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We recently published our 2020 Health Care Consumer Benchmark Study, in which 42% of respondents said that their health plan had not communicated with them at all about their COVID-19 plans and health care coverage. I’m certain all health plans have published communications relevant to COVID-19, but the research shows that the information hasn’t reached a good portion of the audience it’s intended for. Fortunately, it’s not too late to reach out to members to connect with them about COVID-19. Not only can you encourage them get back to health care they’ve delayed when they are ready, but you can build trust through thoughtful and empathetic communications.

Below are some trust-building tips shared by Megan Burns, a consumer experience expert, during our recent AHIP webinar paired with additional findings from our survey about which communications channels members prefer.

Exploring messages, feelings and content health plans should incorporate into COVID-19 communications

In our benchmark survey, we found that 56% of people have delayed care due to COVID-19. We also found that trust in health plans is increasing in 2020 (from 46% in 2019 to 52% in 2020), but there is room for improvement. Communication is key not only for helping members get back to the care they’ve delayed when they are ready, but will also go a long way toward building trust, especially when it is timely and personalized to the member. When considering your communications around COVID-19, here are a few things to keep in mind as you craft messages that inform and engage your member population:

  1. Be honest and be clear. Honesty really is the best policy and it’s generally best to get right to the point so members are completely clear on what you’re saying. Make language easy to digest, don’t bury the lead in marketing or health care jargon, and provide resources to help members get more information if they need it. Be transparent about what you know and don’t know about COVID-19 and how things are changing for members – and for how long.
    • We suggest considering messaging that focuses on acknowledging the uncertainty we are all living through at the moment, while also encouraging members to maintain their health by visiting their health plan portal to see what care options they have available to stay healthy – including specialty telehealth visits or nurse chat/phone lines. Our survey revealed that the majority of people will not return to seek the care they’ve delayed for several months after COVID-19 restrictions ease. The data shows that half of consumers will wait 1-3 months to receive health care (52%), while nearly one-quarter are likely to wait 4-6 months (21%) to receive the care they’ve delayed. Because of this delay, it’s more important than ever to clearly highlight the alternate care options you have available (including any new ones you’ve added since the start of the pandemic like mobile apps or expanded telehealth), as well as information on how to visit urgently needed care safely.
  2. Be empathetic and show you care. Times of crisis are opportunities for health plans (and anyone, really) to show they care, and this is best done through empathy. We are all human, so get on a human level and think about what your members are experiencing, as it’s likely the same uncertainty, stress and fear that you and your colleagues are facing. Lean into that and don’t be afraid to relate to your members – this is not a time to be a big corporation that feels removed from the people it serves!
    • We suggest highlighting some personal narratives about how the crisis is impacting health plan leaders and highlight work you are doing in the community to not only support members, but all those around you who are being negatively impacted by the crisis. Be sincere and share why you’re making the changes and contributions: because you care.
  3. Give as much context as you can. When people aren’t sure about something, they tend to assume the worst. For example, if you are only communicating changes to coverage, without giving context as to the benefits for members or the ways changes will impact them, members are likely assume that any change you’ve made will negatively impact them. This bullet point goes hand-in-hand with clear communication. Make sure that you provide additional details to help members relate to and understand what you’re saying more easily – specifically, how it will impact them personally and for how long. A little can go a long way to building trust and boosting the confidence/security of your members – even when we don’t have all the information we want or need about what is going on.
    • Contextualize the experience we are living through by acknowledging this is not something many have seen in their lifetimes and it’s unprecedented and unknown, making it scary and uncertain, but that you as a health plan have your members best interest in mind and are working to provide them access to care and information as easily as is possible. Clearly state what changes have occurred, why and what exactly they mean for members personally.
  4. It’s never too late to communicate but try to communicate as early and as often as possible. If you haven’t communicated with your members yet, it’s not too late. Focus on honesty, empathy, context and clarity in your first message, since it’s a bit late in coming, but don’t be afraid to send it. Saying something is almost always better than saying nothing. If you’ve already been communicating, great! Keep it up and don’t stop. Communicating frequently, empathetically and clearly will be especially important as you begin to support members who are returning to seek the care they’ve delayed due to the pandemic or those who need to access care in a new way because they no longer want to use traditional face-to-face appointments.
    • Adding on to the ideas we’ve already covered, you can add customizing your outreach once restrictions and safety concerns start to ease to reflect city- or state-specific updates on how your members can access care safely and what kinds of care are now accessible in person at any given time. Communicating more frequently and building trust with your members throughout the crisis will prepare members to look to you first when they are ready to seek the care they’ve delayed for themselves and their families.

The channels you deliver information to your members through are just as important as the content

Great content is only valuable if it reaches your intended audience! So, how can you reach your members and how often should you communicate? In this year’s benchmark, we found that many members not only want to be communicated with more often from their health plans, but they also want to receive communications through their preferred channels.

So how do members want to hear from you? If you don’t already have your member communication preferences recorded, it would be a good idea to form a plan to get this information (open enrollment, pop-up at login, email campaign to update preferences, etc.). If you don’t have the data and you’re not sure where to start, here’s what members say about how they want plans to communicate with them.

  • Email. Still number one with 59% of people preferring to receive email from their health plan. Remember to encourage people to add you to their safe list and to follow good email practices to not spam members so they ignore your messages. And, if you’re not sure how often to communicate, 59% of all our respondents would like to receive an email from their health plan at least every 2-3 months.
  • Mail. It’s a classic and can be a good way to catch folks now that many are working from home. According to this year’s benchmark, 38% of people prefer receiving mail from the health plan and 56% of respondents would like to receive mail from their health plan at least every 2-3 months.
  • Phone. 31% prefer communication from their health plan to be by phone and 37% of our respondents believe a phone call every 2-3 months would be appropriate to communicate plan information, tools and resources.
  • Text. Gaining traction, 22% of respondents reported that text would be one of their preferred communication channels with their health plan, and 39% of respondents comfortable receiving text messages from their health plan every 2-3 months.

Understanding how to communicate with your members and through which channels will be a key step in deepening trust with your members by showing them that you know and care about them as individuals. Trying to gain as much information on personalization and communication preferences as possible from members will serve to benefit you – and them – in the long term. In the immediate term, it will help you navigate the COVID-19 crisis with your members, so your relationship with them comes out the other side of all this stronger.

If you have any questions about this year’s benchmark or ways to communicate with your members about how to get care, access the tools and resources you’ve made available, or otherwise, we’re happy to chat. Contact us here.