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Occupy health care

BY Rob Eder

I am the 99%. And thank God for that. But it’s not what you think. This isn’t about radical politics and class warfare. I’m not looking to tax the 1%. I just want them to take better care of themselves. And I’m definitely not the only one. More and more, payers, insurers and big government are all looking at ways to get this group to live a little healthier. 


According to research from the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, approximately 1% of patients generate more than 25% of all healthcare spending, with annual medical bills averaging about $100,000 a year.


And that’s just the sickest of them. In all, more than 7-of-10 privately insured individuals under the age of 65 years suffer from one or more chronic conditions. And as this group gets older and swells the ranks of Medicare in the years to come, the generations behind them are on track to set all new highs in chronic disease and healthcare spending. By 2030, it’s expected that half of America will be clinically obese and roughly 75 million people will have diabetes.


As the clock ticks away on a Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, it is becoming increasingly clear that whatever becomes of healthcare reform — whether you call it ObamaCare, RomneyCare or the Man-in-the-MoonCare — you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. There is growing acceptance that our current healthcare system is unsustainable. We save more by investing in keeping people healthy than we do by only paying when they get sick. We save more when people have insurance and access to appropriate sites of care than we do by ignoring them and allowing them to turn up in the ER. And if you make insurance companies accept all patients regardless of pre-existing conditions, it creates an incentive for insurance companies to manage that patient’s health more effectively — the only upside is in delivering better health outcomes. 


For a long time this was the vision for the future of health care. But there is growing evidence that the future is here.


For instance, take a look at the work retail clinics like MinuteClinic and Take Care are doing with Medicare. One aspect of the Affordable Care Act that has been in effect for about a year now, is the provision that allows seniors enrolled in Medicare Part B and Medicare Advantage plans a free annual preventive wellness visit. However, in the first year of the program, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, only about 6% of eligible seniors took advantage. The problem so far has been a combination of poor access and low awareness, two areas where the clinics can help. But the longer these programs continue, the more CMS and other payers will see other benefits of using retail clinics and the practitioners in them to their fullest potential — for about one-third the cost of a typical physician visit, you can help keep a chronically ill patient from falling into the ranks of the 1%. Because by then it costs 10 times as much to care for them.

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Industry use of social media ‘miniscule’

BY Alaric DeArment

Social media opens many new opportunities for healthcare organizations to engage consumers and is changing the nature of healthcare interaction, according to a new report by Pricewaterhouse­Coopers’ Health Research Institute.


The report, “Social media likes health care: From marketing to social business,” called social media activity by hospitals, health insurers and drug companies “minuscule,” and found that while 8-in-10 healthcare companies had a social media presence, health-related community sites had 24 times more social media activity than corporate sites.


“Health organizations have an opportunity to use social media as a way to better listen, participate in discussions and engage with consumers in ways that extend their interaction beyond a clinical encounter,” PwC U.S. health industries leader Kelly Barnes said. “Savvy adopters are viewing social media as a business strategy, not just a marketing tool.”


In addition, the study found that one-third of consumers use social media sites for seeking medical information, tracking and sharing symptoms, and sharing their thoughts about doctors, treatments and health plans. Meanwhile, between 20% and 40% had used social media to find health-related consumer reviews and information about other patients’ experiences, or had posted information about their experiences or joined a health forum or community. Thirty-four percent said information found on social media would affect their decision about taking a certain medication, and 32% said it would affect their choice of a health insurance plan.

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Social media a marketing platform for health care

BY Alaric DeArment

Social media ranks as one of those technologies that has changed the world in many ways, allowing networking across the world, sharing of thoughts and events from people’s lives, embarrassment of public figures and, more recently, even helping to feed political revolutions. 


It also has created a new platform for companies looking to get their products — and word of those products — out to a wider audience.


Last month, the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council released the last installment of a five-part report on social media, reporting that grocery marketers significantly can leverage any social media participation by responding to tweets on Twitter and using LinkedIn, a professional networking site. “The explosive growth of social networking seems to have caught much of the marketing world by surprise,” CCRRC research director Michael Sansolo said. “In one survey, we found nearly 70% of supermarket chief marketing officers state they feel unprepared to integrate social media into their marketing mix.”


But consumers certainly aren’t unprepared. Considering that so many people are on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or a combination of those, not being on them soon may become the new Luddism, with a social networking account being regarded as indispensable as a cell phone. In this type of environment, not having a social media presence isn’t the best way to do business. “When you’re marketing on cable [television], you’re kind of just talking to the person sitting on a couch versus the person sitting on the couch who’s talking to all their friends at the same time,” Robin Leedy, president of public relations firm Robin Leedy & Associates, told Drug Store News. “So I think it’s about targeting [people] who [are] in a specific place that you need them to be to drive them to purchase, and then also influencing like-minded people in their circle almost in real time.”


The companies that do embrace social media are finding this out in real time also, as has been the case of two companies making health and hygiene products for women that have sought to increase their presence in the U.S. market.


One company is Lifes2Good, which markets the natural hair-growth product Viviscal for women who have experienced hair loss due to stress, hormonal changes or medications. The company has focused most of its attention on Facebook, as well as Twitter, sending its products for review to bloggers, who then drive traffic back to the Facebook site. Meanwhile, many influencers — including fashion and style magazine editors — have mentioned Viviscal on Twitter, getting the product further attention.


“It’s the easiest way to engage customers,” brand manager John Halbert told DSN. Later this year, the company plans to create a new online hair-loss community for Viviscal that will tie together all of its social media, Halbert said.


Another product is Softcup, made by Evofem and marketed as a convenient and environmentally friendly alternative to tampons and sanitary napkins. Its marketing campaign has included a lot of social media, particularly Facebook, a blog and a Twitter feed. These have been useful in addressing the large number of women with questions about the product, including TweetChats on Twitter with Evofem’s resident OB-GYN and endorsers, as well as allowing new and prospective users to ask questions on Softcup’s Facebook page. “Social media is about empowering our existing consumers to speak for us and to validate the brand to women who are new to Softcup,” Evofem VP sales and marketing Tracey Saenz told DSN.


One thing that many people seem to agree on is that social media is about more than just getting the word out — it’s also about getting the word from consumers themselves. “One thing that is common across all those platforms is that we use them to listen to our customers, because listening is just as important as talking,” Saenz said, noting that consumers sometimes would respond to questions posted online before Evofem’s staff had a chance to.


Leedy had a similar view. “Sometimes, you don’t know what you’re listening for, and someone makes a comment, and then 10 other people comment on that,” Leedy said. “You wouldn’t have had that dialog had that consumer not had the open place to do it.”

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