Microsoft: 10% of US wants texts from health insurers

By: Brian Dolan | Jun 5, 2009        

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Ten percent of Americans believe text messaging is the best way for them to communicate with health insurers, according to the Microsoft Health Engagement Survey 2009, which Kelton Research conducted. The survey concluded that consumers want coaching via email and phones from their healthcare providers to help them improve their own health.

66 percent: Interested in emails from providers for encouragement
52 percent: Want emails from providers that include feedback on their health progress
62 percent: PHRs (like Microsoft’s HealthVault or Google Health) are valuable
55 percent: Healthcare system is fragmented for helping people proactively manage their health
49 percent: Health plans only support them once they need to visit a doctor, not for wellness
77 percent: Find technology “inviting” instead of “intimidating” when it comes to helping them manage their health

While the survey found that only 10 percent of Americans believe text messaging is the best channel for communications from health insurers, if the survey’s sample size (1,002 Americans 18-years-old and up) is to be believed: That’s equivalent to 30.4 million people in the U.S. Read more for other stats from Microsoft’s survey.

A new survey released today from Microsoft Corp. shows that Americans would like their health insurers and physicians to proactively use technology to help them build healthier lifestyles. The Microsoft Health Engagement Survey 2009, conducted by Kelton Research, found that consumers want electronic “coaching” via e-mail and phones to help them improve health habits, self-manage conditions and better coordinate care with providers.

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“Insurers can no longer wait for consumers to self-manage their chronic conditions through standalone Web tools,” said Dennis Schmuland, M.D., U.S. health insurance industry solutions director at Microsoft. “Consumers want their providers and insurers to team together to help them replace bad health habits with good ones, reduce their health risks and equip them to self-manage their conditions. This requires a new generation of technology designed to proactively improve health and coordinate care at the individual and community levels.”

According to the survey, 66 percent of Americans are interested in receiving health-related encouragement or reminder e-mails from their health insurance company and 52 percent would be open to receiving e-mails that provide them with feedback on their health progress. In addition, 62 percent of Americans believe that personal health record services are valuable.

Fragmentation a Barrier to Healthier Outcomes

More than half (55 percent) reported the healthcare system as fragmented in terms of helping people proactively manage their health. People who feel this way are far more likely to rely on general health Web sites for information, rather than doctors or health advisory hotlines that insurers offer (25 percent, versus 18 percent of those who feel the system is seamless).

In addition, despite insurers making great strides in recent years to add self-help tools and other improvements to their Web sites, almost half (49 percent) of insured Americans feel their health plans support them only when they need to visit a doctor, instead of helping them stay well. Of consumers who did access insurers’ Web sites, 49 percent used it primarily to find a provider and 48 percent were looking for coverage information.

Technology for Health Engagement

The survey results point to the fact that technology is not yet helping Americans proactively manage their health. Currently, consumers reactively turn to health Web sites looking for information about a current issue or illness (68 percent) instead of to learn how to become healthier. However, consumers seem to be ready to incorporate technology into their health behavior. Almost four in five (77 percent) of Americans find the idea of technology helping solve their healthcare needs as “inviting” instead of “intimidating.” While they prefer e-mail (66 percent) and the telephone (57 percent) as the best channels to communicate with their insurers, some also are open to text messaging (10 percent), instant messaging (7 percent) and videoconferencing (4 percent).

“This research is a wake-up call to the health insurance industry to start untethering much of the online tools and services they’ve tied to stand-alone member self-service portals and weave them into the consumer’s daily digital world,” said Chad Pomeroy, vice president for Innovation and eBusiness at WellPoint Inc., the nation’s largest health benefits company, with approximately 35 million members in its affiliated health plans.

“That’s why WellPoint is working with Microsoft to make health information more accessible and available,” Pomeroy said. “We’re exploring several opportunities with Microsoft that would allow our members to quickly and easily access their healthcare information to make more informed decisions. We hope to share these innovations with our members later this year.”

Opportunity Abounds

Insurers and providers have an opportunity to use technology that seamlessly connects into consumers’ daily digital lifestyles to engage them in their health and begin to reverse the course of chronic disease. For example, technology from Tellme Networks Inc., a Microsoft subsidiary that delivers interactive telephone and text message reminders to manage prescription adherence or track calories after meals, and Microsoft HealthVault, a personal health platform, can assist people in making informed health decisions using information from a variety of data sources, including providers, pharmacies, insurers, and devices such as blood pressure monitors and pedometers.

“Patients who take an active role in their healthcare are more likely to receive the best care possible from their doctor,” said Ted Epperly, M.D., FAAFP, president, American Academy of Family Physicians. “When patients and their personal physicians work together and involve technologies that empower them to improve their health habits, they can lower their health risks and self-manage chronic conditions. It’s critical for providers, patients, and public and private payers to work as a team to improve health, well-being and outcomes at the individual and community levels. Such collaboration would help control the runaway rate of medical costs that keeps health coverage beyond the financial means of many Americans.”

About the Microsoft Health Engagement Survey 2009

Los Angeles-based Kelton Research conducted the Microsoft Health Engagement Survey 2009 in March 2009 among 1,002 Americans, ages 18 and older. Full survey results and methodology are available for download at http://www.microsoft.com/health.