Silverlink Makes A Science of Healthcare Communication

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get another 47 million uninsured Americans into some version of individual health plans,” he says. “The paradigm has totally shifted—in the old group insurance model, there was a human resources administrator between the employee and the payer. These days there is no HR administrator. The consumer calls the health plan directly for all their questions.”

That increases the burden on insurers—but it also empowers them to reach plan members directly with suggestions for behavioral changes that could save them a lot of money, whether that means pill-splitting, taking generic drugs, or improving medication adherence. (As I noted in a story about local startup InnovationRx last year, the economic toll from health conditions that worsen when people don’t take their medicines as directed is estimated at $200 billion a year.)

All health plans have to communicate with their members, of course, but many of them leave savings on the table by sending out one-size-fits-all messages, Nowak says. The core of Silverlink’s customization method is a “champion-challenger” approach, reminiscent of advertising industry techniques, that shows within hours or days how members are responding to different variants of a specific messages. “You can get a lot of optimization right out of the gate by changing the messaging to seniors, retired populations, younger populations, women and men, regional differences,” Nowak says. “If there is a high value to moving a behavior, you want to ride that curve as far as you can until it becomes uneconomical to get to the next percentage.”

There’s little risk to health plans considering hiring Silverlink, because the company charges for performance. If it helps a pharmacy benefits management company save 20 percent on a certain drug by shifting members to a generic version, for example, it asks the company for a share of the net value. “That is very attractive for health plans today,” Nowak says. “They’ve been whacked by the financial meltdown, their income has dramatically dropped, their stock prices have been hammered, and healthcare reform may lead to reductions in reimbursements. We come in and say, ‘We’ll manage this communication process, align our incentives with yours, and drive better yields than you’ve ever seen before.'”

Interestingly, Nowak says, Silverlink can’t always tell exactly why one healthcare-related message works better than another. If the number of emergency-room visits for kids with asthma goes down after Silverlink sends families a message about the proper use of inhalers, for example, the company might not know which part of the message resonated with parents. But in the end, all that really matters is that it produced the desired outcome, that is, health improvements and cost savings. “It’s not important to know why the change occurred,” says Nowak. “It’s important to know that the change occured.

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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