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“Personal” is more than a word

By Laure Gelb
In my last post, I speculated as to whether 2008 might be the year that disease management communication from MCOs finally got personal. The next one-page MCO piece I saw (an EOB insert) offered the following snippets:  


“We think getting personal is a healthy idea.”
“We know that nothing is more personal than your health.”
“Do you take a healthy interest in good health?”
This piece of paper attempts to induce enrollment in the personal health coach program. But where are the benefits offered for this proactive behavior?  


“If you qualify…one person to call for answers and advice. It’s confidential and it’s free.”
o      OK, so you want me to transfer the expectation that my physician will offer answers and advice, to a nurse whom I’ll never meet.

o      You want me to believe that it’s confidential, when I’m reading every week about health insurance data privacy breaches.

o      And you want me to celebrate that it’s “free,” when my premiums and copays have never been higher.

 Health coaching should ideally align with the patient’s medical home. Can we more strongly link that proposition to premiums and copays? Talking points could include:


  • The relationship between OOP costs, medical errors and drug interactions
  • The higher risk of unidentified ME/DI among patients with multiple conditions/polypharmacy
  • The opportunities for improved outcomes that multiple conditions can obscure
  • The importance of a “medical home” in reducing ME/DI
  • What a health coach actually does, and indications that having a coach might help; how the coach and the medical home can support each other
 Although managed care has been “doing” disease management since the 80’s, a patient’s “buy-in” to disease management, with the time, effort and emotional costs it entails, will be short-lived unless it’s obtained through honest discussion of its potential benefits, rather than demanded or condescendingly waved in front of someone with many conflicting priorities. And I haven’t seen an EOB insert yet that addressed questions like:


  • Why I am on two drugs that are supposedly “contraindicated” in combination?
  • Does anyone at the MCO know or care about all that treatments I’ve had?
  • Isn’t a health coach going to refer me to a doctor for the tough calls anyway?
  • How will a stranger get me to do all the things I already know I should do?
  • Why can’t the health plan just find me a better physician?
There’s a real shortage of health content in member communication, and it’s no wonder that members find it difficult to read, let alone remember (or act on) any of it. The next time you want to change a member’s mind or otherwise influence behavior, you might want to check your communiqué for a few basic points:


  1. Is it clear what you are asking members to do?
  2. Is a coherent value proposition for them to take this action presented and are potential objections addressed?
  3. If members to whom your request is directed are not appropriate candidates, how will they know?
  4. Is there a high ratio of important content to buzzwords like “personal,” “healthy” and “wellness”?
 All this is no more than Marketing 101, of course. When disease management diverges from marketing exchange theory (equal value achieved by all parties to a transaction), it is less likely that any transaction, change or improved outcome will result. And, at the end of the day, the evidence suggests that clinical outcomes are more durably and significantly improved by self-imposed than externally-imposed change. Yes, the MCO (and the physician, nurse, can help present the rationale for change, a means for implementing it and incentives for doing so. But only the patient “pulls the switch” each and every day. Every day brings new health decisions (like self-dosing qd), challenges and opportunities. It takes more than a few clichés to frame and support optimal choices. And there has to be a balance between “happy talk” and the certain knowledge that some “good” decisions and intentions go horribly wrong.
Next month: domains, measures and thresholds -- the keys to behavioral change.

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