Social media is a growing venue for plans to effectively educate members with preventive information, tools and strategies for health behavior change. (Photo: Shutterstock)

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

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

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

Social media is a growing venue for plans to effectively educate members with preventive information, tools and strategies for health behavior change and other important data, according to HealthMine’s adjunct report for its second survey, “Health Intelligence Report — Communication and Digital Healthcare Tools.”

“Social media is an important communication tool for the health care industry to connect with, engage and help members better manage their health,” the authors write. “For many, it is a direct pipeline to the topics, trends and events affecting them in real time. Social media is a factor in humanizing an organization and building trust with members.”

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

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

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

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 say their health plan sends them reminders or recommendations based on information from their digital health tools.

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