Our Take

Improving Member Portal Design and Marketing

15 Minute Read

Health plan executives are investing to improve their member portal design and marketing techniques. While member portals are not a new concept, there is renewed interest among health plans in both improving the design of their portals and communicating the portal’s value to members. As consumers become more accustomed to incorporating digital technology into all aspects of their lives, health plans should harness the opportunity to drive self-service using member portals.

The Advisory Board surveyed over 3,500 consumers to determine what they want from their health plan portal. The survey results uncovered three reasons why portals aren't being utilized and what plans can do to remedy the problem.


The conventional wisdom

Compared to many other industries in the United States, health insurance lags in driving digital adoption. Health plan portal usage has historically been very low, with member portal utilization rates in the single digits among consumers. As plans realize how useful their portals can be for driving self-service and improving member experience, they are looking to increase utilization and have seen some progress in improving portal usage during the past couple of years.

Two major categories of barriers prevent members from using their plan portals:

Barriers from poor design

Plan portals are notoriously difficulty for members to use due to a combination of an unintuitive design and members’ not knowing what exactly to search for.

  • Members can’t figure out how to log onto the portal
  • Members don’t remember their log-in information
  • Members don’t know how to navigate the portal or use the tools on the portal

Barriers from poor marketing

Plans struggle to communicate the value of their portal to members.

  • Members don’t know about their portal
  • Members don’t know what’s available on the portal

On top of these barriers, health plans must also deal with lack of member trust. Consumers freely use retail portals for convenient purchasing, but many members don’t trust plans to give information that doesn’t only benefit the plan’s bottom line.

Unlike portals in other industries with reasons to frequently log on, members don’t see the point in making a plan portal account if they are healthy and rarely use care. Additionally, if members are very sick they’re likely already enrolled in care management programs and may get less value from their plan portal.


Our take

According to data from our recent consumer survey, there is a disconnect between plans and members regarding the purpose of member portals. In the following pages, we will elaborate on the three insights from our survey on how plans can improve portal design and marketing.

About the 2020 Health Plan Tools Survey

In April 2020, Advisory Board conducted a web-based survey to ask over 3,500 Americans about their experience with health plan tools such as plan portals and apps, virtual visits, and plan communications. To be eligible for the survey, respondents were required to have privately-administered health insurance.

We detail three keys insights from our survey on how plans can improve portal design and marketing.

  • Insight

    Well-functioning portals positively impact NPS® and decrease call center costs

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  • Insight

    Portals should be viewed as commodities, not a means of health plan differentiation

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  • Insight

    Plans must move past registration goals and spur members to action

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Parting thoughts

As IBM exec Bridget van Kralingen stated, “The last best experience that anyone has anywhere, becomes the minimum expectation for the experience they want everywhere”. In a world where consumers have seamless digital user experiences intertwined into all aspects of their lives, the onus is on health plans to communicate the value of their portals to members and improve their portals enough to entice members to come back after registration.

Immediate action steps:

Justifying portal investments

1) Brainstorm goals for your plan’s portal, pre-determine metrics to measure, and make sure the entire digital team is aligned on these measures

2) Ask the five questions to consider before investing in a new feature for any new features your plan is considering adding

Turning your portal into the perfect commodity

1) Establish ongoing feedback mechanisms

2) Determine which features are true satisfiers

Promoting your portal to spur member action

1) Implement A|B testing on communications

2) Determine which member segments gravitate most towards certain features

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