Getting Personal Engages Members

Les Masterson, for HealthLeaders Media, April 29, 2008

Health plans are not effectively reaching the sickest Americans, and consequently not spurring them to make the proper health and lifestyle changes to improve their wellbeing, according to the Silverlink HealthComm Behavior Index.

Silverlink Communications, a Burlington, MA-based healthcare communications company with 50 clients representing 150 million lives, shows the disconnect between health plans’ communication programs and their members. This finding is troubling, most notably because so many health plans are trying to engage and empower members via consumer-driven health plans and disease management programs.

Respondents consistently put their health plans in the mediocre range. The most striking finding was that respondents reacted negatively to the questions as to whether health plan communications helped them improve their health or adopt a healthier lifestyle.

The findings did not surprise Stan Nowak, Silverlink’s CEO. “What we have been talking about a number of years now is clearly a high degree of personalization in your communications will increase the effectiveness, and I think that was borne out by this work,” says Nowak.

The index’s first results, which are being released for the first time in this column, show four items that health plans should take note of:

  • Americans are lukewarm about healthcare communications.
  • A person’s satisfaction and the personalization of healthcare communications correlate to the person taking action.
  • A person’s health status—not demographics—is a better predictor of whether a person takes action.
  • Unhealthy people are especially dissatisfied with healthcare communications.

Nowak says communication is a weakness for health plans because most don’t see them as a strategy. Rather than creating a company-wide communication program, health plans often create disjointed communications that are repetitive and not coordinated. This not only doesn’t help members, but is wasteful, says Nowak.

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

Here are four ways to improve healthcare communications:

  • Create a company-wide communication program
  • Focus on those who are the most unhealthy
  • Create a system in which each member’s communications are tracked so you don’t inundate members with redundant information
  • Personalize the message to the individual

Silverlink kicked off the quarterly index as a way to measure the effectiveness and behavioral impact of healthcare communications. A total of 1,176 people completed the phone survey conducted through Silverlink’s SAVS 5.0 Technology Platform’s automated phone call system.

In addition to screening and demographics questions, the survey, which took participants between five and 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 one to five.

With the first index survey behind them, Silverlink officials expect to conduct the index quarterly to gauge healthcare communication. They also hope to offer the services to clients so they can gauge their communication programs against the national average.

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

“The most important thing in my view is the actions of the patient themselves will be the single largest driver for health plan expenses over the next several years. We need that patient to take action based on the communications,” says Nowak.

Les Masterson is senior editor of Health Plan Insider. He can be reached at
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