Insurers Starting to Cover MD-Patient E-mails

Today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune (registration required) has an interesting article on e-visits to the physician’s office and a new trend for some insurers to begin covering them.

Some of Minnesota’s largest health care providers, including HealthPartners and Blue Cross and Blue Shield, are beginning to cover e-visits between doctors and patients, an unusual step nationally and an attempt in part to contain exploding health care costs.

Under the plans, patients pay the same co-pay as they would for an office visit, and doctors get reimbursed about $35 for each patient e-mail that they respond to. Some experts say such e-visits could yield billions of dollars a year in savings, as well as cut down on time and travel for patients with routine medical issues.

“It certainly is very helpful,” said Dr. Michael Ainslie, chairman of the Minnesota Medical Association and a pediatric endocrinologist at Park Nicollet Clinic in St. Louis Park. “I don’t think it will ever take the place of a one-on-one interview, but I think it will be a useful tool.”

Blog Post During Our Session

I am doing this blog entry as part of my presentation at the Wisconsin Healthcare Public Relations and Marketing Society conference in Green Lake, Wisc. The title of my talk is “Integrating Old Tech and New Tech to Multiply Marketing Awareness.”

To help the group get started blogging quickly when they get back home, we will upload some video to YouTube, grab a photo from Flickr, link to a news story and an embedded photo (probably not a good choice of words given the subject of the story.)

A bunch of David Glickman’s jokes have related to the case of former Congressman Mark Foley. Here is a story about candidates whose campaigns had received contributions from Mr. Foley’s campaign. And below, I’m pulling out a photo from that story, a thumbnail image of Congressman Foley.

The point of the talk is that we need a balance in our emphasis between traditional media relations and new media. Far too many communications professionals are not as familiar as they should be with the potential of new media, but there also is an opposite danger: obsessing on the new and neglecting the old.

The reality is mass media reach…well…masses. New media reach important niches, and what’s best about them is you don’t have to “dumb it down” to reach a mass audience, because that’s not the point. We need to reach both the masses for broad awareness, and the narrow audience that may be about to make an important health care decision.

What I hope people will get out of my presentation is that both news media and new media are important, and they can reinforce each other. The video below is a mini-highlight reel telling the story of the Carlsen Twins’ separation. Abbigail and Isabelle are the formerly conjoined twin daughters of Jesse and Amy Carlsen of Fargo, North Dakota.

In the case of the Carlsens, having a web site with condition updates helped make the management of the news media much more efficient. This was a way we could cooperate with Mr. and Mrs. Carlsen’s decision to open their lives to media, including the Star Tribune, Fargo Forum and NBC’s Dateline, not to mention the dozens of other media organizations who were interested. It also gave friends and family back home in North Dakota and Montana a chance to immediately see (immediate = without media intervening) what was happening, as several thousand watched the live webcast of the news conference after surgery.

Lessons learned from the Carlsens will be helpful as we serve another family from North Dakota, the Fitterers. They don’t mind that there are news stories about their conjoined twin girls, Abygail and Madysen, but they don’t want to do media interviews. In this case, new media are even more important to facilitate their wishes.

The news segments were recorded using EyeTV and the piece was edited in iMovie, exported to Quicktime and uploaded to YouTube.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r08wJnNmUz0]
In the next session I will be part of a panel on crisis communications. I’m looking forward to hearing those other case studies and learning from them.

Here’s a picture of me, that I had previously uploaded to Flickr. Pretty easy to include in a blog, huh?

My Recommendation on Three Things to Do

David Glickman, our conference keynote speaker, said everyone at WHPRMS should implement three things. I don’t know whether that’s ambitious enough or not. It’s better, as he said, than sticking the conference three-ring binder on the shelf as the proof of attendance.

I suggest these three, not because they are by themselves the most important, but because they are, as the conference theme says — “Sure-Bet Strategies” — gateways to continued learning that will help you hit the jackpot.

Start a blog. Go here for tips on where to find places to start one for free. Link to this blog as part of your Blogroll, leave comments, or use Trackbacks. There’s no better way to learn than by doing, so just go for it. It costs nothing except your time. And by participating in even just a few blogs that talk about issues that interest you, you’ll begin to get the feel for how blogs work, and their power. If you’re not naturally a hands-on learner, using this blog in particular, asking questions and joining the conversation, will be a way you can get tutoring from the community.

Get an RSS feed reader, or aggregator. Newsgator and Pluck are examples. Subscribe to the Lines from Lee RSS feed, so you can follow the conversation. A feed reader can help you keep track of hundreds of web sites without visiting them, multiplying what you know while trimming the time it takes to keep up on the news. Here are a few other sites where you can see examples of RSS feeds: the New York Times, Washington Post, Minneapolis Star Tribune and Mayo Clinic. You see that you can subscribe to a very specific kind of news.

Get iTunes and subscribe to some podcasts. For Immediate Release is a good twice-weekly podcast on communications and technology.

Some Sites to Explore

For the WHPRMS members who aren’t familiar with some of the sites mentioned Friday morning, here’s a list you’ll find helpful in your continuing education…maybe even driving the value of the session up to $123.84.

Wikipedia – the on-line encyclopedia edited by the world.
Skype – Free or really cheap phone service through your computer, using a broadband internet connection.
YouTube – A ridiculously easy-to-use means of placing your video where the world can find it.
WordPress – a free platform for your blog
Blogger – another free blog service – or just type “free blog” in Google and you’ll have lots of choices.
Mayo Clinic News – Mayo Clinic’s site for journalists, soon to have podcasts available directly instead of only through iTunes
Medical Edge – The site with all of Mayo Clinic’s syndicated health and medical content
Carlsen Twins site – the update site we established to enable news media, family, friends and supporters of the Carlsen family get updates on the girls’ conditions.

Keynote by David Glickman

This morning’s keynote at WHPRMS was by David Glickman, a corporate comedian with a really entertaining program. I think he connected with the audience at least in part because he had been one of us: a health care public relations professional.
David Glickman
One of his best stories was from his days with the Miami chapter of the American Heart Association, when the organization was given 200 free bus billboards. Being a creative guy, and with a chance to help drive home the key message that the number one killer of men and women is heart disease, he came up with a slogan he thought was particularly arresting:

“Half of the people on this bus will die from heart disease.”

Apparently it was arresting; everybody wanted to wait for the next bus.

David does some funny musical parodies, too, with his portable keyboard slung over his shoulder. All in all, a nice way to begin the conference.

Another great bit: “If you can come up with just one thing from this conference to take back and apply…just one … that would be… a real waste of time! No! You need to have at least three takeaways from this conference…don’t just go home and set your three-ring binder on a shelf. Pick three things that can make a difference, and apply them!”

That’s not a perfectly accurate quote, but it’s the main idea. With that, I’m going to suggest some old tech/new tech applications in my session tomorrow, and will post a list here. I hope people will comment on those and on the sessions they found most helpful, so we can have a conversation and continue to learn how to apply new media, particularly in the health care setting.