Helping millennials embrace preventive medicine

Published April 24, 2019

A mostly millennial workforce is the powerhouse behind a Philadelphia-headquartered national retail company. But company officials worry that workforce isn’t taking enough advantage of the wellness and prevention programs their health insurer, Independence Blue Cross (Independence), offers to prevent or slow the progress of chronic disease - conditions that could affect their quality of life years down the road. 

One of Independence’s core strengths is helping employers engage employees in these programs, says Koleen Cavanaugh, vice president of marketing for Independence. Bringing that strength to the table is more important than ever.

New data from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, The Health of America report® about a national trend supports what this employer is seeing play out in their workforce: millennials are not as healthy as some might think. Rates of chronic diseases like diabetes as well as depression and other mental illnesses are higher among this generation than they were among Gen Xers at the same age. Prevention, early detection and management—something as simple as an annual physical or sticking with a doctor’s plan—can make the difference.

Using data to engage millennials in care

“The philosophy we have is to open up that communication channel, to help people understand the resources that are available to them as a part of their health insurance,” says Cavanaugh.

Through IBX WireTM, Independence can send a text or an email notifying a member that they have a private message. Members click through to a HIPAA-compliant website, where the health plan offers personalized resources and the tools to take action on recommendations. Data from medical claims—about what a member has or hasn’t been seen for—can trigger more than 85 different, customized messages designed to help members stay healthy and make the most of their benefits.

If they’d like a diabetes coach, there’s a button to click to call one. If they have a primary care doctor, they can schedule a checkup, and if not, they can get help finding one. For members with asthma who may not have filled a prescription for their medication, for example, the message emphasizes the importance of keeping up with the regimen. 

But are millennials opting in for those messages, clicking through and taking action? 

Reaching millennials in their own language

Compared to their older colleagues, the answer is mixed, says Cavanaugh’s colleague Erin Thurston, director of member marketing. She ran the numbers. 

“While millennials are a few percentage points more likely to opt in for text messages than email,” says Thurston, “they are 7 percent less likely to click through those text notifications than older coworkers.” Millennials are more likely to open emails than non-millennials, says Thurston. “But once they open those emails, millennials take action 4 percent less of the time,” she says. However, millennials who know they already have a chronic condition are more likely to engage.

Cathleen Bernard, RN, an Independence case and condition management manager, and Christine Young, RN, an Independence customer information consultant, work with the retailer to help them understand how their workforce is using benefits and what might make them healthier. 

“I go out quarterly and take a look at their data for the previous quarter,” says Young. “What we have found is that they’re not taking advantage of all these programs available to them.” What does Young make of that? One possibility, she says, is that “in the millennial’s mind, if they don’t have a chronic condition yet, they don’t see themselves as needing to get preventive care.” 

Adapting to a unique company culture

So Independence is working with the employer to find ways to change that perception. The idea is to mesh efforts with the company’s culture. Instead of flyers with comprehensive information about wellness programs in employee workspaces, the retailer thought something more minimal, graphic, and inviting would work better. Independence worked with the team to redesign the messages and is testing the effectiveness. Young says the health plan continues to work closely with the retailer’s human resources team to analyze claims data and fine tune approaches that will engage employees in preventive and wellness opportunities. 

“They want their members to utilize their benefits,” says Young. “They understand that pre-diabetes, for example, is the tip of the iceberg and that prevention can not only keep their workforce healthier but keep costs down for everyone in the long term.”

Independence Blue Cross is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, an association of independent, locally operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies.