Health Insurance: How do you feel about yours?

According to a newsletter aimed at the insurance industry, 70% of comments made about health insurers on social media sites in the past year were negative. FierceHealthPayer reports:

It’s time to face the facts–the American public dislikes health insurance companies. And that’s putting it mildly, considering that 70 percent of all opinions and comments about insurers posted on social media sites in the last year were negative.

(Read more: Insurers should take to social media to combat negativity – FierceHealthPayer 

I can understand some of that negativity. This past summer brought major upheaval for me as I searched for affordable health insurance for our employees. I asked our insurance agent early on to get us quotes. I was appalled at what came back from the company who provides our plan. As a small group (only 8 members plus one spouse) we are subject to huge variations in cost and are very limited in benefit choices. Health insurance is our second largest expense.

I interviewed employee leasing companies and other groups that claim to make you part of a larger group so you can benefit from lower pricing structures. Unfortunately, none of them were able to save us enough money to justify the severe limitation in benefits or the cost of membership. We ultimately bought a plan that increases copays and deductibles, but maintains most of the benefits we had….we think. How the insurer will choose to interpret those benefits when one of us actually needs to take advantage of them remains to be seen.

My experience is no surprise. Employers across the nation were faced with a  9% average increase in family premiums in 2011 while many of us were presented double digit increases, in spite of the recession.

The article mentioned above suggests that insurers should get involved in social media to combat their negative perception by the public. They should

Create a social media policy and then get out into the social world and establish a strong, positive presence. Tweet some healthful recipes, post exercise tips on Facebook, make announcements on Google+.

Whatever your specific strategy, though, make sure you monitor all social media sites for comments made about your company and then contact the poster to try and resolve the problem. Even if you can’t fix the particular issue, say because someone is griping about the lack of universal health insurance, you’ll have made an effort to connect with the public, which over time just might change their perception of the industry. – Dina (@HealthPayer)

In other words, they should get their marketing people to work in the social media sphere. Don’t do anything real to correct the negative perceptions of the public, just do your best to appear to care and to look good. Don’t let anybody realize that one of the major reasons the cost of healthcare is so high in the U.S. is because of the part played by the cost of health insurance.

I was rather distressed by that recommendation. Don’t do anything real…just do your best to appear as if you care about these negative perceptions.

I wonder what your experience is with health insurers. Does your organization provide health insurance for your employees? Is everybody satisfied with their plan and the cost of it? Have you ever made a negative comment about your health insurance on Facebook or Twitter? Ever made a positive one?

Please share your comments below.

Social Media, Data Breaches and Behavioral Health PHI

I am not sure why I continue to attend free webinars about data breaches. They mostly serve to make me extremely anxious for our customers. . . especially for those who have not created a data security plan or have thought minimally about their responsibilities for protecting the privacy of their patients’ Protected Health Information (PHI).

You all certainly know about the requirements that HIPAA and the HITECH portion of ARRA placed upon healthcare providers. You must protect the privacy and security of PHI. You must have assessed the risks to the security of your data and have a plan in place for mitigating any potential consequences of security breach.

The problem is that new potential complications arise all the time. This morning’s webinar was about social media and the potential security risks added by use of those media. It was presented by ID Experts, a company that specializes in an online tool that guides you through handling a data breach when it occurs. They believe that one must assume that such breaches will occur. . . and be ready to react at a moment’s notice.

Do you have a social media policy at work? Are you allowed to use Facebook or Twitter from your work computer? What about from your smart phone paid for by your employer? Are you allowed to access your personal email account from the same computer on which PHI are stored? Today’s presenters talked about all the potential downfalls of such capabilities since most social media sites are not encrypted and have marginally protected security.

I left the webinar feeling anxious for our customers who do not pay attention to these matters. What will they do when they have a data breach? What will you do?

Please share your comments…

Personal vs. Professional: Social Networking Sites

I checked my email on Sunday night to find two new requests for “friend” status on my Facebook page…one was from a customer, the other was from my mother-in-law. The juxtaposition of requests brought directly home the conflict and confusion that some folks are having about use of the social media sites. Is your use personal or professional? Is it acceptable to mix the two? Would you and your contacts be better served if you have two separate online identities, a personal one and a professional one?

I am a firm believer in synchronicity. I think of Carl Jung and his notion of synchronicity (an acausal connection of events in time) often as I experience the unexpected confluence of events. This weekend was no exception.

  1. On Friday, I had time (for the first time in weeks) to tune in to HubSpot TV, a podcast done by staff members of the Internet Marketing firm whose products and services I use. They mentioned this issue of social media utilization and the possible need to keep one’s “identities” separate. One of their blogs addressed the issue on Friday and the author lays out some considerations.
  2. On Friday evening, my partner, Seth Krieger, suggested that I write a blog on social media and professional vs. personal concerns.
  3. On Sunday I got the Friend requests I mentioned above.
  4. This morning I looked at two print newspapers I receive: The New England Psychologist ran an article featuring input from Thierry Guedj, Ph.D., “Psychologists navigate use of online social networking sites“; and The National Psychologist included John Grohol, Psy.D.’s article “How ‘tweet’ it is: Social networking using Twitter”. Both of these psychologists explore some of the concerns unique to providers in the behavioral health community.

This confluence of events was impossible for me to ignore. I have found myself thinking about these issues often over the past several months. Since I began use of social networking as a way to spread our business presence more broadly on the Internet, the differences between personal and professional presence have been playing around the periphery of my mind.

While I have not seen clients for the last 16 years, I was trained as a psychologist and saw patients in a private practice and in a CD program setting from 1978 to 1993. I am well aware that boundary issues are confronted regularly by psychotherapists charged with providing a safe space in which consumers of their services can deal with issues ranging from relatively minor personal problems to serious chronic mental health issues. Protecting that ‘space’ is part of building trust and of maintaining the privacy of the client.

The sanctity of that space is challenged regularly, sometimes by the spill-over of the therapist’s life into the therapy. Personal illness and family deaths are regular intruders, but many others exist. I hosted a live, call-in television show on psychology topics from 1981 to 1983. Some of my clients were proud of the public education work I was doing; others felt that they lost a part of me that they owned and were not happy to share me with the public. As a feminist psychologist treating lots of women, it was not unusual to cross paths with a client in the ‘real’ world. Prior agreements about how or whether to greet in public aside, face-to-face interaction outside the therapy space was often a cause for discomfort for me and for the client.

Those challenges to privacy are part of the physical community in which we live. Now we add the complication of a virtual world in which massive quantities of information, both personal and professional, are available to anyone who bothers to Google us. Factor into that the fact that we have no idea which information the client has. Each form of social media provides different challenges.

1. blog: A weblog, or blog, can be an excellent way for you to provide useful information to your own clients and to many others who see your blog articles. But if you go out there into the blogosphere and take a look at the material available, you will find that the writing styles are much less formal than other published documents, especially journal articles. Because of that informality, there can be a tendency to slip into personal revelation.

Potential benefits:
Great way to become more known in your community, to educate and share valuable information with your clients, and to provide a community service through public education.
Potential risks: Informal style of blogs can lead you to share more personal information than you would usually do in journals or in direct contact with your clients.

2. Facebook: When I started to use Facebook, I intended that use to be purely personal. My nephew’s wife invited me to join first. I resisted. When an age-mate with whom I share a book club and a social sphere invited me, I joined. Facebook has been great fun! I have connected with classmates, friends and family members. As with many people in my age group, my postings are rather tame. They do reveal personal relationships and history. I was a little conflicted when business associates asked for ‘friend’ status, but decided that I do not live a wild and crazy life and there is little about me on Facebook that I am not comfortable sharing with customers and other business associates.

Potential benefits:Facebook is a great way to keep up with new family photos and to stay in more frequent contact with friends and family members who are far away.
Potential risks: If you do live a wild and crazy life and do not want your clients to know that, do not give ‘friend’ status to those clients.

3. LinkedIn: LinkedIn is the only one of the social networking sites I use that is designed for professional purposes. It is professional networking, par excellence. If you want to connect with other colleagues, this is the place to do it. If you are looking for a job, this is certainly the place I would start. There are headhunters who frequent the site looking for the most qualified individuals for their position postings. You can join groups that meet your interests and connect there with other folks who have like concerns. 

Potential benefits: LinkedIn is a great place to network with other professionals. It is designed for peer-to-peer connections.
Potential risks: If your clients/patients are other professionals, you might run into them here and need to make some decisions about who your network should include or exclude.

4. Twitter: Twitter is something else. I am still not sure about Twitter. I use it in a purely professional way. In fact, the name under which I tweet is @SOS_Software. The people I follow are other professionals who have similar interests. Those other folks are great sources of information. The tweets I find most useful are about articles, blogs and news that is relevant to my professional world. Most of the people who follow me are also interested in healthcare and software. Sometimes, I get a follow from someone who seems totally unrelated to anything in which I am interested. I blocked the clearly pornographic Follow that appeared last week.
     The way I use Twitter is totally contrary to the way most young people use it. To folks who are used to text messaging for everything, Twitter is a way to disperse text messages much more broadly. You can let everyone in your network know your status all at one time. To me, this is useless. To many others it is an essential part of staying connected.

Potential benefits: This is an excellent way to disperse a communication to a large group of people at one time. You could use Twitter to communicate educational information to all of your clients at once.
Potential risks: Twitter is like Facebook. Everybody who follows you sees everything. If you intersperse personal messages with your professional ones, everybody who follows you still sees all of it.

What do you think about these social networking sites? Do you use them? Does your organization use them to keep in touch with consumers? What do you see as the potential benefits or glaring weaknesses of being connected 24/7?

One last word of advice: If you decide to jump into the sphere of social networking, decide whether you are going to do so as a professional or for your personal needs. Once you decide, choose your networking sites accordingly. If you want to do both, you might be best served by having two different social networking identities.

Twitter Strugglers Are Not Alone

I was very pleased to read David Pogue’s NY Times column on Friday morning. It was really a relief to find that someone as tech sophisticated at Pogue also struggles with the possible benefits of social networks like Twitter.  Of course, I (and 1500 other people) started following him on Twitter immediately. His comments are most entertaining and I am sure there will be lots of tech tidbits that will be very useful to me personally. One of the biggest tips in his column was not to actually enter what you are doing right now when you Tweet (that is, when you enter a comment on Twitter). Entries that are personal are not really useful to the social network and are not really the best one can do. One of the first of Pogue’s tweets that I read was a link to a Twitter tutorial. If you have any interest in what Twitter is about, both of these articles will be useful to you.

For myself, I struggled this week with LinkedIn. Someone asked a question to which I had an answer, but it was a major effort to figure out how to enter the answer. In fact, I could not do it without also recommending an expert. While that might be useful sometimes, it was not what I wanted to do with my answer. Obviously, I was missing something and I could not find a way to get an answer to how to post my answer.

I also had a positive Facebook experience this week. We had a visit from a longtime friend and colleague who mentioned the name of another longtime friend with whom I had no contact for the past 14 or so years. I Googled this person’s name and found several references to someone with the same name. I read the various items and knew that some pertained to my friend; of others I was not sure. Then I found that the email for the “not sure” candidate was also on Facebook. I sent a Friend invitation and a note and the next day I had a reply. What a delight!

I also learned this week that not notifying my network of contacts that I have made a new blog entry results in few readers. So, this week I will return to my previous pattern of notifying certain folks that there is a new blog article that they might find interesting.

I am still not convinced that use of these social networks is going to be useful to me. They take a good deal of time to check daily and to make some entries. I have connected with people with whom I would not otherwise be communicating. I am not sure those connections will make any difference to my business or personal purposes. With enough time, I may make enough connections with others interested in mental health issues, behavioral health EHRs, and the ongoing struggles of healthcare professionals to be useful. Time will tell on this one. What about you? Has anyone else who reads this had any experience with social networks they would like to share? Do you use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or any of the other social media services on the Internet?

Social Media, Text Messages, Twitter: A generational divide

As I have gotten older, I find myself much more strongly connected to the natural world than when I was a younger person. Those who know me well would be surprised to hear me say that because I have always been an avid gardener and for the last decade a cyclist…my pleasure in being outdoors does not seem new to them. As I sit on my porch watching the last glow of the sunset on the lake behind our home and write this blog post on my laptop, I am struck by the contrast of that focus on nature and my simultaneous reliance on technology to accomplish my work tasks and to maintain many of my connections to the people in my life.

After all, we were among the first psychologists in our circle to get computers when the Kaypro 4 became available. For you youngsters, that was a CPM based machine that preceded IBM personal computers. And then we started the software business; technology has been our lifeblood. We have had a website since the early 90’s; we use email as much or more than the telephone. SOS has used customer forums on Yahoo! Groups and Google Groups as a very effective way of helping our customers help one another.

Nevertheless, I am totally flummoxed by social media. I signed up for Linked In a couple of years ago. That seemed like a reasonable way to network with other professionals. I have always been an avid networker. Then, this year, I started using an Internet marketing product and consultant to help us get up to speed. I was told that I needed to be on Facebook and to use Twitter. I have always been good at following instructions, so I got a Facebook account and signed up for Twitter. I started writing this blog, which has been great fun, and has put me in touch with our customers and others on a different level.

Now for the BUT! I just cannot get used to certain aspects of social media. I wrote our personal holiday letter this year along with some photos. Within 24 hours I had an email from my niece saying that my photos were all over gigglestalk. I had never heard of that site, so I went to explore it. I was put off by having to pay for it unless I text-messaged a cancellation within some time frame. I am sure the name is intended to be some cute combination of giggles and talk…send funny messages to one another. I could not help but see the more sinister giggle stalk…and I don’t text message so I could not even be sure I would be able to cancel the $9.99 service. I log onto Twitter each day and I usually leave some kind of message about what I am doing; but I am extremely uncomfortable every time somebody says they are “following” me. Then, today while on our tandem bicycle ride, I got a text message from that same niece…and responded (a two letter response, so it was not a big deal), but I felt like a stranger in a strange land.

I really feel old admitting to these things. Is there a generational divide on being so public with personal information? My biggest worry about electronic health records is the risk of breach of privacy of myself and anyone else who wants their health information kept private. Has my generation (baby boomers all) become anachronistic in these matters, or do younger folks worry about others having TMI (too much information)? R u k w/ all of this? Do those of us over 50 just need to get over it? Will younger folks be hurt by what they reveal now in a public forum and can never take back? Am I just demonstrating the paranoia that runs deep in my generation?

Tell me what you think about these things. How do you use social media…personally and in your work? Where do you see these technologies going? Are there tools we need to be using and developing to facilitate the functioning of our customers in these electronic social spheres?

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Kathy Peres
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