Retail and other industries have shifted to increasingly advanced digital-first strategies that fuel powerful omnichannel experiences. In the wake of this massive digital transformation, today’s healthcare consumer expects the same highly personalized “member” experience. Digital-first strategies also move the needle to remove barriers to care resulting from social determinants of health (SDoH), advancing health equity and improving health outcomes within communities that may be harder to reach. 

Adopting a digital-first approach doesn’t merely involve digitizing existing processes or adding new digital outreach channels. Nor does it mean “digital-only” where traditional outreach methods are replaced entirely by digital touchpoints. A true digital-first strategy requires a fundamental shift in mindset that revolutionizes how plans interact with their members.  

Digital-first also means creating member experiences in which technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning drive personalization, shaping how, when, and where members need and want to connect with their plan. And that’s a complicated endeavor within the complex landscape of the healthcare industry, for plans deal with vast amounts of disparate and messy data from various sources, making it hard to integrate and harness the information’s full potential.  

A High Cost of Failure 

Most industry experts agree that a digital-first strategy is key to delivering meaningful member experiences that motivate people to act. Even so, many health plans struggle to adopt this mission-critical approach, resulting in a massive disconnect between expectation and experience.  

The failure to deliver on member expectations has resulted in member abrasion, reduced engagement, and higher churn rates. A glaring example is the current state of Medicaid redetermination, where ineffective (and sometimes non-existent) member engagement and outreach are predicted to incur billions of dollars in losses for the U.S. healthcare industry— and more importantly, put millions of Medicaid members at risk of losing healthcare coverage. The lack of a successful digital-first strategy has many other impacts also, including the costly operational burdens from excessive manual processes and information silos. 

But the greatest impact for a plan is the failure to demonstrate that they truly know their members. 

At Icario, we’ve learned that to move people to action, we must appeal to them personally. That’s impossible when members feel their plan doesn’t really understand them. As Icario CEO Marc Willard writes in a recent Forbes article, “…the concept of ‘knowing me’ is pervasive and a critical table-stakes capability for most modern industries to thrive.”  

We’ve spent years building meaningful member experiences for health plans, fueled by digital-first strategies. Here’s what it takes to do the same for your members.  

6 Key Elements of a Successful Digital-First Strategy    

1. Focus on Digital-First, Not Digital Only

A digital-first strategy for health plans doesn’t mean shifting to digital channels only. Instead, digital-first approaches user data as the driving force to fuel more powerful omnichannel experiences, integrating digital and traditional channels in ways that dramatically boost performance across the entire member journey. Data consistently gathered and analyzed from multiple sources can build valuable insights into member behavior, preferences, and health conditions.  

2. A Know Me Mentality

Member experiences using whole person data and behavioral science demonstrate more personalized touchpoints that send the right message, at the right time, using the right channel. When digital-first strategies are deployed successfully, this know me approach becomes the hallmark of a strong member experience.  

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3. Personalization at Scale

A successful digital-first approach delivers highly personalized interactions with individual members, yet this approach should also result in personalization at scale. Digital-first strategies empower health plans to create tailored healthcare solutions that incorporate each member’s unique needs and observed common characteristics with their communities and populations. While personalization at scale is key to impactful member experiences, it also helps streamline manual processes and remove information silos.  

4. More Effective Next Best Actions

Leveraging advanced technologies like propensity modeling, AI, and machine learning, health plans can predict the next “best action” for each member. This proactive approach enables health plans to anticipate member preferences, identify potential health risks, and offer individualized interventions or preventive measures. Focusing on the next “best action” increases personalization, which builds trust and helps each touchpoint achieve greater success.  

5. Continuous Feedback Loops

Retail giants like Amazon and Walmart continue to learn more about their customers with every interaction. Similarly, successful digital-first strategies within healthcare use continuous feedback loops that inform (and improve) future member interactions. Combining data insights from the digital-first platform, surveys, and other information-gathering methods, improves personalization while helping plans continually refine their offerings and services based on members’ needs and expectations.  

6. Powerful Omnichannel Experiences  

A digital-first strategy delivers seamless interactions across multiple digital and traditional touchpoints, resulting in powerful omnichannel experiences for members. From mobile apps and online portals to Interactive Voice and even postcards, digital-first ensures a consistent experience that makes it easier for members to access information and services through their preferred channels. A digital-first strategy helps identify and overcome gaps in communication, leading to seamless experiences fueled by deep trust between a member and their plan.  

Embracing a Digital-First Strategy 

The effectiveness of digital-first strategies when it comes to the member experience is not just opinion. Recent research has resulted in striking proof (and of course Icario’s experiences) that omnichannel experiences designed using a digital-first approach will significantly boost member satisfaction, improve health outcomes, increase efficiency, and reduce costs.  

At Icario, we’ve seen the benefits of a digital-first strategy firsthand. Our digital-first platform drives omnichannel member experiences for health plans that incorporate whole person data, behavioral science, and smart rewards and incentives that connect with members personally. Knowing people as individuals in this way means we know what they want, how they want to connect, and—most importantly—what moves them to take healthier actions. As a result, stronger, long-lasting connections are fostered between plans and their members.  

A digital-first approach to member engagement is the future of healthcare. In the present landscape, our industry faces a significant challenge with member turnover, leading to substantial financial losses for health plans in the form of increased expenses and reduced profit margins. By prioritizing digital-first approaches, we can effectively address this issue by customizing interactions based on individual requirements, preferences, historical data, and desired health objectives.


Julia Zhang

CTO, Icario

Icario Chief Technology Officer Julia Zhang has led digital transformation initiatives for major healthcare organizations for over a decade. She is a recognized expert in designing and implementing successful digital-first strategies.