Wednesday, June 25, 2014

How health insurers can earn trust

The most important missing ingredient the healthcare system today is trust .

Life used to be much easier in the past, when patients could trust that their family doctor ( with whom they had a relationship for many years) would do what's right for them . Unfortunately , that trust has been eroded for multiple reasons .

The entire medical profession has damaged its reputation , and it's an open secret that doctors take kickbacks from pharmaceutical companies, labs, imaging centers and other doctors. Patients no longer trust doctors, and this lack of trust has affected the other players in the health ecosystem as well. Pharmaceutical companies are seen to be greedy corporates, who are out to maximize their profits at the expense of the patient’s wallet,.

Similarly, health insurance companies are generally perceived as being gatekeepers , who do their best to try to block access to medical treatment , in order to keep their costs down and their profits up. They are considered to be bloated bureaucratic organizations, manned by heartless clerks, who do their best to refuse, reject and delay claims.

This creates a lot of resentment and angst in the patient , who feels his treatment is being wrongfully denied . This often sets up a conflict between the doctor and the insurer as well . Doctors now believe that insurers  are trying to strangle them by capping their payments; and even worse, are starting to play doctor and second guess them , by performing utilization reviews, and judging their medical decisions.

The problem  has been that health insurers have been very short-sighted. Financial transactions have been their only points of contact with their customers so far. Thus, they talk to the customer only when they want to collect the annual premium; or when the customer submits a claim, which they need to pay.

While they are happy to collect the premium every efficiently, they can be extremely tardy when it comes to paying the claim. Since the customer interactions are usually done under negative circumstances ( after all, no one likes paying a premium when they are healthy; and it can be very stressful to have to fill out medical insurance claim forms when one is ill !), it’s quite natural that the general perception of health insurers is negative. They are treated as a necessary evil, which one has to put up with, much like the tax man.

This is such a shame, because health insurers can do so much to create positive interactions with their customers ! If health insurers want to earn their customers’ trust , they need to be proactive . The best way of doing this is by providing their customers with Information Therapy .

Knowledge is power , and a patient desperately hunts for reliably trustworthy information about the his problem when he is ill, to ensure he is getting the best medical care.  This is why patients spend hours trawling the Internet , googling for information. While the information should ideally come from their doctor, most doctors are too busy to educate their patients.

Internet searches can be very frustrating, and Dr Google sometimes causes more harm than good, because patients are not sophisticated enough to differentiate good information from bad.

Health insurance companies can position themselves as being the preferred first point of contact when their customer has a medical problem. They can provide patients with Information Therapy – prescription strength information, which is provided to the right person , at the right time .

Patients can be very vulnerable, and if the health insurance company proactively provides them with trustworthy, reliable, and easy to understand health information, they will be able to convert their customers into raving fans !

Not only is this very good for creating a positive buzz , it also makes a lot of business sense for insurance companies to invest in this. Providing Information Therapy before the patient goes to the doctor , helps the patient to have an intelligent conversation with his doctor, and saves the doctor time as well ! It reduces avoidable care and unnecessary surgery and medical treatments. Doctors are much more respectful when they have to treat a well-informed patient ! A good doctor and a well-informed patient can form a partnership which will ensure that patients get the best possible medical care.

If health insurers adopt this model, they will be able to earn their customer’s trust, and this is invaluable !

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