In 2010, the firms of PPL founders David Gibson, Chelsea Mauldin, and the late Sylvia Harris led a human-centered evaluation of Medicare communications. Their preliminary goal was to identify ways to improve Medicare beneficiaries’ engagement and informed decision-making during the enrollment process, with a special focus on how to help beneficiaries compare and choose Part C and Part D coverage.
We conducted an audit of existing communication materials and identified content and usability best practices to inform our recommendations.
The project team carried out in-depth interviews with leadership at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and external subject-matter experts and performed an extensive review of related academic literature. In addition, the team conducted ethnographic research with a number of Medicare beneficiaries around their enrollment experiences.
The team found that CMS communications materials looked professional, but not consistent; that it was easy for beneficiaries to get lost in the Medicare process; that the complex and punishing process undermined beneficiary engagement, confidence, and rational choice; and finally, that no agency-wide system existed to coordinate messaging, branding, and/or user experience.
In the short term, recommendations included to build a Medicare choice diagram and a choice checklist. Long-term recommendations for CMS were to conduct user-experience research to improve communications, to implement consistent brand standards, to improve data systems, and to strengthen external partnerships.
During workshops, the project team walked partners through beneficiaries’ experiences with the plethora of digital, print, and third-party resources.
Hours of user interviews
Rounds of design research conducted
Research locations nationwide
CMS subsequently engaged PPL’s founders to participate in a redesign the Medicare Summary Notice, the quarterly communication sent to more than 35 million ‘Original Medicare’ beneficiaries across the country.
Working with research firm KRC Research, the team participated in more than 160 hours of user interviews in 15 cities and towns nationwide, over five rounds of design research, testing new materials each round.
Based on research and prototype testing, PPL’s founders helped to create a simpler and more navigable communication tool that included user-friendly messaging, language, and graphics, aimed at improving functional factors (choice-making) and experiential factors (ease, trust, reward).
Our final design for the Medicare Summary Notice incorporates a dashboard with critical information in one spot, a checklist for free preventive care, an easy appeals form, and other beneficiary-friendly features. This new health claims document helps combat billing fraud, while also better engaging and informing Americans about their Medicare benefits.
Our design for a clearer and more navigable communication tool are featured in this overview of changes to the Medicare Summary Notice. PDF courtesy of CMS.
The redesigned Medicare Summary Notice won a 2012 ClearMark Award of Distinction from the Center for Plain Language and began rolling out to the public in mid 2013.
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