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Insurers Finding New Ways to Connect with Members

Les Masterson, for HealthLeaders Media, January 6, 2010

I have been writing my health insurance column for HealthLeaders Media for two years so I should know a lot more about the industry than the average American.

But I recently received a mailing from my health insurer and found that I was like just about every other confused healthcare consumer. The mailing should not have been complicated; it dealt with a recent eye exam. That should be easy stuff to comprehend, especially for someone who covers health insurance, right? Not exactly. I was left wondering "What do they want? Is this a bill?"

If I had that reaction, what about the millions of Americans who don't know much about insurance—or even worse, those who are not health literate?

There are insurers that understand this issue and are trying to reach out and educate members. Take, for instance, CIGNA, who recently launched a series of podcasts on iTunes and on its Web site that helps the insurer's more than 300,000 international expatriate members learn about their benefits, how to transition to expatriate life, and prepares them for possible challenges they could face when accessing healthcare abroad. (To access the full list of CIGNA podcasts on iTunes, search "CIEB" in the podcast sections or go to CIGNA's site www.CIGNAexpats.com.)

The 29 different podcasts feature talks on health, wellness, benefits, weight management, and pre-trip planning. Ken Vaughan, senior vice president of global sales, client management, and marketing at CIGNA, says the insurer realizes that members, especially those who work outside the U.S., may not understand their benefits.

"As the world has evolved, iTunes has become a very popular way for people to download information whether songs or using their iPods or other media devices to kind of keep track of their personal lives. We figured a natural way to build on the Web site and technology we already had was to publish that information on iTunes. It would be a great way to reach out to our customer base," says Vaughan.

Vaughan says CIGNA has heard members are downloading the podcasts and listening to them on planes, cars, and as pre-trip planning tools. The insurer is gathering feedback and plans to create sessions on pregnancy, asthma, and allergies for those on assignment, as well as create podcasts in other languages, such as Chinese and Japanese.

"We want [expatriate members] to focus on their career, their family, and all the things that they enjoy. We don't want healthcare to be a barrier, so we want to make sure the communication piece around healthcare is very, very easy," says Vaughan.

Part of consumer outreach movement
Podcasts are just a small piece of a larger consumer outreach movement for health insurers, says Vince Kuraitis, principal and founder of Better Health Technologies in Boise, ID. One issue he has with podcasts is that they don't allow for consumer interaction.

"I don't expect podcasts to move the meter a whole lot. They are a step in the right direction. They are just one thing in many that health plans can do to communicate with their customers," he adds.

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