Payroll and health care benefits are one of the largest aspects of operations management and human resource management for any business. For Third Party Administrators (TPA), communication with policy holders and beneficiaries should be accurate, direct, and simple. To maintain both safety and efficiency, it is important to find an alternative to call centers.
A TPA company working with operations management needed a way to effectively communicate payroll and benefits information. Typically, this information was handled by employees in a call center. However, using a call center proved to be expensive and problematic for the most frequent customer questions around balance inquiries for their FSA (Flexible Spending Accounts) and healthcare claim status.
In addition to potentially wasted time, the call centers may were a high expense for this TPA company. According to CostOwl, the average cost for a call center staff is $30 per hour. If you’re receiving 30 calls per hour, then each call costs 50 cents. That seems like a very small amount of money, but multiplied by thousands of customers makes it add up very quickly and it becomes a harsh overhead cost for customer service. Conversely, it costs 1 cent to send a SMS message, which would have only cost the TPA company 30 cents per hour (that’s 99% savings!).
The TPA company wanted to find a simpler, more efficient and cost effective way to deliver FSA balance inquiries and insurance claim status updates. To answer those frequently asked questions such as “How much is my payroll each pay period?”, a simple gateway SMS message can be sent directly to the staff member and bypass the call center altogether. This eases the call volume at the call center – allowing for the calls that truly require a person to be answered faster – while still delivering the information needed from staff members in real-time.
The 2 goals that this TPA company had were to reduce costs and improve the customer service experience.
First: Reduce costs for the TPA company by decreasing the call volume in their call centers. While call centers are a valuable resource, they can cost thousands of dollars per week for a business so being thoughtful about best uses of them is important.
Second: Create a better customer service experience for the policy or account holder. The average wait time for a call center is 56 seconds and it steadily increases. And nothing is more frustrating than waiting on hold for a simple account inquiry. SMS can improve the customer service experience and reduces potential security breeches. Information is passed securely from one technology platform to the specific person, using the SMS platform as a delivery channel, rather than having a specific person search for it and verbalize the information over the phone. Fewer people accessing the information means a lower liability for information breech.
The TPA company implemented a Gateway SMS campaign so that healthcare, benefits, and payroll information can be accessed via text message using a keyword. Operating completely from their own platform, the TPA company uses our SMS platform to deliver account balances, new payments, and other FSA information. The SMS campaigns are setup using SMS API calls, so the TPA company can completely operate using their own platforms. It’s setup once and no further work is needed to maintain it – easy and affordable. This lowers call volume for the call centers and simplifies overall customer interaction.
Using SMS for healthcare benefits and other personal account inquiries has been fruitful for the TPA company that is using 3Seventy’s platform. By leveraging the campaign creation features in the platform and through the SMS API, they can craft their own messages to best compliment their existing messaging. The number of contacts in the customer database have more than doubled over 18 months – from 3,900 in 2014 to 8,673 in 2015. The company sends over 1,000 messages each month, which is a potential cost savings of $1,000 per month. Overall, the cost effective use of SMS has reduced dependency on call centers.
Operations management greatly benefits from making these small, but impactful, changes. It is important for staff or customers to get the information they need quickly and in a secure fashion. With SMS integration to payroll and other account management, things are simplified for both the business and the beneficiary.
According to the Global Multidimensional Index of Poverty (MPI) approximately 1.6 billion people worldwide are living poverty. MPI calculates these figures not just by income level, but access to healthcare, quality of housing, and access to education as well. Although this is very disheartening, it is uplifting to know that these numbers are nearly half of what they were 20 years ago. A large reason why poverty levels are improving is due to the continuous strides in technology – creating jobs. Technology helps create demand in the job market, but also helps to close the gaps in accesses to education and healthcare. With the aid of global SMS practices and mobile technology (such as mobile phones), many organizations are looking to improve the world for those struggling in poverty.
Literacy and Learning With Mobile
Education is one of the most important aspects to breaking the cycles of poverty. However, many families lack not only the monetary needs to send their children to school, they may also live miles away from the closest school. To make education more accessible for students in poor rural areas, UNESCO implemented a mobile solution. Worldwide Reader is a learn-to-read mobile app. It was distributed to highly impoverished nations to test out if a mobile tool can help raise literacy levels. The mobile app grants users access to reading education materials as well as books for practice reading. Not only did literacy rates increase, but school performance and attendance increased as well. Now there is more demand to provide similar services to aid in literacy for local languages in addition to English.
Mobile Access to Healthcare
Staying in healthy can be challenging for those living below the poverty line. Poor sanitation, unsafe living conditions, and a lack of proper medical facilities can mean disastrous effects on one’s health. One study is looking to change this using global SMS as the solution. To improve adherence to medical advice in rural Nigeria, health care professionals are using global SMS to HIV patients reminding them to take their medication. SMS solutions are also assisting in the distribution of valuable medical information: such as newborn care support for new mothers, sending and receiving prescription orders, and showing where pop-up vaccine clinics will be. Photo Credit: UNESCO
Income distribution is always a hot button topic in global politics. Although poverty levels are lowering, war and drastic environmental changes can lead many to poverty in an instant. Simple SMS integration can, thankfully, provide many in poverty the chance at a better life by helping with everything from healthcare and education to banking. This only proves that global SMS is both good for business but for the world as well.
The American Heart Association program Life’s Simple 7 is a list of seven simple ways to improve your heart health:
being more active, eating better, managing your weight, reducing blood sugar, avoiding tobacco smoke, and controlling both cholesterol and blood pressure.
This list has become more manageable for those of us with fast-paced lives. When we use mobile applications, wearable sensors, and SMS alerts, we create awareness of our habits (both good and bad) and can make healthier choices.
Here’s how we’re using Mobile Tools to support healthy behaviors:
According to a statement recently released by the American Heart Association, “people who include mobile technology in a comprehensive lifestyle program for weight loss were more successful in short-term weight loss compared to those who tried to lose weight on their own, but there isn’t any published data on whether the participants maintained their weight loss beyond 12 months.”
A good mHealth weight loss program offers similar elements to that of a person-to-person individualized program. The mobile tools and programs that focus on a calorie-controlled diet with food intake tracking and customized feedback based upon your entires. More organizations are including SMS to send reminders and deliver healthcare literacy. This can be triggered by the entries made into a mobile app such as “Remember to eat 2-3 cups of vegetables today. Dinner Recipe Idea…”
Tracking Physical Activity
Mobile programs boost physical activity, however there is little research to show whether wearable technology actually helps you be physically active. Using a tool such as MapMyFitness or another physical activity tracking tool is most helpful when the user gets customized feedback and support from social circles – many mobile tools are integrated into social networks or have their own.
The mobile apps using SMS to push out messages for smoking intervention can almost double the chances of quitting. However, about 90 percent of people using mobile apps fail to quit smoking after six months. The best approach for many, is using mobile health apps in combination with a traditional quit-smoking programs.
For healthcare professionals, mobile tools may actually boost screening for smoking. Many clinicians do not necessary ask about smoking during a patient exam. “Using mobile phones loaded with tobacco screening guidelines prompted nurses to ask patients about their smoking habits in 84 percent of clinic visits and to offer cessation counseling to 99 percent of smokers who expressed a willingness to kick the habit, according to a study from Columbia University School of Nursing published in Oncology Nursing Forum.” (source: MedicalXPress)
CTIA recently released a new infographic that demonstrates the immense growth of wireless devices throughout the United States and North America. They expect growth of up to 324M by 2019. There’s 227 Million Smartphones in North America right now and steadily growing.n
What is even more interesting and exciting is the rapid growth of wearables. It seems like just a couple of years ago that the world was so unfamiliar with the concept of mobile devices that are wearable. And now they are the “it” thing to have and understand. Where will mobile health go next?
“There will be 157.3 million US mobile phone search users this year, eMarketer estimates, representing just under half of the population. Next year, mobile search will reach the masses: 177.8 million smartphone users of any age will search via mobile browser or app at least monthly, equating to nearly 55% of all consumers in the country.”
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227 Million Smartphones in North America in 2014 and expected to grow 1.4X.
That’s about 324 million smartphones by 2019.
According to CTIA, the Wireless Subscriber Connections was at 158.7 million smartphones and other active devices, including feature phones and tablets as of December 2003. And by December 2014 that number has jumped up to 335.4 million smartphones and other active devices. However, users may have more than one wireless device, so this number is not equal to individual subscribers.
While the Ebola outbreak has been a wild media storm in the US, it has been a harsh reality in Africa. Aid workers in Liberia have begun using text messaging to alert specific populations. “Workers with the United Nations Children’s Fund sent texts to a group of Monrovia teenagers telling them how to sign up for Ebola alerts.” (Chicago Tribune). It has become a two-way channel for health communications where those teens can reply back with questions about avoiding the virus and ways to prevent sickness.
“Since the Ebola outbreak began last April, the Trilogy Emergency Relief Application (TERA) system has sent out about 2 million text messages a month in Sierra Leone, reminding people to seek treatment early, avoid physical contact with others and not resist the efforts of community health care workers.” (NPR).
This is key in areas of the world where internet is not available everywhere, especially in Sierra Leone where 60% of the population lives below the national poverty line.
While literacy rates in countries like Sierra Leone are quite low (about 43%), it is likely for a few people to have cellphones in villages who can read the text messages and disseminate the information to others.
“Ivory Coast, richer still than Nigeria and so far Ebola-free, is capitalizing on the mobile connectivity of its citizens by sending out millions of mass text messages warning about the dangers of Ebola and how to avoid catching it. Smartphone penetration is still low in Africa relative to the rest of the world—in Ivory Coast around 25% of all mobile phones are smartphones, while 90% of households have access to a mobile phone.” (Wall Street Journal).
Mobile Apps Help Gather Information
In addition to these text alerts, mobile apps have been used for reporting Ebola cases and used as a resource for safety information. Scientists and developers all over the world are working hard to track and even predict the patterns of the Ebola virus. If you have not already heard about Flowminder, then you should search it. Flowminder is the organization from MIT that has created national mobility estimates for West Africa, and they have delivered population mobility maps derived from anonimized mobile phone call detail record (CDR) datasets – see the image below to get an idea.
“For us in Africa, connectivity is a life and death issue.”
How Mobile Devices Are Improving the Insurance Experience
The affordable care act has opened new channels for sales as well as new challenges for insurance companies. With more one-to-one customer sales on the rise, insurance companies are working hard to be as efficient as possible. In tandem, insurance companies are expected to be more transparent with the end customer. Technology is pervading the healthcare system already, so customer (patients) expect their health insurance companies to be agile in how they communicate key information.
We already know that many patients are looking to track and monitor their health through their mobile devices, so why should tracking the cost of that care be any different? The number of people using health related mobile apps is pretty low (somewhere between 32-38% of the US). However, text message updates have continued to rise and steadily grow as a useful tool for improving the experience. Ranging from pharmacy refills to appointment reminders, and even more personalized messages from the doctor.
Use Case: Blue Cross Integrates Behavioral Health
“Behavioral healthcare is an area that causes a lot of additional expenditures on the medical side,” says Ken Duckworth, MD, medical director for behavioral health at BCBSMA. (from Behavioral Healthcare)
In response to this issue, BCBSMA has created a mobile and online platform (OneHealth). “It has a social media construct where individuals with addiction vulnerabilities can select who they can communicate with. Members can only participate in the online and mobile platform when referred to by a provider or the plan itself.” One of the key tools leverages text messaging for your support system. An individual can send a text message to three people if he or she needs support during time periods of potential relapse.
One of the aims of this new platform (other than the obvious help and support that it offers to patients) is the reduction of unnecessary emergency room visits and testing that can be highly expensive. Mental health is a key area where health insurance companies can provide tools such as this to reduce costs and better serve their customers.
Before You Find a Text Message Provider,
Be Aware of HIPAA Secure Messaging Guidelines
HIPAA text messaging software was introduced in 2013. These updated guidelines affect how PHI (protected health information) is stored, accessed and transmitted. It also requires that the software has specific features in place.
Key HIPPA Compliant Features:
It must be administered from a central point which protects PHI from unauthorized access.
Risk assessments should be conducted regularly to ensure that messaging is secure and compliant.
All PHI stored within the text message software should be encrypted in order to make it “indecipherable, unreadable or unusable” in case of unauthorized access.
It should not enable healthcare professionals or sub-contractors to maintain PHI on their personal mobile device memories.
The device can be removed from the system in the event of a mobile device being lost or stolen.
To learn more about Health Care Initiatives Using Text Messaging, visit HRSA.gov
Recruitment and retention are ongoing problems for clinical trials, which forces the research organizations to constantly be working on outreach and communications with the patients. Despite numerous proposed strategies for effective recruitment, this continues to be a major challenge. There are patients with communications problems such as the lack of home internet (in order to receive email updates).
Clinical Trial Recruitment Using Mobile
Recruiting patients for clinical trials can take a significant amount of time. So much so that you lose those potential patients along the way. “UCSF Participant Recruitment Service reported that almost 2/3 of potential patients are lost to follow-up because they do not hear back about their study eligibility quickly enough.” (from Mosio).
Large pharmaceutical companies have chosen to address the issue of recruitment by using the technology available in these potential patients’ pockets – their mobile device. Using traditional media such as print advertisements, referral networks and digital ads, they will integrate text messaging as a way to initially engage with these potential patients. It will also serve as a way to keep in touch during the clinical trial.
Clinical Trial Retention Using Mobile, Especially Text Messaging
During mHealth Summit, Mike Shilling, Director of Business Development for Exco InTouch, shared three examples of mobile-enabled clinical trials. One of the trials required caregivers to fill out a daily diary about the health of their child in relation to flu symptoms. They leveraged SMS text message reminders to drive the caregivers to fill out the diary each day, and the caregivers were using their own device (68% on their mobile phone and 16% on a personal laptop or desktop computer).
“BYOD [Bring Your Own Device] enabled a lot of subjects to participate in the study, Shilling said. Because so many of these caregivers had mobile devices, the site did not have to take on the task of calling each of them individually every single day. The system also alerted the site if a diary was late or incomplete each day — real-time monitoring that is nearly impossible with paper-based diaries.” (from MobiHealth News)
Mobile is Improving Medical
The benefits of text messaging and other mobile tools for the medical field are clear. The growth potential that these tools bring to the field of clinical trials is exciting, and hopefully more companies to see the opportunity as the trail blazers show results.
“[Clinical trials] is the appropriate vector to begin to use some of these [digital health technologies], because they are already a well-funded, well-trodden way to test out new approaches in research,” Hendricks said. “We think there is something beyond that. We call on the industry to move more aggressively in exploring the use of these technologies for … better management of chronic disease.” (from MobiHealth News)
It’s Time for the Medical Industry to Adopt Mobile Health Tools
There have been some clear disagreements between doctors and patients over the past few years about how to handle their healthcare information. According to a recent survey completed by Medscape and WebMD, 84 percent of patients reported that technology should be used to assist in the diagnostic process; however, only 69 percent of doctors agreed with the idea. The two groups did generally agree on other areas such as using smartphones for routine blood tests.
Through this survey, we are seeing an overall shift in feelings about mhealth. Both patients and doctors are embracing new technology, especially mobile, being used in medical practice. This will have a significant impact on the future of healthcare.
Mobile Health (mHealth) Market Forecast 2014-2024 : A Revolution in eHealth, Telemedicine, Informatics & Connected Health
The advent of connected devices and M2M is offering a tremendous opportunity for healthcare professionals. Near-ubiquitous mobile networks are allowing carers to diagnose, monitor, and communicate with patients with unprecedented speed and efficacy.
mHealth is a term used for the practice of medicine and health services, through mobile devices. In its most common form, it refers to using mobile communication devices, such as smartphones and tablets, for health services and information. mHealth applications include the use of mobile devices in collecting community and clinical health data, delivery of healthcare information to practitioners, researchers, and patients, real-time monitoring of patient vital signs, and direct provision of care, via mobile telemedicine.
The emergence of low-cost smartphones has allowed wider access to app stores, which are now home to over a million mHealth apps. These range between freemium apps geared around diet and daily fitness routines, scaling up to costly premium apps with elaborate clinical reference points, images, diagnostic, and monitoring functions.
Austerity measures have forced many health departments around the globe to rein in their spending and find more cost-effective ways of operating. Enabling them to diagnose, monitor, and communicate with patients remotely, mHealth promises extensive cost-savings for healthcare professionals and institutions. This new industry will also pay dividends to network operators, software developers, and data platform management providers who may turn their core competencies onto the medical field.
Visiongain forecasts the mHealth market to reach a $6.7 billion value by the end of 2014.
The Future of Mobile Health (mHealth)
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There are so many things for us to remember these days – bill payment dates, passwords, vehicle maintenance, doctor appointments, and picking up prescriptions. It is overwhelming and difficult to remember it all, so something always ends up lost or forgotten. New technologies and innovators constantly come up with creative ways to solve issues like this one. Text messages cut operational costs for pharmacies; and mobile technology in general has been a saving grace for many people. It is a cost effective solution for pharmacies. Several of the large companies including Walgreens and CVS have adopted text message refill reminders for their customers. It has helped to make operations run smoothly, and customers are happy to get a reminder in a place they notice – unlike email. However, very few of the independent pharmacies have implemented a text marketing solution for refill reminders. Considering that they represent 1.5 billion prescriptions each year, it is somewhat shocking to realize.
Mobile Technology Integration Barrier
The big reason that so few independent pharmacies are adding text marketing to their refill reminder system is technology integration. Many smaller retailers use older management software for recording and processing orders. They accept orders in person, over the phone and even via fax. These tasks can be time consuming and inefficient. If some time and money was spent upfront to implement an automated solution such as text messaging, then it could relieve employees of unnecessary work and increase the time for them to spend consulting with patients. If I was the owner or manager of an independent pharmacy, then I would do a time study of the pharmacy employees. How much time do they spend taking manual orders and translating them into a management system? How much time is spent consulting with patients? Then I would ask myself if text messaging would save time and make my team more efficient. The most likely answer is yes, it reduces some unnecessary work. Maybe it’s time to start shopping around for a solution.
We all understand how important mobile applications are to the healthcare field and predicted its rapid growth late last year. However, we were still surprised to learn that according to a report released by research2guidance, the market is expected to grow to $1.3 billion in 2012. This figure is a substantial increase over the numbers for 2011, which came out to $718 million.
With the number of mobile health application users predicted to reach 247 million in 2012, this method of using technology is here to stay. Since it is gaining in popularity, mobile health creates an opportunity for advertisers to reach specific target markets. Drug companies and others involved in the medical field will be able to get their messages directly in front of people who are interested in buying their products.
In some cases, revenues from mobile health applications will come from direct transactions. In other situations, money will be generated from providing patients with sensors that allow them to track information at home and forward it to their physician so that a specific medical condition can be monitored.
While some members of the public will resist mobile health applications, people who already own smartphones are probably more likely to embrace it. With smartphones becoming almost a necessary accessory for a certain segment of the population, I can see that people in this demographic will look at mobile health apps as just another type of application available to them.
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