Elevating a simpler digital experience to increase member engagement

The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to the rapid transformation of the consumer experience across industries. Retail. Entertainment. Hospitality. Seemingly no business has been spared, and that includes health care. For individuals covered by an employer health care plan, COVID-19 accelerated their adoption of digital platforms and tools to help manage their care and make more informed health care and benefit decisions. 

Now, with new habits formed, how is the health care industry responding to these trends and improving the experience for employees? For UnitedHealthcare, lessons learned from 2020 are helping the company further develop a digital strategy with three areas of focus: infrastructure, growth and engagement. 

“We’ve reprioritized things we were already thinking about developing to improve the member digital experience,” says Jeff Greely, Vice President of Digital Product at UnitedHealthcare. “The goal is to empower consumers to take control and eliminate unknowns — the number one thing that drives consumer unease with health care.”  

The positive impact of UnitedHealthcare's digital strategy has been apparent, accelerating the utilization of digital offerings in 2020, including: 

  • Telehealth visits growing from nearly 1 million in 2019 to over 22 million during 20201
  • Visits to UnitedHealthcare member portals reaching their highest levels2
  • Consumers completing over 150,000 symptom checks through the online symptom checker on UHC.com3

3 key takeaways from member digital experience

  1. COVID-19 accelerated employees’ adoption of digital platforms and tools to help manage their care and make more informed health care and benefit decisions
  2. UnitedHealthcare telehealth visits grew from nearly 1 million in 2019 to over 22 million during 20204
  3. UnitedHealthcare has created a digital “front door” experience that helps to optimize the delivery of information across an employee’s computer, mobile and tablet

“It’s clearer than ever that digital technologies can play a central role in the post-pandemic health care landscape. The pandemic has accelerated transformation, clarifying what consumers need and expect from the digital experience.” 

— Jeff Greely, Vice President of Digital Product, UnitedHealthcare

Building a simpler digital health care experience with the right infrastructure

A strong digital experience can start with consumers being able to easily find the health care information they need, where and when they want it. Today, most consumers expect simple and seamless access to their health care information across devices and platforms, similar to an online retail shopping experience. 

Given this, UnitedHealthcare has created a digital “front door” experience that helps to optimize delivery of information across an employee’s computer, mobile and tablet. It’s meant to help deliver what employees and their families search for most online: a network provider, details about a claim and information about plan benefits.

In 2021, the UnitedHealthcare® app and myuhc.com® member experiences will be more closely synced. The company plans to launch new app features and enhancements, including provider search functionality and pharmacy order management improvements. 

“All of this work about building trust with members  elevates transparency and choice,” Greely says. “If members get faster, simpler access to the information they need to make decisions easier and faster, it’s better for everyone who touches the digital ecosystem.”

Greely explains when employees can get the information they need, when and how they want it, they’re more likely to understand and use benefits more confidently and know the costs of future care. For employers, this may mean fewer requests for help and potential cost savings due to more informed health care decisions, among other benefits.

Digital tools and capabilities in health care continue to grow

A successful digital health strategy can also focus on creating new experiences aligned with member expectations. In this respect, 2020 made clear that expanded virtual care offerings is a critical element of access to care and the overall employee experience. It’s estimated that virtual care visits in the U.S. exceeded 1 billion in 2020 largely driven by COVID-19, followed by about 200 million visits for general care and the flu, and about 80 million behavioral health-related visits.5

“The pandemic opened members' eyes that virtual care was a legitimate place to access health care, and it did the same for providers,” says Dr. Gerald Hautman, Chief Medical Officer with UnitedHealthcare National Accounts. “It's a far more effective means of delivering care for certain types of individuals in particular circumstances — far more efficient for the provider and for the patient.”

In 2021, UnitedHealthcare plans to build on the virtual care momentum, including:

  • Increasing virtual visit access through virtual appointments in primary care, urgent care, disease management and behavioral health services. Virtual Primary Care launched in early 2021 with the goal of combining the convenience of virtual care with the advantages of seeing a Primary Care Physician (PCP) who is familiar with their patient’s medical health history.  
  • Making it easier for employees to make virtual appointments. For instance, employees will be able to make a behavioral health appointment through myuhc.com. Virtual behavioral health options help employees avoid any stigma of walking through the front door of a facility, for example, and rural residents can avoid long drives to provider offices.

“We're going to see continued improvement in that space — not just access to virtual care but making sure we try to help identify what’s the right model of care,” Greely says. “That’s going to help drive affordability.”

Whether COVID-19-related or not, digital product innovation is about helping to improve the member experience by making health care easier. Greely believes UnitedHealthcare is uniquely positioned to help build on strong member engagement momentum seen in 2020. 

“For all of the negativity that comes with COVID-19, it was a spark for us digitally that showed us we can move faster and deliver really interesting solutions more quickly,” he says. “We're much more effective. The amount of meaningful change that we have introduced into our digital experiences in 2020 is impressive.”

COVID-19 Vaccine Resource Locator

With rapid changes with COVID-19 vaccine availability, UnitedHealthcare launched a vaccine resource locator for members, customers and providers to include:

  • Tools to help them navigate when and where to receive a vaccine
  • Resources to help find key COVID-19 vaccine information
  • Key information on costs and timing 

This ZIP code-based tool finds online, public vaccine resources available through state and local health departments, as well as national retail pharmacies.

Engagement fueled by advocacy and a more personalized member experience

With the above advancements in motion, what’s next? Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning can now support a more personalized member digital experience. In turn, this may deliver a better experience for employees to help keep them engaged in making more informed health decisions.

“How do we show that we're advocating for our members? The answer involves proactively offering members clinical, financial and wellness guidance across digital products, and helping them feel like they’re in the driver’s seat,” Greely says. “It’s about building out a technology portfolio stack that allows configurations instead of a one-size-fits-all approach. It's changing the way that we bring digital assets forward.”

One area where this is helping to make  an impact is UnitedHealthcare’s  enhancement of home-based services through digital therapeutics like Level2® — an innovative therapy that helps employees with type 2 diabetes move toward remission through unique capabilities, starting with AI-infused data sets of real-time continuous glucose monitor readings.

Eligible participants are also provided with other integrated tools including an activity tracker, app-based alerts and one-on-one clinical coaching to help encourage healthier lifestyle decisions, such as food choices, exercise and sleep patterns. The information is used in tandem with an employee’s medical and pharmacy claims, laboratory data and medical records. Real-time feedback on a member’s actions helps them consistently make more informed health care decisions.

“Programs and solutions should be geared to what you need from the health care system at that stage in your life or in your particular circumstances,” Greely says. “That needs to be front and center versus you having to dig around and find what you need.”

The UnitedHealthcare® app is available for download for iPhone® or Android®. iPhone is a registered trademark of Apple, Inc. Android is a registered trademark of Google LLC.

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