Healthcare organizations (both payer and provider) are continuing to struggle with the impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Some of the impact of the ACA was intended, such as allowing consumers to choose healthcare coverage on exchanges. However, others were not – such as leaving consumers at the mercy of systems that simply weren't ready to handle the influx of consumer demand and their needs. These struggles are particularly painful in a world where social media has become the norm rather than the exception. Today’s healthcare consumers have high expectations that are being set outside of the healthcare industry. In addition, the ability of a consumer to quickly publicly socialize even the slightest poor experience can be challenging to payers and providers who may not be ready to respond. While social media can be a “problem,” it can also be the “solution” if viewed as a requirement instead of a “side of the desk” project.
As the Affordable Care Act went into place in January of 2014, there was a media frenzy reporting about consumers suddenly finding themselves without coverage. Many healthcare payers were unprepared for the backlash not only from the media, but also from consumers taking action via social media outlets. While payers had spent millions of dollars on initiatives to improve customer experience, most were unprepared for the impact of the ACA. According to The Associated Press, at least 4.7 million Americans received notices that their health plans were cancelled. During the following few months after the ACA was implemented, Converseon (a leading social strategy and analytics company) reported that 41% of tweets mentioning the ACA were negative. Not only did this cause a media firestorm, but also a lack of credibility and trust in health insurers and the administration. In the coming years consumers will have more decision-making power in their health plans, causing this problem to grow exponentially with the use of social media. However, there are success stories that provide hope as we enter another period of open enrollment.
A pregnant woman went in for a routine checkup, only to find that unbeknownst to her, her coverage had been cancelled. Rightfully frustrated and stressed, she posted her experience on Twitter, specifically mentioning the insurance company who had dropped her coverage. Within 30 minutes, the company contacted her via private messaging to help her address her concern. Even though it was after hours for the company’s call center, they passed her information on to their social care customer service agent who called her to intervene. The agent who had been briefed on the situation was compassionate, responsive and was able to resolve the issue. It was true that her coverage had been cancelled, but she actually had coverage under a new plan and the eligibility system wasn’t updated causing the issue.
Given the fact that many insurers have legacy systems that don't communicate between each other, and the fact that service channels are fragmented, it is likely that these types of situations will only continue to grow. As consumer choice becomes more prevalent it’s important that insurers react quickly to negative experiences. It will be some time before healthcare payers and providers have capabilities like Zappos or Amazon. However, there are several keys to cost effectively leveraging social media to improve overall customer experience.
Healthcare companies have only just started to truly think about how to manage the customer experience and how social media plays into their strategy. Most healthcare companies are years behind companies that manage consumer experience as a core piece of their business. As the healthcare landscape changes individuals that leverage social media will have more power. Payers and providers must be prepared for socially engaged consumers who are advocating for their health. In reality, this socially engaged and competent consumer base will have more at stake as healthcare decisions and outcomes are much more critical than buying a pair of shoes online. It will be important for healthcare companies to take this social challenge seriously and act quickly. A two to three year roadmap building out customer service capabilities will not suffice as consumers will want tangible action – in real time.