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Can 2008 be the year that health communication gets personal?

By Laurie Gelb

It's safe to assume that your organization's 2008 objectives include some combination of member/clinician behavior change and cost containment. To that end, consider the following. 

Scenario 1: An organization sends you snail mail and e-mail that obviously is the same for everyone. It references products you don't need, ignores your previous transactions, frequently repeats the same message and offers you no way to personalize its communication to you.

Scenario 2: (a la An organization sends you snail mail and e-mail that clearly has entailed an analysis of your pre-existing relationship with the organization. Future purchases are recommended, reminders are tailored to the interval at which you made previous purchases, etc. You are also offered the opportunity to personalize the offers and reminders you receive, and to update this information when you see fit.

Which organization are you more likely to do more business with? Recommend?

Now consider what last year was like for one of your members (every example below is from actual MCO communications). He is male and receives a letter that clearly recognizes that fact (it's addressed to Mr. Smith). The letter references the fact that he might be pregnant. It also invites him to call a "local number" to reach a health coach, for which the area code is an hour away and actually a toll call. The signature on this invitation is a typewriter font.

Does any of this seem personalized?

He receives two successive letters "from his doc," via a joint initiative, that encourage him to get an A1c and includes a form wherein he can have a lab tech sign off on the test, send in the form, and receive a trivial incentive. This is right after the visit at which he and the doc went over the results of his recommended interval A1c test.

He receives an EOB with an insert encouraging him to get a flu shot.  The EOB is for his recent flu shot. Every EOB he receives over a six month period includes the flu shot insert, long after he has received the shot. 

He tries to order rx refills from his PBM over the Web. He finds out by trying to do this (over a half hour with increasing frustration) that his former user ID is no longer valid. When he tries to create a new one, he gets repeated, incomprehensible error messages with no information as to how to resolve the issue. Ultimately, he has to call the refills in, but after explaining the issue to the representative, he receives no information on how to fix the log-in.  The member hangs up still unsure whether he will ever again be able to refill rx on the Web, and with no incentive to pursue the matter.

Do personalized mail merges and sorts cost more? You be the judge.  One thing is sure -- if we stipulate that the "informed health consumer" expects a win/win relationship with her payor, it's hard to see how that relationship is fostered by "one size fits all" communication. Consider how easy it is to complete a transaction on (or at any one of thousands of Web sites) that actually begins and maintains a personalized relationship, as opposed to the feedback members receive from an MCO or PBM transaction. It's not just a matter of behavioral change; think of all the goodwill you're losing, and all the adversarial baselines you're creating, by seemingly refusing to treat members as people.

It's easy to say that health communication is a two-way street, that patients need to take responsibility for ontrollable risks and lifestyle factors. It's more difficult, but ultimately more rewarding, to walk the walk from a payor standpoint. Tools that support plan design choices came into being several years ago. Have tools to support health decisions and encourage appropriate behavior matched that early promise? Not yet.

Need evidence that any of this matters? A modest proposal would be to run some pilots that compare "one size fits all" messaging with something that takes previous information into account. Pretend that you're at an organization where "one size fits all" communications simply aren't done.  What would you do to stratify your members? You might begin with gender...

Happy 2008 to all, hopefully a year in which all of our initiatives increasingly facilitate appropriate prevention, screening, diagnosis and treatment.

References (5)

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  • Response
    Response: diagnosis
    diagnosis huge selection.
  • Response
    Response: dictionary
    Great dictionary guide.
  • Response
    Response: personalized
    great personalized items.
  • Response
    Response: flu
    flu information source.
  • Response
    Response: refill
    refill values.

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