Health insurers try to 'humanize' themselves via Facebook, Twitter

Health insurance companies are starting to use social media to interact with consumers, according to a piece in American Medical News. Health plans' most common use of media such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube is to send marketing messages and to provide health tips to their customers.

For example, around the first of the year, some Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans tweeted advice about how to stick to New Year's resolutions about losing weight or eating better. Many plans tweet about symptoms of chronic diseases such as diabetes, or post tips on how to avoid sunburn in summer, or frostbite in winter.

Insurers also monitor social media to find out what's being said about them. They may respond to the complaints of plan members in a general way, but if they want to respond in detail, a plan staffer may phone the patient to avoid violating HIPAA prohibitions against revealing patient information in public.

Cigna tries to respond to every comment made about it via social media as part of the company's effort to change the image of the insurance industry (which is not popular with most consumers). Other insurers, such as WellPoint, have posted videos about individual employees on their Facebook pages in an effort to "humanize" themselves to consumers.

That approach, however, could backfire if health plans begin using social media to detect fraud. For example, a Canadian disability insurer disallowed benefits to an allegedly depressed member who was pictured frolicking at the beach on her Facebook page. There's no evidence U.S. health plans are doing that yet, but a Los Angles Times piece speculates they might be considering as much.

To learn more:
- read this American Medical News story
- check out this article in the Los Angeles Times