Simplicity in healthcare communications? It does exist.

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When it comes to complicating consumers’ lives with complex and convoluted communications, no industry does it better than health insurance. Look no further for confirmation than in Siegel+Gale’s 2011 Global Brand Simplicity Index™ , where health insurance landed 24th in a field of 25 industries. The diagnosis was even worse in the United States, where it finished dead last.

As one of the survey respondents put it, “Health insurance is hard to understand. Period.”

My insurance carrier—CIGNA—ranked second-to-last on the Simplicity Index in the U.S., which is nothing to be proud about. But, there is one aspect of the company’s communications with consumers that it has clearly aced, and that’s the Explanation of Benefits, commonly referred to as an EOB.

Now I may not be a simplification expert, but I know simplicity when I see it. And this EOB is clear and comprehensible. It provides information succinctly and in an organized, uncluttered way. Best of all, it’s in plain English—in my humble opinion, as plain as English can be. I think that even Alan Siegel, who founded Siegel+Gale and created the discipline of simplification, would approve.

Reading down the left-hand column I know exactly how much CIGNA paid, the discount I received and what I owe to the provider. It even includes the date that CIGNA paid the doctor—now I know that my doctor needs to charge me $400 to get half of that back. No wonder his fee for a seven-minute office visit is so outrageous!

So what’s so hard about this? It seems to me that if CIGNA can design a document that makes their customers’ lives simpler, other health insurance companies can do it too.

But answering the call for plain English in health insurance is not nearly as simple as it sounds. This past summer the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services proposed a template that would standardize health coverage information, but even that was not as clear and straightforward as it could be. Our simplification team found inconsistent language, confusing icons and poorly organized sections.

Complexity exacts a heavy toll on healthcare consumers around the globe. Those providers that make the complex clear with simplified, customer-focused language and organized information will enhance relationships with consumers and build brand loyalty.

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