The global pandemic has drastically limited in-person interactions and triggered the need for Medicare Advantage health plans to embrace a virtual world to connect with existing and prospective members. Here’s how one Florida health plan has maintained member connection, acquisition, and retention during this unsettling time.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has altered how health plans can engage with members considerably. Some plans have embraced virtual approaches, whereas others continue to struggle with how to best reach their members. But there isn’t much of a choice whether to be virtual or not anymore, said Kristy Croom Tucker, director, member experience and acquisition, BayCare Health Plans, a featured speaker at RISE’s recent virtual seminar, Converting During COVID: Winning Strategies for Medicare Member Acquisition & Experience.

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BayCare, like other health plans, was completely unprepared for COVID-19, but was able to pivot quickly when cases began to spread throughout the United States, Croom Tucker explained.

Here are four key strategies she shared during her presentation on how to prepare for a dual (in-person and virtual) enrollment approach:

1. Explore which virtual platform will provide the experience you want to create.

Finding the virtual platform that best meets your needs is the most important decision when planning to go virtual, said Croom Tucker. There are several platforms to choose from, such as Microsoft Teams, Vimeo, Webex, GoToMeeting, and Zoom.

To determine which platform to use, evaluate the kind of experience you wish to create for your members. Croom Tucker recommended asking the following questions to clearly understand your needs and narrow your platform search:

  • Would you like video capabilities?
  • Will you need to present slide shows?
  • Do you want verbal interaction throughout a presentation?
  • How many people will join a virtual meeting at once?
  • How would you like to handle Q&A sessions?

User testing is also an important method to ensure a platform is the right fit. For example, once BayCare narrowed its search down to two platforms, it had a member advisory group test the different features of each platform, , including the registration experience, confirmation emails, level of ease to add the event to calendars, access to event information, frequency of reminders, level of ease to join the meeting, and any complications with audio and video.

2. Develop guidelines for a virtual sales process.

A virtual environment is a new approach for many health plans, and it requires clear communication on the sales process such as how sales agents will interact with participants, how to capture consent for follow-up, and how to continue to create a personal experience in a virtual meeting, noted Croom Tucker. “Kindness and compassion are important, so it was important for us to find ways to connect with people beyond just delivering a presentation,” she said.

To ensure each sales agent was prepared for virtual meetings, BayCare performed test runs with each agent to a confirm proper lighting and sound quality as well as to ensure no clutter or questionable items were visible in the background. Croom Tucker also suggested plans coach sales agents on dress code and the power of voice inflection and smiles.

3. Establish a thorough marketing experience.

There are three components to consider for an effective marketing experience, according to Croom Tucker:

  • Promotion: Develop a media mix, messaging, and lead mining to gain interest in virtual events.
  • Scheduling: Determine the frequency of virtual meetings, including the day of week, time, and rate of recurrence. Consider conducting a pilot series of webinars on different days/times to gauge the schedule that attracts the most members.
  • Registration: Make registration as easy as possible through a main website, landing page, and automated confirmations.

No-show rates for meetings are likely to increase when held virtually, so consistent reminders are critical, noted Croom Tucker, who recommended sales agents make reminder calls and emails leading up to meetings.

4. Accompany virtual meetings with in-person meetings when possible.

Virtual meetings and in-person meetings can work well together when it is safe to do so. To determine the right time to do this, Croom Tucker advised checking state mandates and polling the community to understand attitudes and beliefs on COVID-19.

If your plan decides to go forward with in-person meetings, make sure to communicate clear guidelines regarding the use of masks, the number of people permitted to participate, social distancing, and screening calls prior to events, she said. On-site at the meeting, ensure you have several signs that indicate the precautions, and that there is appropriate distancing between attendees, masks and hand sanitizers available for all attendees and presenters, and that you place materials or snacks on seats in advance to avoid the need to pass around items during the meeting.

Although a home visit is the last resort, it may be the only option for some people. In that instance, she advises you make sure agents and prospects are pre-screened, wear masks, maintain distance, avoid passing papers, and consider asking prospects to sign a waiver.