Health Insurers Need To Adopt Cloud Technology
Written by Morgan Hege, founder, HealthInsurancePlus.com
Our industry is notoriously slow to adopt new technology, but health insurers and care providers that embrace innovation have a distinct competitive advantage. That is particularly true now as two simultaneous events occur in the industry. First, options for healthcare consumers are evolving, and that creates both opportunity and challenge in the marketplace. Second, cloud-based technologies – once anathema for companies in highly regulated markets – now offer both the functionality and the security reassurances the industry needs. Software-as-a-service solutions (SaaS) that are delivered and maintained via the Internet make it easy and affordable for small healthcare businesses to improve operations, increase collaboration, and enhance customer service in order to compete with larger players.
Moving CRM Tools To The Cloud
As an Internet-based health insurance agency, HealthInsurancePlus.com was perhaps more open to cloud technology than some more traditional players might be. We give advice to individuals, families and small businesses to help them select affordable health insurance plans in California. The online nature of our business allows us to deliver fast, personalized service, but it’s only been recently that we have taken our use of technology a step further by moving our customer relationship management (CRM) to the cloud.
For businesses in the healthcare and insurance markets that are tentative about cloud-based technologies, CRM is an attractive place to start. The ability to track and share prospect, patient and vendor information is critical in this industry, and the right CRM application can solidify relationships to build business. Users get a complete, historical view of every contact, as well as information to fuel internal collaboration. For many, CRM is a must-have, and cloud-based options make it easy to deploy. With the help of cloud-based CRM technology, we’re able to set ourselves apart in the industry. Our agents are able to pull up every detail of a customer’s history – whether in the office or in the field – and create a stellar customer experience at every interaction.
That’s how HealthInsurancePlus.com made the move to cloud-based CRM. We had an enterprise solution that was intended to improve productivity and ease workflow bottlenecks, but in practice, it didn’t work. Our users found it cumbersome and ill suited to our business, which relies on collaboration between field agents, who work from laptops, and inside agents and customer service representatives, who staff our office. As the rapidly evolving health insurance marketplace took shape, we found that collaboration across the company was growing more difficult. Our team needed to manage existing client relationships, keep track of customer service requests, and identify and assign new business opportunities. We had to find a CRM that fit a small healthcare-oriented operation, and we wanted a hosted, cloud-based option that would help us get started quickly.
Our employees needed help in the place where most of their work happens – their email inboxes. So we went looking for a cloud-based CRM with email integration. We wanted to leverage the familiar Gmail processes with which our staff is already comfortable and gain the ability to manage contacts, prospects and projects. We chose a SaaS offering from Insightly, and having a hosted solution has allowed our agents to access client information and share client data with other employees, regardless of location.
Turning Workflow Bottlenecks Into Revenue Streams
Since using Insightly, we spend 75 percent less for CRM than we did with other on-premise solutions. As importantly, our user adoption is higher, since the hosted application is easy enough for our least technical employees to use comfortably. By tracking inbound emails and routing them as customer service requests on existing policies and projects or as potential new leads, we’ve turned what were once workflow bottlenecks into potential revenue streams.
Healthcare and health insurance companies can no longer ignore the benefits of cloud computing technology. Hosted solutions are resource-friendly, and many SaaS applications offer free or low-cost trials or accounts, allowing firms to test out various solutions without economic risk. This was particularly enticing as we made the decision to shift to a cloud-based CRM, as we found out too late that many other solutions just didn’t work for us. Transferring processes to the cloud is quick and easy, and it doesn’t require the assistance of IT consultants. For everything from CRM to finance, cloud-based offerings can help health insurers and care providers securely improve their operations and enhance their competitive standings.
About The Author
Morgan Hege is the founder of HealthInsurancePlus.com, a leader in offering competitive health insurance solutions to individuals, families and businesses. Previously, Morgan has used technology to provide cost-cutting measures for insurance industry leaders such as GEICO Direct. In addition to moving HealthInsurancePlus.com to Insightly’s cloud offering, he has helped several independent insurance agencies take advantage of new technology to provide innovative methods to provide insurance to consumers and businesses.
The challenges to vaccine distribution affecting everyone
While it is comforting to know that vaccines against COVID-19 are showing remarkable efficacy, the world still faces intractable challenges with vaccine distribution. Specifically, the sheer number of vaccines required and the complexity of global supply chains are sure to present problems we have neither experienced nor even imagined.
Current projections estimate that we could need 12-15 billion doses of vaccine, but the largest vaccine manufacturers produce less than half this volume in a year. To understand the scale of the problem, imagine stacking one billion pennies – you would have a stack that is 950 miles high. Now, think of that times ten. This is a massive problem that one nation can’t solve alone.
Even if we have a vaccine – can we make enough? Based on current projections, Pfizer expects to produce up to 1.3 billion doses this year. Moderna is working to expand its capacity to one billion units this year. Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine producer, is likely to produce 60% of the 3 billion doses committed by AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi. This leaves us about 7 billion doses short.
Expanding vaccine production for most regions in the world is complicated and time-consuming. Unlike many traditional manufacturing operations that can expand relatively quickly and with limited regulation, pharmaceutical production must meet current good manufacturing practice (CGMP) guidelines. So, not only does it take time to transition from R&D to commercial manufacturing, but it could also take an additional six months to achieve CGMP certification.
The problem becomes even more complex when considering the co-products required. Glass vials and syringes are just two of the most essential co-products needed to produce a vaccine. Last year, before COVID-19, global demand for glass vials was 12 billion. Even if it is safe to dispense ten doses per vial, there is certain to be significant pressure on world supply of the materials needed to package and distribute a vaccine.
It is imperative drug manufacturers and their raw material suppliers have clear visibility of production plans and raw material availability if there is any hope of optimizing scarce resources and maximising production yield.
It is widely known by now that temperature is a critical factor for the COVID-19 vaccine. Even the regions with the most developed logistics infrastructures and resources needed to support a cold-chain network are sure to struggle with distribution.
For the United States alone, State and local health agencies have determined distribution costs will exceed $8.4 billion, including $3 billion for workforce recruitment and training; $1.2 billion for cold-chain, $1 billion vaccination sites and $0.5 billion IT upgrades.
The complexity of the problem increases further when considering countries such as India that do not have cold-chain logistics networks that meet vaccine requirements. Despite India’s network of 28,000 cold-chain units, none are capable of transporting vaccines below -25°Celsius. While India’s Serum Institute has licensed to manufacture AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which can reportedly be stored in standard refrigerated environments, even a regular vaccine cold chain poses major challenges.
Furthermore, security will undoubtedly become a significant concern that global authorities must address with a coordinated solution. According to the Pharmaceutical Security Institute, theft and counterfeiting of pharmaceutical products rose nearly 70% over the past five years. As with any valuable and scarce product, counterfeits will emerge. Suppliers and producers are actively working on innovative approaches to limit black-market interference. Corning, for example, is equipping vials with black-light verification to curb counterfeiting.
Clearly, this is a global problem that will require an unprecedented level of collaboration and coordination.
Disconnected information systems
While it is unreasonable to expect every country around the world will suddenly adopt a standard technology that would provide immediate, accurate and available information for everyone, it is not unreasonable to think that we can align on a standard taxonomy that can serve as a Rosetta Stone for collaboration.
A shared view of the situation (inventory, raw materials, delivery, defects) will provide every nation with the necessary information to make life-saving decisions, such as resource pooling, stock allocations and population coverage.
By allowing one central authority, such as the World Health Organization, to organize and align global leaders to a single collaboration standard, such as GS1, and a standard sharing protocol, such as DSCSA, then every supply chain participant will have the ability to predict, plan and execute in a way that maximises global health.
Political influence and social equality
As if we don’t have enough stress and churn in today’s geopolitical environment, we must now include the challenge of “vaccine nationalism.” While this might not appear to be a supply chain problem, per se, it is a critical challenge that will hinge on supply chain capabilities.
In response to the critical supply issues the world experienced with SARS-CoV-2, the World Health Organization, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) formed Covax: a coalition dedicated to equitable distribution of 2 billion doses of approved vaccines to its 172 member countries. Covax is currently facilitating a purchasing pool and has made commitments to buy massive quantities of approved vaccines when they become available.
However, several political powerhouse countries, such as the United States and Russia, are not participating. Instead, they are striking bilateral deals with drug manufacturers – essentially, competing with the rest of the world to secure a national supply. Allocating scarce resources is never easy, but when availability could mean the difference between life and death, it becomes almost impossible.
Global production, distribution and social equality present dependent yet conflicting realities that will demand global supply chains provide complete transparency and an immutable chain of custody imperative to vaccine distribution.
The technology is available today – we just need to use it. We have the ability to track every batch, pallet, box, vile and dose along the supply chain. We have the ability to know with absolute certainty that the vaccine is approved, where and when it was manufactured, how it was handled and whether it was compromised at any point in the supply chain. Modern blockchain technologies should be applied so that every nation, institution, regulator, doctor and patient can have confidence in knowing that they are making an impact in eradicating COVID-19.