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HealthcareScoop.com Goes Nationwide With Consumer Stories About Their Care

by Malorye Allison

The biggest hurdle to building a social networking site for health care consumers is that “People worry that its just going to become a dumping ground for complaints,” says MaryAnn Stump, senior vice president and chief innovation officer at Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) of Minnesota, and president of Consumer Aware, which is a sister organization of BCBS. One year after launching in Minnesota’s metropolitan market, however, HealthcareScoop.com has three times as many positive comments as negative ones. The site is now officially going national, although Stump points out “Even before we promoted it nationally, we had comments coming in from more than 20 states.”

“That shows the opportunities are without boundaries,” Stump says. To join the site, patients don’t even have to be BCBS members, “These are anyone’s stories about physicians, health plans, anything health related,” she says. “The lens is the patient’s eye.”

Patients post their stories anonymously, and the site does have rules to discourage illegal or disruptive postings. Comments are also invited. In the last year, almost 700 stories have been posted and the site has logged more than 500,000 page views. The stories range from glowing reports about a favorite gastroenterologist to complaints about getting a “runaround” from administrative staff at a particular institution.

HealthcareScoop.com is just one of a slew of intriguing projects aimed at getting more input from consumers on health care. I’ve also written here about PatientsLikeMe.com and Microsoft’s ambitious HealthVault personal health record project. It’s all part of a new paradigm shift that has many in the health care field scrambling to catch up.

For example, soon after the site launched, Stump says, “Someone wrote to us saying ‘People are complaining about the long wait time at our institution, what are we supposed to do?’” Stump then asked if the institution’s wait time was, indeed, a problem. “The answer was yes, and the logical step after that of course is to fix it,” she says.

A lot of concerns were voiced before the site was launched, but given the pace that social networking is advancing, the company felt confident that this was necessary now. For one thing, the site helps to differentiate BCBS from its competitors. It also helps BCBS’s relationship with local providers. “It helps us connect the providers to their patients in a new way,” she says.

Starting out, there were also concerns from providers that BCBS would use information gathered from the site when contracting with physicians. “It’s not our intent to do that,” Stump says. But she was pleased to hear that providers are starting to monitor the site. “It’s definitely a chance to learn what is not working from the consumer’s point of view.”
“This is new territory,” she emphasizes, “And this is how the younger generation communicates. It will not be for everyone, but it was never designed with that in mind.” Another concern was that people just wouldn’t post stories about health issues. The company tested the site internally to see if they would, and they did.

Asked what tangible benefits BCBS does expect Stump says “You either start with a business model, or you start with an unmet need and connect to a business model.” HealthcareScoop.com is an example of the latter. Down the road, however, BCBS would like to see if the site can be tied into disease management, for example. “We’re thinking about things like effective diabetes management measures and aggregating certain types of stories,” Stump says.

Stump’s point of view is that it’s unwise not to try and make such connections with consumers. “The cat was out of the bag once we launched consumer-directed models,” she says “Now we have to provide the tools for patients to make choices as customers, rather than as passive recipients of care.”

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