Health Plan’s Secret Sauce is Social Media
Health Plan's Secret Sauce is Social Media
Jacqueline Fellows, for HealthLeaders Media , April 17, 2013
Every industry, including healthcare, has been trying to figure out a way to get the most out of social media in general, and Facebook, specifically. The real winners are, of course, consumers because myriad online ads, coupon sites, and Facebook posts drive prices lower.
Hospitals and health systems trying to compete in this space can't win a price war, but they may win on patient engagement. Unfortunately, the results are soft, at best, as the strategy generally revolves around hoping someone comments on a Facebook post about a wellness goal, such as losing weight, managing stress, or quitting a tobacco habit.
Magellan Health Services, a specialty managed healthcare provider, seems to have hit upon an effective way to not only engage patients, but also change the behavior that is contributing to patients' health problems. And they're doing it with social media.
In 2012, Magellan launched a pilot project with a "large health plan in the Northeast" aimed at reducing the readmission rates of members who had been admitted to a hospital for substance abuse. In addition to a phone call after being discharged from the hospital, health plan members were invited to join a social media site that looks, feels, and functions like Facebook, but is tailored specifically for them.
"The people we're engaging on this [website] we probably never would've gotten on the telephone," says Laurie Gondek, senior vice president of product innovation at Magellan. "You have people who want to engage in many different ways. Some, with their providers… and then there are those who prefer to start out online."
Though the pilot project has ended, the site is still being used by Magellan and for the company's health plan customers who buy it under a private label to brand the site how they want. Gondek says she is seeing a lot of interest from Blue Cross Blue Shield plans and others who are interested in the site's potential for bridging care gaps and for chronic conditions.
"We've started to talk to ACO's and other entities that are looking for ways to have the medical practitioners have something in their toolbox that has some behavioral components to it for those individuals who do not want to see behavioral practitioners or specialists. We've got some ACO's we're working with in California and some in the southeast," she says.
The way it works is patients sign in with their usernames (it can be whatever the patients choose) and then check in with an emoticon to indicate how they're feeling. There are 28 different emotions a user can choose from, ranging from happy to in pain. The small icons are also color coded red, yellow, or green. The color is important and can serve as an SOS signal of sorts. For example, if a user checks in as being "in pain," which is red, then everyone in that user's support group—the Facebook equivalent of friends—is notified and they can jump to offer support. Friends can then comment, and also hit the equivalent of a "like" button, except the statements are empathic, ranging from, "I relate," to "I feel like that too" (sic).
Patients can also choose which groups pertain to them, such as depression or alcoholism, and they'll be connected with other patients in a social media forum that offers what traditional support groups do not—anonymity. There are also real meetings online as well as webinars with doctors or other medical experts, explains Gondek.
"What's interesting is as these individuals start out online, they are signing up for the online meetings and the talks with the expert, so we're achieving a kind of a mixed model with them being able to enter with their preference. When we say, 'We have a national expert talking about eating disorders today at noon, would you like to join?' They join, and then they ask them questions."
In the pilot project, which included 1,000 patients, Gondek says the effort generated a 20% engagement rate.
"If you look at a traditional coaching program where we are fortunate to get engagement of 2 to 3% using a telephonic model," says Gondek. "By reaching out to these individuals with a welcome home call and an invite to the program, we achieved 20%, which, that's pretty high—double what we thought it was going to be."
Gondek also says that once patients engage with the program they're more apt to take a phone call from a coach, if needed.
And while the hard data from readmission rates is still a few months off, Gondek is optimistic.
"I had a goal of reducing it [the readmission rate] from 2 to 5%, and it's a little too soon to tell, but some of our numbers are looking very promising. We're thinking we're going to save somewhere between $1,000–$2,000 per individual, which is pretty significant."
Gondek says Magellan is running with its early success in substance abuse readmission rates and including other conditions such as eating disorders, chronic pain and autism, among others.
"It's HIPAA-compliant; it's got experts [and] we're monitoring the site. I really think that we could find something here that could be super helpful that would keep costs down. We actually see this as having tremendous power in a number of ways."