Humana Develops Social Media Tool Combining Twitter Search with Mapping Function.

Humana (NYSE: HUM), a Fortune 100 health-benefits company, has developed a social media tool that allows users to track Twitter conversations as and where they happen – and it is one of the first tools to incorporate Twitter’s newly released “geo-tagging” feature.

twitterThe tool, called the Tweet Positioning System, or TPS, is known in social media circles as a “mashup.” It merges functions of Twitter Search with Google Maps to provide a real-time geographic view of micro-blogging conversations. TPS is being offered for free to interested parties at www.mytpsreport.com.

Users can enter any search term into the TPS search box. The tool then links to Twitter, which recently released a software update allowing users to opt to share their current location. Drawing data from this “geo-tagging” feature, a map automatically appears showing “hot spots” where Twitter conversations are being held on that topic at that moment, whether it’s around the United States or around the world. Users can then click on the hotspots to view or even join conversations (if they are Twitter members).

Humana built the tool to gain insights in areas such as product development, event management and regional sales and marketing. In the spirit of transparency, it decided to share the tool with other users. The tool will continue to evolve based on user feedback. Several new features have already been added, such as the ability to see the volume of tweets over time for any given search, and the ability to add a widget (showing a map of your favorite conversation) to your blog or Facebook page.

“At Humana, we’re interested in engaging communities of like-minded people around concepts like health and wellness,” said Greg Matthews, a director in Humana’s Innovation Center, which developed the tool. “We originally developed the TPS tool with this in mind, but we quickly realized it might have applications beyond that. A small business, for example, might want to see what people in their market are saying about them or their industry to help them improve their products or services.

“If nothing else, it’s fun to play with the tool to see where people are talking about the things that matter to you, such as your favorite food or favorite team,” he added. “The geographic differences can also be pretty fascinating as you try to figure out why a certain topic resonates in one area, but not in another.”

As with all mashups, the tool has not been officially endorsed by either Twitter or Google.

About Humana

Humana Inc., headquartered in Louisville, Ky., is one of the nation’s largest publicly traded health and specialty benefits companies, with approximately 10.3 million medical members and 7.3 million specialty-benefit members. Humana is a full-service benefits solutions company, offering a wide array of health and specialty benefit plans for employer groups, government programs and individuals.

More information regarding Humana is available to investors via the Investor Relations page of the company’s Web site at http://www.humana.com

Survey Suggests Role for Social Media in Healthcare.

There has been much chatter lately on Twitter and in the blogosphere about the use of social media in healthcare. According to a story written by Les Masterson and appearing in HealthLeaders Media, use of this new technology may be just what the doctor ordered.

It seems that The Microsoft Health Engagement Survey 2009, conducted by Kelton Research, shows that most people still don’t visit their health plans’ websites or believe their insurers support their health. Still, survey respondents say they are interested in their health plans connecting with them via e-mail and phone for electronic coaching. The key, they say is that they want those services integrated into their lives.

Masterson points out in his article that the consumerism movement with insurers and employers pushing more out-of-pocket costs onto members has led insurers to invest in online components in hopes of creating more educated consumers. However, nearly half of those surveyed think health plans only support them when they need a doctor.

According to Masterson, the disconnect occurs as a result of consumers simply not visiting their health insurers’ websites. Though 82% of insurers provide websites with health and wellness information, nearly three-quarters of respondents visited their insurers’ websites fewer than six times a year. That includes 16% who never visited their insurers’ sites and another 16% who only went on the sites one or two times in the past year.

The survey revealed that of those who actually visited the carrier’s website, nearly half went to find provider lists or coverage information. Only one-third checked out information on health and wellness and this was mostly after a diagnosis had occurred. In other words, they were not being proactive.

So with health plans and employers pushing to control chronic diseases, how do they communicate wellness messages to their members? There are some hints in the survey results. First, the vast majority of people surveyed said healthcare technological solutions are inviting, and secondly, most respondents said they were interested in communicating with their insurer through e-mail.

In fact, more than half of the respondents said they are interested in using e-mails to ask questions about benefits and coverage; receive feedback about their health; and get encouragement, reminders, and advice on diet and exercise.

In other words, people seem to want to communicate with their health plans using technology, but it must be done as part of their normal use of the media.

Does this mean that I am going to “Friend” my health plan on Facebook so I can receive a reminder to have my annual checkup while I am checking out what my friends and family are up to? Why not? Should I “Follow” my health plan on Twitter so that I can get tips on dealing with the summer heat? Sure. Would I read an e-mail message from my health plan and click to a link containing my latest EOB and tips on how to save money on my next prescription. Definitely.

Hopefully, health plans will use this research as an incentive to continue to push forward on the use of e-mail and social media to better communicate with their members and to help them control chronic illnesses that can become so expensive when they go unmanaged. Sure, there are privacy challenges, but it is worth working to overcome these challenges to reach members with pertinent and timely messages.

CIGNA Uses Social Networks to Teach Health and Supply Clean Drinking Water.

drinking-waterI recently had the chance to catch up with Karen Kocher, Chief Learning Officer at CIGNA, and asked her about how the large health plan was using social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter to engage their members to become healthier.

“CIGNA has been doing quite a bit,” Kocher said, “to educate people to manage their own health.” She noted that CIGNA has made use of social networking websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace to help get people to be more aware of their own health and to convey a CIGNA brand image that is more consumer-focused and personal.

“CIGNA has evolved into a health service company, and an important part of our service mission is to help people better understand and manage their health,” Kocher said.

To help accomplish this overall communications strategy, Kocher said, that CIGNA has used several social networking sites to draw visitors to a web-based game that allows winners to provide a full-day’s supply of clean drinking water to a child in a developing country. To win, one only needs to answer correctly three questions related to health and/or health insurance terminology.

When I played the game, I found that I could answer most of the questions easily enough on the first try, though I did miss a few. But, what’s more interesting, is that I felt myself compelled to keep playing the game a racking up more and more days of clean water for the children.

It seems that others have felt the same way. Kocher said that the program began in September 2008, and has exceeded expectations by over 400%. To date, 56,756 days of water have been donated meaning that people have answered correctly over 150,000 questions. Also significant is that 85% of the traffic came from Facebook and other online referrals.

“Phase I of our program, Kocher said,” was intended to engage people in a fun and meaningful activity that allowed them to learn more about health. Phase II, which will launch in 2009, will be designed to build on that knowledge and bring in the wealth component.”

By the “wealth component,” Kocher is referring to an effort to help educate people about the cost of healthcare and to begin to engage them in learning to make better decisions about how they spend their health care dollars.

In the meantime, I am headed back to the Water Challenge game to see if I might be able to add a few days more to the supply of clean drinking water. Who knows, I might even learn something while I am there. Join me at: www.itstimetofeelbetter.com.

Diabetics Using Twitter to Track Sugar Levels.

When I first conceived of writing about how health insurance plans were possibly using social media technologies like Facebook and Twitter to engage their members to seek better health, I was expecting to find more applications like the one at http://twitter.com/ss1.

Now diabetics can quickly add sugar and med entries via Twitter direct message to the ss1 Twitter account. SugarStats is a simple and easy-to-use interface to allow individual to input and access their data from home, school, work, even while on the road.

The application, which can also be accessed via a mobile device application, the web and through Endo, is operated by SugarStats LLC, a small company based out of Hawaii.

A free account can be established by going to www.surgarstats.com. Once the account has been set up, data can be entered using Twitter and a variety of other portable input devices. SugarStats will track your sugar glucose levels along with the elements that affect those levels such as medication, food intake and physical activity. Users can then easily share this information with their health care professional, family and friends to get further consultation, support and advice to lead to better health.

According to a blog established to promote the service, tracking diabetes is a simple as logging on to Twitter.com and posting a short message like this:

d ss1 bg 108 Good pre-meal BG, I’m feeling great this morning!

or

d ss1 med rap 6 Trying 6 units of NovoRapid to cover dinner

Then an entry of 108 goes directly into your SugarStats account at the date and time of the message.

If you want to share your sugar info with your Twitter circle you can enable the option within SugarStats to have new entries posted to your Twitter account, otherwise it is confidential and can be accessed in the form of graphs and charts by logging onto your account at http://www.sugarstats.com/.

For all the details and instructions check out http://www.sugarstats.com/

Humana Innovation Center Using Social Media to Engage Consumers and Broaden the Meaning of the Brand.

This is the second post in my occasional series in the use of social media by health plans to engage their members to become healthier and better consumers of health care services. By social media, I am referring to activities that integrate technology, telecommunications and social interaction, and the construction of words, pictures, videos and audio.[1] In short, I am talking about blogging and the use of web sites like YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Recently, I had the chance to talk with Greg Matthews, Director of Consumer Innovations at Humana Inc. Headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky, Humana is one of the nation’s largest publicly traded health and supplemental benefits companies, with approximately 11.7 million medical members. Humana offers a wide array of health and supplemental benefit plans for employer groups, government programs and individuals.

Greg said that one of Humana’s most widely-used social media programs has been the use of YouTube to host a number of videos that take a light-hearted approach to explaining complex health insurance plans and concepts. The channel called Stay Smart Stay Healthy contains links to a number of short videos with titles like Why is Health Care so Expensive? (202,000 views), and How Does Health Insurance Work? (79,000 views). So far, all the videos combined have been viewed over one million times. A similar program was launched in December to educate pre-retirees about their health care options. This retiree planning community is called REAL, and can be found at http://realforme.com/.

However, according to Greg, most of the social media experimentation currently taking place in the Humana Innovation Center has more to learning and more broadly branding the company than it does with specifically engaging with plan members to achieve tangible results.

For example, this past summer, Humana introduced Freewheelin. Jason Falls, the director of social media at a Louisville ad agency, writes extensively about Freewheelin in a post on his blog. In his post, Social Media Case Study: Humana’s Freewheelin. Jason described Freewheelin as “…a bicycle sharing program with a community of green- and health-friendly participants at its core. It’s not just a set of stations where you can rent a bike for a few hours in big cities. It’s that, but with the fundamental higher purpose of promoting better health for humans and the earth as the fabric that ties its users together.”

The program was kicked off this summer in Louisville and also during political conventions in Denver and Minneapolis. Greg’s group used a wide variety of social media vehicles including Meetup.com, a Facebook page, its own blog and a Twitter stream to build buzz about the program. And it worked; Greg told me that over 2,200 news stories were written about the program. But, as Jason Falls noted, it was really about more than just creating hype. The efforts in the convention cities alone resulted in eight days of rides, over 7,500 total rides, 41,000 miles ridden, 1.2 million calories burned and carbon offset of 14.6 metric tons.

I’ll share more of my discussion with Greg Matthews in upcoming posts. In the meantime, Greg and his colleagues are blogging about healthcare innovation at CrumpleItUp.com.


[1] Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_media

Social Media is Hitting the Mainstream. How are Health Plans Adapting?

This is the first post in what I hope to make an occasional series in the use of social media by health plans to engage their members to become healthier and better consumers of health care services. By social media, I am referring to activities that integrate technology, telecommunications and social interaction, and the construction of words, pictures, videos and audio.[1] In short, I am talking about blogging and the use of web sites like YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

It seems to me that 2009 promises to be, for these forms of media, what 1996 was for email. Prior to 1996, I remember being hard pressed to find anyone with an email address, and if they did have one, they rarely checked it. Likewise with cell phones, how many people could you reach on a cell phone in 1996? Not many, I’ll bet. Yet a few years later everyone was driving down the road chatting to their finds and business associates.

Similar to these other communications technologies, the so called social media channels are going mainstream and corporations and non-profit organizations alike are making an effort to understand this new media and how to use it to engage customers and clients on a level that could never occur in the one-way information flow of traditional advertising .

If you are still a social media skeptic – it’s just for kids – consider this. A recent survey by Deloitte & Touche found that 43% of Internet users over 61 spent time sharing photographs with people. 36% watched and read personal content created by others. The average blogger is a white, 37-year-old male. 38% of Facebook users are over 35. More than 67% of MySpace users are 26 or over.

This might explain while Barack Obama had over 165.000 “Followers” on Twitter when he posted his last “Tweet” the day after he was elected President of the United States. It would explain why organizations from Starbucks to the animal shelter Wayside Waifs have thousands of people following their updates on Twitter and Facebook.

Now the question becomes, if Starbucks can use Facebook to influence me to do some volunteer work in exchange for a free cup of coffee, and if Wayside Waifs can Twitter me into believing I should adopt a homeless dog, can my health plan convince me to drop a few pounds, lower the cholesterol, and check my blood pressure?

That’s what I hope to find out. I have scheduled a series of interviews with people at the county’s largest health plans to learn what, if anything, they are doing to use social media to engage their members. It should be interesting, so check back soon for the next installation.

Up next: Innovation at Humana.


[1] Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_media