Increasing TRENDS

The realities of the COVID-19 pandemic underscored the importance of and accelerated the deployment of technology by empowering health care consumers with more control over how they navigate decisions about their health and access to health care. Individuals can use smartphones, apps, tablets and now, even smart speakers to learn about health conditions, schedule appointments with health care providers and keep themselves on track with healthy habits.

COVID accelerated adoption of digital health care

Staying safe during the COVID pandemic means limiting unnecessary external interactions for most individuals, especially those with chronic health conditions that make them especially vulnerable to COVID. Under this emergency situation, health care providers and payers recognized that many individuals were forgoing preventative care or ongoing, needed treatment of chronic conditions. While such decisions were understandable during the height of the pandemic, the downstream consequences of defraying health care can result in more serious problems from untreated or undiagnosed health conditions. Looking at this troubling set of circumstances, many health care systems looked toward technology to fill the void and protect patients and members.

Fortunately, many providers like UPMC Health Plan were already looking at ways to utilize digital platforms to enhance care delivery and access. But the pandemic also revealed that there were a number of self-directed resources individuals could access to support themselves.

The intersection of convenience and health care

Health care organizations across the country have taken note of these trends and are exploring how individuals use technology to access health care and information. Insurers are developing smart resources that recognize that digital tools make it easier and faster than ever to search for a new provider or caregiver. Individuals can explore health insurance coverage options to find the best fit and sign up with tools offered on the online exchange. 

Much innovation is starting to hone in on “voice-first” technology that allows consumers to obtain information from a smart device through sequences of prompting questions. Voice-first technology can make a considerable difference in the way users access health care information, especially for older adults and individuals with disabilities. Daily smart speaker usage increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, signaling a shift in the way people interact with their devices.  

UPMC Health Plan launches Virtual Concierge

One example of this cutting-edge use of smart speakers to improve access to health care information and services is UPMC Health Plan’s Virtual Concierge. The Virtual Concierge is available 24/7 to answer questions about health insurance and coverage. The app is available on Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant-enabled devices, regardless of the device owner’s insurer.

There is clear evidence that health care consumers are interested in this type of highly personalized digital health care resource. In 2019, UPMC Health Plan conducted a study on voice assistant apps among 500 Pennsylvania residents aged 18 years and older. Study participants indicated a desire for a more personalized experience with a voice assistant, like addressing the member by name. Furthermore, 40 percent of respondents indicated voice-assistant integration would make accessing member information and benefits easier. Participants also indicated a willingness to integrate the app with their health plan if it could assist them in managing their care. Of individuals whose health plan already offered a voice assistant, 84 percent said they had used it. 

The Virtual Concierge can:

  • Orient new members to their UPMC Health Plan benefits.  
  • Help users access benefits and preventive coverage information.
  • Provide clear explanations of insurance terminology like “in-network” and “deductible.”
  • Connect users to important services like UPMC’s AnywhereCare telehealth mobile application.
  • Help users find a provider, schedule a telehealth appointment, and connect with customer service or a health coach.

For more information about using the UPMC Health Plan Virtual Concierge on Amazon Alexa or a Google Home Assistant, visit and bookmark the member webpage.

What’s next for “voice-first” health care technologies?

We expect the use of digital health tools to continue to grow. And with it, access to health care and support services will likely expand as providers create innovative approaches to improve health outcomes. The blending of technology, quality care, and customer service will continue to evolve. In the future, it could provide members with even more support in scheduling appointments, managing and refilling prescription medications, remembering upcoming screenings, and comparing coverage — all with the power of their voices!