Most U.S. consumers are very interested in receiving regular messages from their health plans – if those messages are highly relevant to them and can help them stay healthier and/or save money. That’s the conclusion drawn from a new online Pollfish survey of 400 consumers conducted on behalf of RxEOB who are members of commercial and government-sponsored health plans.

About two-thirds of respondents said they open messages from their health plans either always (40 percent, the leading answer) or most of the time. Much of that may have to do with the content of the messages, as nearly 45 percent said they receive reminders to make an appointment with their providers for a wellness checkup or immunization, and 35 percent noted that they are told about various services that are a part of their plan.

There is still room for improvement in the eyes of members, however, since only 18 percent said they receive suggestions to contact their providers to receive important tests such as colonoscopies or mammograms, or are proactively sent news or suggestions on how to manage their chronic condition or other health concerns. The result is that despite the emphasis on wellness and value-based care principles, fewer than one out of five members is currently receiving information on how to avoid, manage, or mitigate the effects of a serious, costly condition.

“American consumers are hungry for information on how to improve their health, especially since they are carrying more of the direct burden as a result of the increase in high-deductible health plans in recent years,” says Dr. Howard Darvin, chief medical officer, RxEOB. “This desire creates an opportunity for health plans. They have a financial stake in improving member health, and have the resources to create and deliver these messages. The key is to bring information their members actually want, through the channel they want it delivered in, in a timely and personal manner. Fulfill those requirements and health plans can build a much stronger and less price-sensitive relationship with their members.”

When asked what types of messages they would like to receive, 85 percent of survey respondents said they want their health plans to tell them how to lower their costs for prescription medications through options such as generics or alternative therapies; the same number also wants to be notified of drug recalls based on their prescription histories. Nearly 60 percent said they would like to receive reminders to make appointments for wellness checkups or immunizations; only 45 percent currently receive them. More than 55 percent said they would like to receive reminders about various services versus the nearly 35 percent who do. Also, 41 percent said they would like to receive messages about scheduling regular tests, while just 18 percent said they do. And 28 percent would like to receive news or suggestions on managing their conditions, but only 18 percent currently do.

The survey also looked at the reasons members give for not opening messages from their health plans when they receive them. The majority (44 percent) responded that they simply got too busy and forgot, and their health plans apparently never followed up. Additionally, more than one-fourth (28 percent) said the topic didn’t look relevant or wasn’t personalized to them.

These results, RxEOB leaders believe, point to a need for health plans to move away from generalized messages to large swaths of their member populations and toward more hyper-targeted messages that speak to specific sub-sections of a population.

“The more the message appears to speak to a specific member concern, the more urgency it will have and the more likely it will be to be opened,” Dr. Darvin says. “Saying, ‘Patients over 50 should get a colonoscopy,’ isn’t nearly as powerful as saying, ‘Now that you turned 50 on March 14, you should speak to your doctor about getting a colonoscopy when you go for your annual wellness check in August.’ The more specific you make the message to the member, the more you increase the chances of it being opened and acted on, which is better for everyone.”

One additional factor that should be taken into account is the channel used to deliver the message. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of survey respondents said they prefer digital communications, such as email, text, or secure message. By factoring member preferences into message delivery, health plans can ensure that their member communication programs are enhancing, rather than interfering with, the relationship.

“We often hear how everyone is being bombarded with messages all day, so it’s tempting for payers to not want to add to the noise,” Dr. Darvin says. “But it’s clear from the survey that their members actually value those communications – if they’re done well. By hyper-targeting who gets which message, and ensuring messages are relevant and member-specific, health plans can add value to the relationship as well as member lives.”