CIGNA isn't the first insurer to use new media to reach out to members. A number of insurers are using Facebook and Twitter to stay connected. In addition, the healthcare industry introduces countless smartphone apps each month that are transforming how people receive healthcare and how they care for themselves.
Though some health plans are using new media, Kuraitis says health insurers are mostly followers—rather than leaders in new consumer technologies. One example of an insurer that is leading, however, is Kaiser Permanente, which has a personal health record that allows members to schedule appointments, see lab results, and e-mail their doctors. Those are the kinds of innovations health plans need, he says.
"I suspect big challenges for health plans because they have not looked at themselves as early innovators or early adopters in reaching out to consumer technologies, but they probably have to learn to be fast followers—people want to access stuff mobily," says Kuraitis.
New media brings about great possibilities, but there are also pitfalls, especially in the area of social media. My colleague Gienna Shaw wrote about those potential issues in an article last year that is a must read for any insurer looking to move into social media.
The iTunes idea is a fresh one that has boundless possibilities, but insurers must be careful not to use this new media in an old way, such as by reading boring or complicated benefit information. Social media offers payers a new forum in which to reach out to their customers with easy-to-understand and occasionally entertaining information about their member benefits. By using more interesting, engaging consumer outreach, health insurers could reach member populations—and may have been able to help me understand my insurance bill.