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mHealth Gets the Message Right in Population Health Study

A California health plan uses text-messaging to boost member engagement and reduce unnecessary ER visits. Officials say it has a bright future in other healthcare settings as well.

- A California health plan has found that a text-messaging platform has boosted engagement and reduced unnecessary trips to the local emergency room.

The three-month study, conducted by the Los Angeles-based, 1.14-million-member Inland Empire Health Plan and mPulse Mobile, used a two-way mHealth platform to connect with 17,000 newly enrolled members, many of them on Medicaid and Medicare. The program’s goal was to see if targeted messages could increase member satisfaction, improve outcomes and lower costs.

Officials said they were pleased with the results.

Among the most important measuring sticks is ED use. National studies have said Medicaid members use the ED twice as often as those with private insurance, often for issues that aren’t considered an emergency, and Medicaid/CHIP members account for roughly one-quarter of all ED visits. In the IEHP-mPulse study, the number of participants who said they’d visit an ER for a minor condition plunged from 11 percent to 4 percent.

Other outcomes: 91 percent of members said the text messages improved their knowledge of IEHP services, the engagement rate was 2.5 times better than a control group, and 10 percent of members took part in a series of health challenges, with one-third completing the challenges.

The study is the latest in a series of mHealth programs designed to engaged populations at the time and place of their choosing, primarily on a mobile device. While payers and public health agencies have been most active, healthcare providers are starting to see value as well.

Text messaging platforms are particularly attractive for two reasons: Text messages have a read rate of 98 percent, and almost 80 percent of the nation’s Medicaid population use text messaging.

“Healthcare is increasingly becoming a consumer-centric industry, and it’s imperative that healthcare organizations offer convenient and seamless customer experiences,” mPulse co-founder and CEO Chris Nicholson said in a press release. “The study results prove that connecting with consumers on their mobile phones in a way that is highly-tailored and directly relevant to them can make a marked improvement in the health of an individual and population.”

“mPulse Mobile’s understanding of the Medicaid population and insight-driven mobile engagement solution has enabled us to connect and engage in a two-way dialog with our members, a conversation that’s led to improved knowledge of our services, generating better health outcomes,” added Susan Arcidiacono, IEHP’s chief marketing officer. “We’re eager to apply these learnings to our broader member base and continue working with mPulse Mobile to implement innovative mobile strategies to improve population health.”

The program fashioned messages around six common issues: finding a doctor; scheduling routine care, using a nurse advice line; finding an urgent care clinic; accessing a community resource center and receiving health tips and challenges.

“While this study aimed to explore member knowledge and activation, the implementation of similar mobile strategies shows promise in other areas of healthcare, including patient engagement and retention, medication adherence, preventive care and post-discharge follow-up,” the study concluded.  

The study will be presented at next week’s 6th Annual World Congress Medicaid Summit in Tyson’s Corner, Va., as well as the subject of an America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) webinar later this summer.

Dig Deeper:

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