In response to a potential pandemic, many health insurers are offering H1N1 vaccinations free of charge to members, but Berger suggests there are three other important functions that health plans could provide:
- Communication. Other than getting people vaccinated, Berger says the second most important tool is communicating with the public about H1N1 and the importance of basic personal hygiene, such as washing your hands and sneezing into the bend in your arm. But this isn't just a regular seasonal flu season in which an insurer can send a mass mailing to members in the fall about flu shots, says Berger. Insurers will have to continuously use multiple communication avenues, particularly for young adults. Health insurers are more likely to connect with young adults through text messages, e-mails, and social networking—and don't expect all twenty-somethings will have a home phone. "This is going to require ongoing communication—not a one-time blitz," she says.
- Collaboration. Berger suggests health plans work with physicians within their networks and employers to provide accurate information about H1N1 to members. This can include providing stuffers to go into pay stub envelopes and working with employers so that automated H1N1 education phone calls have the employers' name come up on caller ID. Having the employer on the caller ID will make people more apt to answer the phone, says Berger.
- Coordination. Health plans can work with physicians and emergency departments to find alternate locations in which to see H1N1 patients. Rather than have those with H1N1 flood EDs and possibly infect more people, insurers, physicians, and hospitals can work together to set up mini-clinics or other off-site locations, she says.
Berger says the H1N1 outbreak requires the healthcare system to set up better coordination and communication—two words not often used when describing the U.S. system.
"In years like this, when everyone is really confused, [communication and trust] become even more important," she says.
That kind of collaboration and communication are needed if health officials are to inspire healthy people to get their H1N1 vaccinations. Call me a cynic, but I'm not sure if that's going to happen.
Les Masterson is an editor for HealthLeaders Media.
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