An old adage suggests that you need to follow the money to learn the truth. Healthcare is no different. If you want to know where one health plan believes the industry is headed, follow where it’s investing its money.

The health plan is Regence, a licensed Blues plan serving 2.2 million members in Idaho, Oregon, Utah and Washington. Regence is betting heavily on individuals becoming the primary customer of health plans and that the key to transforming its relationship with individuals is through technology. Technology is the means through which Regence is reinventing itself as a retail-minded, customer-focused health plan.

A number of changes are underway at Regence that underscore the plan’s adaptation to what it sees as its future market. One example is the launch of BridgeSpan, a digitally directed brand built around an experience for the consumer interacting primarily online.

 “Unless you diversify and innovate, you are not going to be successful.” Richard Popiel, M.D.

“We are trying to bridge the old world with the new world, and it’s all about consumerism–about knowing who our targeted consumers are and what those consumers want, and ensuring we build products and services that meet their needs,” says Richard Popiel, M.D., executive vice president and chief medical officer at Regence.

Adopting a Retail Approach

Although Oregon’s state health insurance exchange is off to a bumpy start, Dr. Popiel says Regence is a believer in the consumer market. Internal research indicates that as much as half of the insured population in the state will carry individual insurance policies within 10 years, he says.

With that in mind, over the past two years, Regence brought on experienced leaders in the retail market, including executives formerly at Nike, Intel and Nordstrom. The goal is to leverage this experience to make the customer experience at Regence better and more appealing.

“The member experience has not been a priority for health plans historically,” Dr. Popiel says.

The company continues to emphasize health care member-focused, affordable insurance solutions, while also creating new products that increase access and member satisfaction.

Embracing technology as innovation enabler

Technology is playing a major role in Regence’s transformation. For instance, Cambia Health Solutions, the parent of Regence, in September 2013 invested in Lively, an activity monitoring system that connects older adults to their families to help them stay in their homes. Sensors track daily activities, such as medication adherence, food and drink, physical activity and getting out of the house. Approved family members and friends can keep tabs on their older loved ones’ activities via computer, tablet or smartphone. Lively, of San Francisco, has been incorporated in Regence’s Medicare Advantage plans.

Dr. Popiel says Lively and Retrofit, a Chicago-based weight management innovator, are two examples where Regence is working to improve the lives of its members. Cambia also owns HealthSparq, a health plan shopping tool used by 15 health plans across 20 states.

Separately, working with a patient education company called Krames StayWell, Regence recently pilot tested a system of sending text messages to enrollees who were either pregnant or suffering from diabetes. The messages either offered health and wellness tips or reminders for specific actions like medication reminders.

Enrollees in both groups reported knowing more about their respective medical conditions after receiving the text messages and also reported making positive changes in how they managed their respective medical conditions. Regence and Krames StayWell released the results of the pilot test in February.

“We are looking at technology innovations that help fuel what we do on a health plan level,” Dr. Popiel says. “Unless you diversify and innovate, you are not going to be successful.”

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