Last month, it came to light that a major US insurer made an unfortunate error with one of their customer communications. A mail piece sent to over 10,000 members showed through a clear window on the envelope that a patient was taking a certain kind of medication, directly revealing the illness suffered by each individual.
This is a major and urgent issue for several reasons. First, health insurers operate in a heavily regulated industry. Chief among those regulations require insurers to safeguard patient privacy. Mistakes like this one expose organizations to potential lawsuits, and possible class action litigation. Financial penalties can go beyond the costs of any settlements, because the government can levy fines against insurers that fail to effectively protect their patient’s privacy. Beyond that, the reputational damage can be costly, and internal reviews of production processes, or changing communications strategies to address these kinds of problems can be disruptive and costly as well.
As pressing as the consequences are for this insurer in the present, perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the entire event is this: the mistake was on the part of the communications vendor the insurer had contracted.
While the vendor was ultimately responsible for the error, the penalties and reputational loss will still fall on the insurer. Therefore, it remains the charge of the principal company to select not just a vendor, but a communications partner, to work with to prevent mistakes by implementing effective processes.
Here are three ways to help your enterprise select a company that can facilitate effective, consistent exchanges between your organization and clients, while avoiding the errors that have led to this undesirable situation for both insurer and patients alike.
1. Careful Vendor Selection
Enterprises should seek an experienced partner who offers a secure unified, multi-channel customer communication solution. The solution should include both print and mail, because while many clients may prefer digital communications, not all of them do. Further, there are times when physical communications are mandated. Beyond expert multi-channel and print and mail capabilities, look for a vendor who can decrease your costs around postage and production. A worthwhile provider will be able to provide comprehensive database management to increase the relevance and quality of your business communications – giving you the ability to target and segment your audience appropriately. Beyond that, look for a vendor who provides transparency and a cloud-based platform for you to manage and control the process on your own terms. A worthwhile communications process outsourcer will include multiple print options, in-depth composition capability, and best-class security including SSAW 16 Type II and HIPAA certifications in their offerings.
Ultimately, performing intensive due diligence on any potential communications vendor is the most effective step that enterprises can take to mitigate these risks. The characteristics described above can be indicators of a capable, experienced provider.
2. Expert Resources for Mail-Piece Design
Any vendor you select should provide expert resources for mail-piece design. One of the explanations for the widespread mailer mistake described above was that the letters within the envelopes shifted in route to reveal confidential patient information. This points to errors in the design of the communication. For example, simply including a cover sheet or title page for the letter with only letterhead and recipient addresses would have been a simple, cost-effective, and straightforward way to avoid this issue. An expert mail consultant would have been able to make such a suggestion.
Other benefits of contracting a third-party communications partner with in-house mail piece design analysts include the ability to:
- Analyze the automation compatibility of mail pieces for access to automation-based pricing via the USPS
- Increase savings by leveraging in-depth knowledge of USPS pricing structures
- Test mail pieces for acceptable thickness levels, colors, flexibility, barcode compatibility
3. Intensive & Consistent Quality Control
Prior to bringing on a new partner to handle your physical communications, ask potential service providers about their processes for quality control. A robust system led by experts might be the difference between a successful print and mail run, and a massive, costly mistake.
Some things to look for include automated ocular recognition camera-based systems. Using production-related information files, these systems can track letter alignment, print quality, accuracy of data fields and more to help prevent errors. Make sure that they not only have technology-based quality control workflows in place – the value of physical checks by trained workers cannot be overlooked.
What happened to this insurer was a mistake. Nonetheless, it will be one that brings serious consequences. What must be a frustrating truth for this insurer – these issues are largely avoidable. By carefully vetting any potential shared service providers, making sure they leverage mail piece design analysts with intricate knowledge of best practices, and that they have a commitment to quality assurance demonstrated through both training and technology – you can more effectively find a best-class communications partner.