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One Million Check-Ins Could Make all the Difference This Flu Season

By Jennifer Dennard
01:09 PM
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Tuning into the live webcast of the ONC’s Consumer Health IT Summit earlier today, I had the pleasure of hearing how Vietnam veteran Randy Watson has used the VA’s Blue Button technology to better enable his healthcare. (He is one of the 1 million service members who have currently downloaded their own health information via the Blue Button initiative.)

I laughed when he called himself a “Facebook junky,” but the fact is Facebook and social media in general continues to play an important – and growing – role in patient engagement, and health and wellness efforts.

The social network seems to speak especially well to older adults like Watson. This demographic is just one that the folks behind the “A Million More” effort are looking to target. According to its website, AMM is a national population health initiative aimed at improving awareness and education in the areas of preventative health. Its Fall 2012 initiative is a million more flu vaccinations, and it is using Facebook to heavily promote and incentivize the project.

I had the chance to chat with Al Babbington, CEO of PrescribeWellness and a founder of the AMM effort, to learn more about the goal of reaching 1,000 people in 1,000 communities, and how social media is playing a part in incentivizng wellness.

How long has A Million More been around?

“We launched A Million More in a small California pilot last year in conjunction with California Pharmacy Association to test some methods of driving increased immunizations. Based on that experience, we decided to launch nationwide this year.”

Other than Prescribe Wellness, what other companies were founding sponsors?

“California Pharmacy Association was a founding partner last year and this year 10 other state associations have joined. If we are going to improve preventative health care services in America than access is a key element. A retail pharmacist is America’s most accessible health care provider.”

How would you counter the argument that these pharmacies have banded together in this effort simply to encourage people to shop at their facilities and thus increase their revenue?
“Healthcare costs in America were $2.5 trillion last year. CMS estimates that 70 percent was related to preventable chronic disease. We need to take small steps for preventative healthcare, and getting all the proper immunizations in one of those steps. If we are going to drive change, retail pharmacies must play a role. Lots of data indicates the return on prevention is significant. Anyone that tries to criticize a business for providing an important service is short sighted. An analogy in automotive is advertising for regular maintenance to prevent total engine failure. Yes, they make money on it, but it will save America big dollars in the long run. We have retail pharmacy customers that have been serving their communities for generations. They certainly don’t need to apologize for promoting or charging for services that are important to their communities.”

Why did you choose Facebook as the main social hub of the campaign? Why branch out into social networking at all?

“CDC recommends immunizations for virtually all Americans. We need to reach as many Americans as we can. In this campaign, we need to try and educate and motivate younger adults that perhaps have never gotten immunized. Facebook reach is unequaled; it is a great way to raise awareness.”

What are your next steps for increasing engagement on the Facebook page and driving traffic to the AMM site?
“We have A Million Dollar sweepstakes launching this week, and other potential prizes for supporting the cause. [(Consumers must reserve or walk-in for a flu shot at a participating pharmacy, check-in at the pharmacy on Facebook, and like the A Million More Facebook page to be automatically entered to win.)] We hope to promote a viral aspect of people sharing their support with friends and relatives. The site is designed to dispel myths, and ask people to do their part for community health. We have a TV campaign launching in October in top 10 markets. Civic- and faith-based leaders are using our technology to reach their communities in their voice to support.”

How will you know the million has been reached? Have you set a deadline?
“The campaign will start to gain momentum this month and run through Dec 31st. We will be collecting and tracking self-reported data from pharmacies and other providers.”

Have you tried to calculate any sort of statistic around how much money will be saved in the healthcare system this flu season as a result of having these million people vaccinated?
“The CDC has great data, but admits that this is very difficult to track. There is certainly evidence for a “herd effect.” Our focus on getting 1,000 communities to get 1,000 extra people immunized can increase “herd” effectiveness. We believe a million more immunizations can save 40,000 hospitalizations. At costs of over $5,000 per visit, the savings would be $200,000,000.”

Two million dollars is certainly nothing to sneeze at. I’ll be interested to see how many folks participate, and who the lucky winners are. If Facebook junkies like Randy Watson are any indication, Babbington and his colleagues may just reach their goal in record time.

 

Jennifer Dennard is Social Marketing Director for Atlanta-based Billian's HealthDATA, Porter Research and HITR.com. Connect with her on Twitter @SmyrnaGirl.