Natural Disaster and Crisis Communications

July 24, 2019 HMS

Health Engagement During Crises

In the United States, hurricane season is upon us. From the beginning of June through the end of November, meteorologists will be on the lookout for natural disasters in the making. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently released its 2019 Atlantic Hurricane Outlook, which estimates that there is a 70% probability of four to eight hurricanes this year, and two to four of those will be major storms.

Natural disasters wreak havoc with people’s lives. In many cases, families must evacuate their homes. At a minimum, regular routines are disrupted. But you may be wondering what hurricanes have to do with healthcare? In a disaster situation, health issues and access to critical medications can add to people’s anxiety. As payers shift their emphasis from treating members’ diseases to managing the health of individuals and populations, it makes sense that many are looking at ways to engage members before a crisis hits.

Providing Members with Peace of Mind

Leading payers are leveraging healthcare engagement and communication solutions to reach members with important information in advance of (and after) natural disasters, during public health emergencies, and even when the FDA recalls prescription drugs.

This approach is powerful for several reasons:

  • It’s possible to reach members quickly, using the methods they prefer. This may include SMS/text messages, interactive voice response or IVR calls, or emails. Messages can be sent to members on short notice – in most cases, in less than 24 hours. For Medicaid populations, a combination of both phone and text messages is most effective in reaching individuals.
  • Messages are personalized and relevant. Payers can target communication campaigns to specific geographic regions that are high-impact areas. They can also tailor content based on member coverage. Messages can be delivered in each member’s preferred language, as well.
  • A proactive approach to health reduces medical crises for members. In advance of natural disasters, payers often remind members to fill essential prescriptions and provide important state emergency preparation information. They can also reassure members that their health and medical needs will be met in the days and weeks after a crisis – even if members need to evacuate to a different geographic area.

Best Practices for Crisis Communications

Based on our experience working with clients, we have identified four best practices for communicating with members when a crisis strikes:

  1. Target members to ensure that they receive relevant messages. It’s a good idea to prioritize member lists based on characteristics like geographic areas that will be impacted by the disaster, as well as the types of medications that individuals need to manage their medical conditions. On the Medicaid side, telephone scripts may need to be approved by state agencies.
  2. Build on regular member communications. Individuals who have received messages before from their health insurance company are more likely to engage with crisis-related messages. Be prepared to answer common questions. As part of the crisis planning process, you may want to brainstorm questions that members are likely to have and generate a set of answers. This will be a helpful resource for call center staff.
  3. Use multiple channels to engage and message members, if time permits. For example, in the case of an FDA prescription recall, you may want to use an IVR call in combination with direct mail to convey essential information to members. Other methods like Facebook messages and notices posted to the company’s home page can also be used to amplify messages during a time of crisis.
  4. Remember that less information may be more during an emergency. Payers should stop non-essential calls to members in areas affected by a crisis. During emergencies, people have a lot on their minds and non-essential calls or texts just add to the “noise” and stress levels.

It’s never too early to start planning member communication plans. Proactive outreach improves member satisfaction, reduces stress, and increases the likelihood that members will have the medications and medical care they need to stay healthy in the face of crisis. It also is a win for health plans. Payers that reach out to members before and after emergencies experience fewer inbound calls to their call centers, as well as stronger company brands.

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