Keeping Health Plan Members Informed with Education Outreach

By Dr. Gary Call, Chief Medical Officer, HMS
Twitter: @HMSHealthcare

Medical experts learn more about the coronavirus every day. New protocols for testing and treatment are becoming the norm, and evolving information emerges daily about the characteristics of COVID-19 and how it presents in individuals.

It is important that health plans consistently reevaluate their care management strategies based on the current, dynamic environment. A large part of this is developing or revamping member education campaigns. Outreach campaigns are critical to keeping consumers informed about important, timely information like which COVID-19 symptoms to look for, best practices for seeking care and tips for maintaining one’s health. The key however to making this outreach valuable depends on the health plan’s ability to target each unique individual with the information they need most. Delivering personalized and relevant messaging is essential to break through the “COVID-19 fatigue” that many consumers are experiencing.

Identifying Low-Risk and At-Risk Members is a Good Place to Start
One important factor is identifying low-risk members and high-risk members. For those with a lower risk of contracting the virus, like younger and overall healthier people, deploying low-touch campaigns makes sense for health plans. Low-touch campaigns are often deployed via email and include the latest useful COVID-19 updates to ensure members can refer to this information in the event as needed.

Campaigns for those deemed at-risk look starkly different than those for low-risk members. Specifically, older individuals or those dealing with chronic conditions have been found to have an increased chance of experiencing severe illness from COVID-19 if contracted. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), evidence shows several conditions contribute to severe COVID-19 illness, including serious heart conditions, chronic kidney disease and obstructive pulmonary disease and Type 2 diabetes.

For at-risk individuals, many health plans are creating high-touch campaigns that require more resources and diligence. These members may receive email messages explaining why they’re at increased risk for contracting COVID-19 and what actions they can take to maintain their current state of health. Due to the more critical nature of these members, care managers may also follow up with these individuals by phone to reinforce the suggestions being sent to them and answer any questions or concerns they might have.

The Subject Matter Today’s Health Plan Members Should Know

  1. During a time when everyone is trying to navigate an unprecedented and uncharted situation, information on a broad range of COVID-19 and healthcare-related topics will benefit most if not all members. Health plans should consider cultivating education campaigns that cover a number of priority subjects to ensure consumers are staying abreast of the topics and updates most valuable and beneficial to them. Educating members on the lesser-known COVID-19 symptoms can help consumers identify early indicators of a possible infection. Besides the commonly known symptoms of breathing difficulties and fever, health plans should notify both low and high-risk members about other symptoms like loss of smell, inflamed toes and Kawasaki disease symptoms in children. One way to do this is to provide links to online assessments that inquire about various conditions that may be indicative of a COVID-19 infection. The assessment results should instruct members on appropriate next steps, whether that is getting tested or contacting their primary care physician.
  2. Utilizing telemedicine services has emerged as a popular care option this year. Telehealth has been used to remotely triage and screen patients for COVID-19 and deliver care council to at-risk consumers safely at home. Additionally, for the many experiencing pandemic-related behavioral health issues, telemedicine has been extremely valuable for patients and professionals. So much so that 76% of psychologists are currently only offering telehealth services. Getting the word out about telehealth options is vital to ensure those struggling can get the care they need, which according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey, includes 56% of U.S adults that feel that COVID-19 has negatively impacted their mental health. Besides knowing what telehealth options are out there, members may need assistance through the learning curve associated with this new medium of medicine, like registering for telehealth consults and using online portals and technology. Member education campaigns can help answer all these questions and enable people to adopt this new way of care.
  3. Finding community-specific COVID-19 resources is important as each state has been affected differently. Many have established testing locations at unusual community locations like school parking lots or drive-through locations. Health plans can notify members about what COVID-19 resources are available in their specific local communities and how to use them.
  4. Tips for weather-related emergency planning and preparation, like hurricane season, are invaluable as COVID-19 has increased the complexity of such events. Health plans can provide suggestions for members in coastal areas to take extra precautions, such as augmenting go-kits with COVID-related supplies like face masks and hand sanitizer. Consumers should also be reminded to get enough of the medications they need well in advance of storms in the event of evacuation.

With so much still uncertain, it’s important for health plans to stay prepared, flexible and respond rapidly when it comes to member communications. Consumers rely on these messages to stay informed on the proper ways to navigate this evolving environment and to take all the necessary actions to stay safe and healthy.