The Source

Healthcare technology should be designed to help make the end-to-end experience easier for patients. Period. With this underlying belief in mind, I am thrilled to see Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) offering new tools such as their “What’s covered” app to provide greater price transparency for Medicare enrollees. The free app provides users with cost, coverage and eligibility information through their smartphones, for items and services covered by Medicare Part A and B.

It’s a big step forward for CMS to recognize that older Americans are tech savvy and appreciate quick, easy access to digital resources that will help them make more informed decisions. After all, CMS has a huge opportunity ahead of them:

  • The Medicare population is projected to increase almost 50% by 2030—from 54 million in 2015 to more than 80 million in 2030. (CMS)
  • In 2016, two-thirds of Medicare beneficiaries said they use the Internet daily or almost daily. (CMS)
  • A 2016 AARP survey indicates that over half of Americans in their 60s and nearly a third in their 70s have smartphones.

But the user experience nerd in me couldn’t help but wonder: Does this app match consumer expectations compared to other common online activities, like online shopping and banking? I took some time to play around in it and my short answer is: It’s getting there. This app has a ton of potential to bring a more modern engagement experience to healthcare. But there are three main functionalities that could be even better: 

Improved search functionality to get users where they want to go fast

The app includes the same information available on the Medicare website, but provides it in a much more user-friendly interface for enrollees to better understand their coverage options from a smart device. The search tool is the hero of this app; it’s the first thing you see on the home page, easy to use and more advanced than most medical sites I’ve encountered. I just need to enter the first few words of my search, “mental health” for example, and it generates a pre-programmed list of accurate phrases from which to choose. However, CMS should consider programming in a bigger library of general searches based on more common everyday terms. This is a recurring theme that has come up in review forums, where users express frustration that their searches are generating zero or inaccurate results.

Adding browsing by category to take the guesswork out of topic searches

In addition to the type-in search function, users can click on the “browse all items and services” tab from the bottom of any page. The navigation is organized by letters of the alphabet; a time-consuming way to hunt for topics. Instead, adding a browsing function by category would provide a more intuitive experience.

Surfacing important info at the user’s fingertips so they don’t miss the good stuff

When you click into an actual service or item, the app clearly indicates whether it is covered or not ‒ which is a fantastic win. But, there is a host of other valuable info hidden below the fold and buried in lots of text, like “Cost”, “Things to Know”, and “What it is”. Applying just a few design tricks like the ability to minimize and maximize sections, and condensing text into shorter paragraphs and bullets, would help bring pertinent info into full view.  

How to take this app from good to great? Deliver a more personalized, modern experience

The “What’s covered” app is a huge step in the right direction toward enabling better transparency across healthcare, but we need to go further to make it easier for Medicare patients to feel more informed prior to and after the medical visit. Beyond navigation and content organization improvements of existing functionality, here are my recommended upgrades to take the user experience to the next level:

  • Out of pocket cost insight – Surprise bills are no fun for anyone, and are especially difficult for those on a fixed income. By engaging and educating patients on their expected out of pocket costs in-app prior to their visit, billing headaches can be alleviated and patient experience elevated.  
  • Real-time chat – By utilizing modern communication methods, like 1:1 chat, users can get quick personalized answers to their pressing questions regarding what is / is not covered and how much they are expected to pay. This can save time for both the patient and Medicare call center staff. At Cedar, we were pleased to discover that a third of patients using our online chat functionality are age 60+, and really appreciate the convenience.
  • Personalized patient engagement opportunities – Cedar engages with patients regarding health plan coverage issues before they are presented with a bill, providing them the opportunity to proactively manage their medical finances. CMS can take a similar approach: Using visit history from personal health records and any large health data sets to which CMS has access, the app could engage with Medicare patients throughout the year to suggest future visits to book, while proactively indicating whether or not the services are covered. The app could also reach out with suggestions for other related, covered services.  

Age 18 or 80, today’s consumers are ready for better when it comes to the patient engagement experience. It’s encouraging to see CMS investing in patient-facing technology as part of their multi-year eMedicare initiative. Future releases will benefit from additional understanding of patient needs and how they want to receive information.

Dan Newman is a full stack engineer and product designer at Cedar,  with a passion for improving the healthcare industry. He loves to design impactful technology solutions that focus on the individual patient experience.