Bill Gates once said, "We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10. Don't let yourself be lulled into inaction." Health care consumerism is evolving from the idea and promise of consumer-driven health plans with HSAs to a more encompassing view (and hope) that we all will become true consumers of health care in all aspects, not just the purchasing of insurance. This means educated consumers will gain access to the tools and information necessary to make informed decisions for the benefit of themselves and their families. Underestimating how this will change in the next 10 years could have an adverse impact on your brokerage - no lulling into inaction allowed.

We have already seen the elements of change that may usher in a new era of consumerism in health care. It is rare for totally brand new innovation to occur (think Ford's assembly line) - almost all innovation builds off of something that already exists. So considering Gates' warning, it is important for us to anticipate where the changes will come from. And because the elements of change are already among us, we should be looking for technology partners now that have a vision for the future.

 

 

The biggest impact

Americans know how to shop. And, increasingly, we are shopping more and more online. Technology has adapted to these demands, raising the bar for all marketplace experiences. When it comes to benefits, most employees' experiences have been enrollment, not shopping. And the technology of public and private exchanges has shown us that the experience of buying health insurance can and will be different from simply filling out a piece of paper.

The most impactful difference is choice. As consumers, we expect a wide variety of choices when we make a general purchasing decision. Furthermore, our online expectations are that, along with choice, we must have the necessary tools and information to personalize the process and narrow the choices to meaningful ones that meet our individual needs. Lastly, choice extends beyond purchasing insurance to the purchasing of health care. Consumers will require cost and quality information as part of their decision process.

Bring your own device - this is already a reality in the consumer and social media world and will become a requirement for virtually all SaaS and cloud applications. The proliferation of mobile devices has extended the reach of the Web to every nook and cranny of our lives. And our industry has been adapting to mobile devices - for advisers and clients alike. However, the growth in the variety of devices has outpaced the development of commercial applications. Developing apps that are compatible with all mobile devices is a daunting task and ultimately may not prove to be the best approach.

Two technologies that continue to evolve are available to help address compatibility and keep pace with the advancements in mobile technology that you should be thinking about for your business. These are HTML5 and responsive Web design. These technologies work in conjunction with each other and have been used for many consumer applications on mobile devices. So, unless you're lulling around, look for new technology partners and think about choice and adaptability when creating new products for health consumers.

Lamb is VP and group head of the EbixBenergy business unit at insurance software company Ebix Health. Reach him at john.lamb@ebix.com.

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