Archive for February, 2005

Healthcare Toolkits: The Medium is the Message

February 27th, 2005 by Melanie Matthews

Guest Blogger: Patricia Donovan

We’ve been talking toolkits lately at HIN. Whether the topic is disease management or motivating resistant patients, nearly every healthcare expert presenting at our regular audio conferences has underscored the value of healthcare toolkits. From CDs to journals to kitchen magnets to online resources, healthcare organizations are banking on information toolkits to influence consumer and member behavior for the better, and pocketing the benefits in reduced healthcare costs.

It occurs to me that with the mountain of healthcare information propagated by the healthcare industry, consumers in most cases have no one to blame but themselves for the state of their health and their healthcare. Our physical and virtual mailboxes are awash in information that, if heeded, could significantly improve their health and their medical bills. But is it working?

Take me, for example. I consider myself Internet savvy—paying my bills, checking my teen’s cell phone usage and reviewing my family’s healthcare claim status online. But after hearing yet another speaker laud his organization’s newest online toolkit, I decided to see for myself whether my healthcare provider’s website had more to offer than a method for tracking my FSA reimbursements.

Sure enough, when I logged in to the site, I found a wealth of free information—online tools and resources to help me manage my family’s healthcare and costs. There’s a care consultant on call to respond to my health-related questions, and an encyclopedia of alternative therapies like using flower essences to treat emotional problems. Without leaving my kitchen, I can take a virtual tour of a facelift or any of the dozens of other surgical procedures listed there. (Note to the squeamish: my provider uses tasteful sketches instead of actual footage to illustrate these procedures.) There’s a calculator to help me gauge my healthcare costs and contributions and a tool that rates hospital quality and safety. And much more.

Quite honestly, if I hadn’t been motivated by professional interest, I’m not sure when I would have stumbled upon this data gold mine. But now that I know it’s there, I’d like to think I’ll turn to this resource more often, and not wait until a loved one was seriously ill. But the reality is, with no (knock wood) family health problems on the horizon and a million other admittedly menial matters demanding my attention, reading up on preventative care is not at the top of my to-do list. I suppose it’s a little like the parents’ voices in the animated Charlie Brown specials…an insistent but muffled background sound largely ignored by the characters.

Thankfully, at least some members of my health plan are tapping into this resource: the website notes that more than 10,000 people contacted a care consultant in 2004. Who are these people? I’m guessing the lion’s share of toolkit ROI is generated by the payoffs of reduced care costs—educating the chronically ill to manage their care and costs.

The challenge, then, to healthcare payors and providers—the architects of these information portals—is motivating consumers to realize the preventative potential of these resources and tap into them sooner rather than later—before a serious health crisis arises. It’s my guess that incentives for healthy behaviors—including seeking out health-related information—will play a larger role in the months and years to come. Because for better or worse, when life is good, that may be what it takes to get some people’s attention.