New-fashioned phone calls: Silverlink's Stan Nowak discusses how automated calls are becoming a key differentiator in healthcare

August 1, 2006

Healthcare consumerism is quite a paradox. Consumers are given more choices, but as options increase, so do risk, responsibility and confusion. There are many consumerism products available today; consumer-directed health plans (CDHPs) and healthcare savings accounts (HSAs) are two that are gaining momentum, but perhaps the most widely publicized is the government's prescription drug plan for seniors-Medicare Part D.

Healthcare consumerism is quite a paradox. Consumers are given more choices, but as options increase, so do risk, responsibility and confusion. There are many consumerism products available today; consumer-directed health plans (CDHPs) and healthcare savings accounts (HSAs) are two that are gaining momentum, but perhaps the most widely publicized is the government's prescription drug plan for seniors-Medicare Part D.

"Consumerism is driving more choice, more incentives and more urgency to consumers who are, in many cases, ill-equipped to make these choices," Nowak says. "Delivering better, more timely information in a digestible format to members is essential for consumerism to work as intended."

"Automated calls achieve better results in healthcare than in other industries because people know their payer's name, and when they see that name on their caller ID, they believe it's going to be information that's important for them to hear-it's not going to be a sales call.

"Additionally, these programs generate results in days, rather than the weeks or months mail requires," he adds. "These calls are very often the most effective means a healthcare company has to reach out to patients and members," Nowak says, who knows firsthand how important reaching out is.

In 1985, when he was a 20-year-old student at Harvard, Nowak was the primary caregiver for his 85-year-old grandfather, who was nearly blind from glaucoma. "He was really losing control of his environment. We lived with daily anxieties: Could he dial a telephone? Could he get to the pharmacy? Could he see how much money was in his wallet when he was paying people?" he explains.

Nowak knew that there had to be an easier way for people, particularly the elderly, to communicate with their pharmacies and managed care providers. In 2001, Nowak founded Silverlink Communications, a company that allowed health plans, pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), retail and specialty pharmacies and disease management companies to communicate with various member and consumer populations around healthcare needs.

"The idea was to help people manage their own lives in their own homes," Nowak says.

Q. How is automated communications technology used by health plans and PBMs?

A. Outbound call technology is increasingly becoming the default solution whenever health plans and PBMs need to reach out to their members to educate, collect information, or drive behavior. The range of uses is wide-things like brand-to-generic migrations, drug recall information, refill reminders and coordination of benefits data collection can help increase revenue, reduce costs, improve clinical outcomes and increase member satisfaction.