughtful plan-finder experiences to help prospective members know their costs before they commit. If you put price transparency at the core of your information, you’ll likely gain a lot of ground and build significant trust with your members.

“Easy” and “intuitive” are the watchwords to keep in mind. Consumers increasingly expect the “Amazon experience” everywhere online. And as more digital-native consumers start interacting with payer organizations, any sort of inconvenience or obfuscation will be unacceptable.

It used to be enough to serve up the basics:

  • What plans you offer and what they cover
  • Whether their providers are in your network
  • Whether their medications are in your formulary

These alone won’t cut it anymore. Your organization must add value when it matters most in your members’ journeys. They want help selecting plans and knowing how to use their plans. And that’s even more important for consumers managing chronic conditions, as well as plan renewals based on members’ specific utilization.

Consider this a chance to capitalize with skeptical consumers

Knowing ahead of time that healthcare consumers are being more wary gives you an advantage. It means you know rational arguments are going to be even more important in your messaging. And you can plan your content accordingly.

Many of the strategies I laid out in my article on payers and the digital front door will still apply. Make sure you consult your consumer personas, and overcome their potential objections ahead of time. Don’t give them a reason to think of you as shady or trying to hide something from them. They’ll be on their guard. And they won’t give you the benefit of the doubt.

Make it easy and intuitive for consumers to get their questions answered. Give them ways to connect with your customer care team, not just chatbots and AI assistants. At every stage, ensure their user journey aligns with your business goals. If it doesn’t, find where you can adjust your strategies to match the consumers’ needs. And if you can surprise and delight suspicious consumers along the way, you will go far in building trust and rapport.

Prove your value early and often

Don’t hide your value proposition. Don’t be wishy-washy or conditional about why you’re the best. Healthcare consumers who already tend to mistrust payers are looking for anything suspicious from you. Be prepared to say outright why your plans are the best choice for consumers and what value you bring to members.

Also, don’t forget your value-add services and perks of plan membership, such as:

  • Dental and vision care
  • Gym membership discounts
  • Retailer discounts
  • Etc.

Though these aren’t the main draws, they can help weigh the scales for you if consumers are comparing plans among different companies. Make sure consumers know that you offer these. And make sure your members know how to use them.

Understand the role consumers want you to play

In the past, we’ve seen payers provide detailed information on common conditions and treatments covered by their health plans. This has typically been a role filled by providers. But with Gallup’s data showing a drop in consumers’ confidence in providers, it may be appropriate for your organization to fill that void — provided that your consumers want that.

We recommend interviewing members and nonmembers in your service area to get a sense of what they want from payers in general and your organization in particular. Ask them how they feel about both your company and their providers. Gauge their interest in whether they’d like their insurance company to provide information about conditions and treatments. If they’re open to the idea, dive deeper into the subject. Ask them where it would make the most sense to have this information:

  • A dedicated area of your consumer-facing website?
  • FAQs?
  • Member resources?
  • The post-login area of your site?
  • Your member app?

These types of developments are one reason we recommend regularly revisiting and revising your personas and journeys. Make sure you’re not working with data from five or 10 years ago. Have a handle on what today’s consumers want and how to provide it to them.

Tie into providers’ goodwill if possible

As Gallup’s data shows, nurses are particularly trusted and respected among healthcare consumers. Physicians are as well, but they’re in a distant second place compared to nurses.

If you have triage lines, hotlines for health questions or other services staffed by nurses or physicians, make sure to surface those for your members who have questions about their healthcare. When possible, help your members see that your team includes these trusted healthcare professionals. Their presence may help members feel more confident about you and the services you provide.

Push your own telemedicine solutions

Telemedicine was a new addition to Gallup’s polling in 2023. This care option did respectably well. Consumers’ impressions put it ahead of hospital emergency rooms and nearly on par with the better-established walk-in centers and urgent-care clinics.

If you offer telemedicine options as part of your plans, be sure to publicize them as alternatives to crowded emergency rooms and physical centers. This can keep your members from looking elsewhere, especially out-of-network solutions or to those offered by industry disruptors (such as Amazon, Walmart, Kroger, etc.).

One way you can stand out in this newly crowding field is by outlining what benefits there are for members who choose your telemedicine solution over alternatives. In addition to the assumption that your telemedicine visits are covered by your plans, do you offer quicker or on-demand visits, convenient options for arranging visits through your member app or some other advantages?

Rise above the mistrust challenges in your path

Our team works with payers across the United States to cultivate trust and achieve their business goals. We know what it takes to succeed in the health insurance marketplace. And we’ll help you create the strategies that will appeal to your prospective members. Contact us to learn more.

And don’t miss Part 3 of this series. We’ll discuss issues regarding medical-device organizations and building trust with their consumers. See you then!

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Michael Adkins, Senior Content Strategist, Digital Health Strategy

As part of Perficient's Digital Health Strategy team, Michael partners with healthcare organizations to create informative, conversion-centered content for a variety of applications, including websites and blogs. Michael writes content that highlights clients’ service-line offerings, expertise in unique treatments, differentiators in competitive markets and additional factors that are important to patients.

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