NIB looks to empower consumers with new going to hospital tool

Latest digital offering is part of plans to lift customer experience and help members be more informed

Health insurance provider, nib, has debuted a new ‘going to hospital tool’ designed to help customers have a better, more informed and potentially less costly experience when being admitted to hospital.

The tool was one of a number of customer initiatives highlighted today by the ASX-listed company in its half-yearly results for the six months to 31 December 2017. Nib reported group net profit after tax of $70.9 million, down 0.3 per cent year-on-year, but a 1.3 per cent increase in group underlying operating profit of $96.4m. Group revenue was also up 8.9 per cent to $1.1 billion.

Over the six months, the group funded nearly 143,000 hospital admissions and more than 3 million ancillary services, with total benefits paid of $825m, up 8.7 per cent.

Nib managing director, Mark Fitzgibbon, said the first half-year results were as expected and expected the group to deliver improved consolidate earnings for the full year.

A big area of focus for nib, Fitzgibbon said, was addressing premium affordability and claims inflation. To help with this, nib is focused on more informed customers, he said. The new ‘going to hospital tool’ is a step forward in this direction.

The tool debuts today largely as a support tool but will become a self-service tool in the near future allowing members to access information about doctors and which use the medigap system to cover payments, gaps in potential costs, ratings of services and more. Data has been de-identified.

“If you’re going to hospital, we know a real pain point for our customers is they go and end up hugely out of pocket, no matter their cover,” Fitzgibbon said, laying the blame at doctors often choosing not to accept its medigap payments as compensation. “Naturally, we want our customers to be able to find a doctor who will take our Medigap payments systems to help them.

“If a consumer knows that in 80 per cent of circumstances a doctor accepts the medigap, they can use that information in those discussions.

“It’s giving consumers a bit of knowledge and bargaining power in their relationship with doctors.”

Nib also made ongoing contributions to the development of the Whitecoat online healthcare directory in the last six months. Once integration between the new hospital tool and Whitecoat occurs, members will be also able to see patient reported experiences with that doctor, and clinical indicators.

“It’s an important initiative of taking us down that road of having more empowered, informed consumers,” Fitzgibbon added.

Other CX initiatives over the past half-year includes the launch of nib’s customer service chatbot, nibby, which provides responses to health insurance queries and was initially launched in the ‘contact us’ section of nib’s website.

“You’ll see more of these types of investments as well as re-engineering of our business to take advantage of AI,” Fitzgibbon said.

In line with this technology investment, nib has been increasing its use of big data and data science capability to improve retention and better risk selection, it stated. In addition, nib is exploring opportunities to personalise health insurance coverage, a move that will again help customers make better decisions and improve health outcomes. The company said. Public/private partnership opportunities could be one way of achieving this.

Across his presentation, Fitzgibbon raised the ongoing challenge of funding hospital admissions and the impact this is having on costs for consumers of healthcare. He pointed out nib funded about 24,000 public hospital admissions at a cost of $39 million, up 5.9 per cent year-on-year, and noted private health insurers collectively paid more than $1.5 billion in the 2017 calendar year.

“The growth in us paying for public admissions is a key factor in cost and premium inflation,” he said. “However, it’s at least providing greater choice and access for our customers and demonstrating just how reliant the public hospital system has become on private health insurance.”

“There’s just way too much evidence of unnecessary hospitalisation and fee variation,” he continued. “While we don’t want to tell doctors what to do, we do want to help our customers make more informed decisions about treatment options, choice of doctor and cost. The digital age is making it all the more possible.”

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