Words Matter

On October 23rd, Ivy Krull, Ph.D, MSW, MPH, Professor of Sociology, Emmanuel College, will headline a special Decision Point webinar that keys off the mantra “words matter” to discuss the importance of personalized communications with plan members. Dr. Krull will discuss how to leverage data to build an in-depth understanding of member behavior, influence member decision-making, boost engagement and sustain improved clinical outcomes.

Register here to attend the free webinar: “Driving Patient Engagement and Healthcare Outcomes through Personalized Member Communications.”

We asked Dr. Ivy Krull a few questions about the growing importance of medical sociology.

Q. How did you become an expert on the topic of member engagement?

Over the course of my career, I worked in human services, macro social work and corporate personnel before embarking on a Ph.D in sociology. As a result, I’m able to look at the patient to payer/provider relationships through the lens of a sociologist. I help organizations gather information that is used to create targeted patient communications, which take into account the larger culture, individual differences, and the patient’s historical information. The overall goal is to tear down barriers to patient engagement and effect more positive outcomes for both insurers and providers

Q. Do you characterize this as “medical sociology”?

With medical sociology we take many contextual issues into account so that we can provide more appropriate targeting. We look beyond the immediate medical issues and expose the consequences to patients of not taking care of themselves in the present. It helps get medicine – care and maintenance – focused on the here and now.

Q. How are statistics / data analysis impacting medical sociology?

We focus on how big data helps inform the pieces we need to look at, both quantitatively and qualitatively. We look at behavioral attitudes to health, then slice and dice that data according to social attitudes, community drivers and historically confounding barriers to region or demographics.

For instance, a large number of Medicaid customers speak English as a second language. We need to use what we know to ascertain the most appropriate way to communicate effectively about some challenging terms around health and wellness. Data informs our interactions and is critical to making these interactions work. Data is the pathway to the trove of knowledge that lets you generate communications that influence care.

Q. How does a better understanding of member behavior influence patient outcomes?

There really is no finish line to cross. Instead, we engage with patients to build life-long behaviors. It’s a long road to pave as smoothly as possible. Context changes as patients’ lives change. The goal is to educate patients over time to make them better healthcare consumers and also to breakdown resistance to change. We can leverage known pathways as open doors, and from there go to conversations or interactions that are proven effective.

We work with wording and terminology to develop scripts with recommended language appropriate for each interaction. In fact, the wrong word can burn a bridge. For instance, the term “cervical cancer” may be too medical for some. For others, the link to cancer is too alarmist and a turnoff that is not likely to promote health.

Q. How, in turn, can healthcare organizations – especially payers – leverage this information to improve their bottom lines?

A few years ago we did a qualitative survey of insurance subscribers. We discerned that the language members used did not differentiate between insurers and providers. It’s all about their relationship with their doctors. Conversely, because the payer and provider do not see the patient from the same perspective, many things can fall through the cracks.

For instance, an endocrinologist will focus on a patient’s diabetes, not necessarily embrace a whole view of the patient. If a patient is only tuned into his immediate health issue, in this case the diabetes, he may experience greater unfortunate health outcomes in the future because of the narrow focus. Insurers, on the other hand, see the patient’s whole medical experience. So they know when the patient needs a mammogram or a colonoscopy, too.

Insurance companies have come to understand the importance of maintaining a full view of the subscriber. Communicating with subscribers in easily understood and accepted language gets people healthier. Overall, member experience matters.

Over the last 15 years, Dr. Krull has specialized in implementing state-of-the art technology and outreach to impact healthcare communications and behavior change. Her research focuses on vulnerable populations, the role of culture in stigma, power-structures and policy, organizational capacity, and health behavior change. Dr. Krull has a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and an M.S.W., M.P.H. and Ph.D. from Boston University. She is a Professor of Sociology at Emmanuel College, Associate Director at the Center for Addictions Research and Services, and frequently lectures on statistics, social welfare policy, sociology, research and macro social work.

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