Health plan providers can better help members manage theirhealth by interacting with them more via Facebook, Twitter,Instagram and LinkedIn, so say plan participants responding toHealthMine’s latest surveys. It would also greatlyhelp if providers customized health recommendations based on datagleaned from members’ use of digital tools such as fitness and nutrition apps.

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The Dallas-based health care technology company polled 500Medicare enrollees, 65 or older, in its Medicare Plan HealthIntelligence Survey, and in its Digital Healthcare Tools Survey,polled 750 consumers 64 or younger enrolled in a sponsoredinsurance plan.

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Not surprisingly, younger people are more apt than Medicareenrollees to engage with their health plan providers via socialmedia, according to the two surveys – 37 percent of those 64 andunder are connected to their plan on social media, compared to 7percent of Medicare enrollees. For those who are connected, 65percent of Medicare enrollees and 78 percent of the youngerrespondents say the connections are helpful.

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Social media is a growing venue for plans to effectively educatemembers with preventive information, tools and strategies forhealth behavior change and other importantdata, according to HealthMine’s adjunct report for its secondsurvey, “Health Intelligence Report -- Communication andDigital Healthcare Tools.”

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“Social media is an important communication tool for the healthcare industry to connect with, engage and help members bettermanage their health,” the authors write. “For many, it is a directpipeline to the topics, trends and events affecting them in realtime. Social media is a factor in humanizing an organization andbuilding trust with members.”

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With that said, health plan providers must first communicatewith members using each member’s preferred method, says BryceWilliams, HealthMine’s president and chief executive. For Medicaremembers, 48 percent prefer to communicate with their plan viaphone, while 31 percent communicate digitally via email, text,website or mobile app, and 21 percent by mail. This comparesto just 10 percent of plan members age 64 and under who prefercommunication via phone, 70 percent digitally and 20 percent viaregular mail.

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“It is not just Medicare members who may prefer the phone --there are times every member needs to talk to trained specialiststo better understand an issue regarding their plan and health,”Williams says. “However, more plan members, and more Medicare planmembers will be using digital connectivity and social media tointeract with their plan – sophisticated plans are meeting memberson their terms.”

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In HealthMine’s Digital Healthcare Tools Survey, 83 percent ofthe respondents say they use one or more digital health tools – buthealth plan providers don’t incorporate the data from the tools tohelp them. Fifty-five percent report using fitness/exerciseapplications -- more than any other digital health tool, and 35percent say they use a nutrition app.

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However, most health plan sponsors are either not connected to,or not integrating digital health information into members’plans, according to the survey. Just 22 percent of respondents saytheir health plan sends them reminders or recommendations based oninformation from their digital health tools.

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“If health plan sponsors aren’t connected to members’ healthdata, they won’t be able to deliver intelligent information orprioritize actions for population health,” the report’sauthors write. “Plans need to integrate digital health informationwith provider data and apply it to help educate and guide patients.Then they can begin to realize the promise of digital healthto lower costs.”

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Katie Kuehner-Hebert

Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a freelance writer based in Running Springs, Calif. She has more than three decades of journalism experience, with particular expertise in employee benefits and other human resource topics.