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Silverlink HealthComm Behavior Index shows disconnect

Health plans can improve the effect of their communication to members and, in turn, drive appropriate healthcare behaviors that will improve health outcomes and lower healthcare costs.

Recent research from Silverlink’s HealthComm Behavior Index shows a link between healthcare communication and satisfaction, personalization, and behavior change.

Further, the study found that most Americans are lukewarm about their health plan’s communication, and some segments claim that the outreach is not helping them take action on their health or improve their lifestyles.

Silverlink Communications in Burlington, MA, a healthcare communication company with more than 50 clients representing more than 150 million lives, kicked off its quarterly index as a way to measure the effectiveness and behavioral impact of healthcare communication.

Stan Nowak, Silverlink’s CEO, says there is no other organization compiling this kind of data, particularly surveys that measure the relationship between healthcare communication and satisfaction, personalization, and behavior change—and compare these dimensions over time. Silverlink’s SAVS 5.0 Technology Platform’s automated communication system contacted almost 50,000 commercially insured adults in the United States between February 12–19. Of the 1,254 who started the survey, 1,176 completed it (nearly 94%).

If a health plan was the caller, only 30%–40% would have participated, says Jack Newsom, senior director of Adaptive HealthComm Science at Silverlink. 

In addition to screening and demographic questions, the survey, which took five to eight minutes, asked participants 10 questions focusing on personalization, satisfaction, and action.

Respondents, who were either commercially insured or seniors in Medicare Advantage plans, answered each question by rating their health plans’ communication on a scale of 1–5.

Nowak says the index shows that health plans have a significant opportunity to much more effectively connect with their members to drive behavior change.

“What we have been talking about a number of years now is, clearly, a high degree of personalization in your communications will increase satisfaction and then the effectiveness, and I think that was borne out by this work,” says Nowak.

Silverlink found that respondents consistently rated the satisfaction and personalization of their health plans’ communication in the mediocre range. Areas in which health plans could improve are helping members improve their health and adopt a healthier lifestyle.

The index’s first results show five items that might interest health plans and DM organizations:

  • Americans are unenthusiastic about healthcare communication
  • There is a correlation between a person’s satisfaction and the personalization of healthcare communication
  • A person’s health status—not demographics—is a better predictor as to whether a person takes action
  • Unhealthy people are the least satisfied with their healthcare communication
  • Seniors are especially pleased with their healthcare communication

Although health literacy is often stated as a barrier to health, Silverlink’s index reports that a person’s health status is more important than demographics in the area of engagement. “One thing that jumps out to us is that folks in poor health, that are more in need of services, are ones who feel the least personal communications, and are the least likely to take action,” says Newsom.

Newsom says seniors are often positive about their healthcare and health status. Susan Frankle, director of corporate communications at Silverlink, says, “I think the interesting piece of it was how people rate their health status. It’s relative to their peers and age bracket.”

Nowak says health plans should not link all seniors into one group. Instead, healthcare needs to think of seniors more granularly. “What we have learned over time is all seniors are not created equal,” he says.

Communication is an area of opportunity for health plans, Nowak says, adding that health companies don’t usually create a companywide communication program, but they allow individual departments to communicate with members.

This can create disjointed member outreach that is repetitive and not coordinated, which not only doesn’t help members, but is also wasteful, says Nowak.

“The more personalization, I think, you’re going to increasingly see yields of higher impact,” explains Nowak.

Nowak provides an example of personalized member communication: flu shot clinics.

Rather than contacting a member and suggesting he or she get a flu shot, Nowak says a health plan or DM company could more effectively target the individual with specific information.

For example, a health plan could contact a person for a flu shot reminder, provide a personalized message about why that person should receive a flu shot, and provide a list of flu shot clinics taking place in the person’s community.

Silverlink officials say they will conduct the index quarterly to gauge the progress of healthcare communications. They also hope to offer the services to clients so they can gauge their communication against the national average.

Nowak says creating personalized communication that engage members and spark them to action is the right way to connect and activate members.

Health plans and DM organizations should understand that member satisfaction and personalized communication translate into member action.

Creating a personalized companywide communication program provides health plans and DM companies a chance to target the critical and costly unhealthy segment. “The most important thing, in my view, is the actions of the patient themselves. This will be the single largest driver for reducing health plan expenses over the next several years. We need that patient to take action based on the communications,” says Nowak.