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Flu epidemic redux – How do we activate the “young adults”?

While this flu season didn’t match last year’s impact on children, we still touched “epidemic” status – 7.5 percent of all U.S. deaths during the second week of January were due to flu and pneumonia illnesses. Research shows that providers are doing a reasonable job with those most at-risk – children and seniors. But what about those between 18 and 64 years old?

This flu season has included another round of statistics and stories that seem avoidable. While this season didn’t match last year’s impact on children (the 2012-13 flu season saw 169 pediatric deaths), we still touched ““epidemic” status because 7.5 percent of all U.S. deaths during the second week of January were due to flu and pneumonia illnesses.

To even the casual observer, it seems as if we get similar news each year, with the corresponding calls for more people to get flu shots – but with little in the way of how to accomplish that. Interestingly, a Trust for America’s Health report — cited by Reuters – points out that overall, our flu vaccination rate rose from 42 percent to 45 percent from 2012 to 2013. It also shows we’re doing a reasonable job with those most at-risk, as the compliance rate for children touched 57 percent and 66 percent of seniors were vaccinated.

But what catches my eye is that only 36 percent of those 18 to 64 years old are getting flu shots. The status quo doesn’t seem to be working…drugstore ads, news articles and sidewalk sandwich boards…

A recent research survey of 1000 patients that we commissioned (to be released later this month) cites annual flu shot reminders from providers as the “most wanted” message topic, but the survey also pointed out that there is a sizable gap between the communications patients want and what providers are delivering.

Might this type of patient engagement — delivered through digital channels like text, automated voice, email and smartphone notifications – be just what the doctor ordered? Instead of static, non-interactive “nudges” from the usual media, what if we were to reach out to consumers more directly? Consumers have come to expect things like banking account balance notifications and airline gate change notices – are they waiting for healthcare providers to make it easier for them? What if they could click on a flu shot reminder to find nearby places to get them, set a calendar reminder, or even transfer to their provider’s call center or office to schedule one?

Maybe it’s time to meet consumer expectations by reaching out to them, engaging them and activating them – I have a feeling sandwich boards won’t do it.



* This post originally appeared on the Varolii Communications blog.

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Vance Clipson

About Vance Clipson

Vance Clipson, senior principal, industry solutions for Nuance Communications, focuses on vertical-specific strategy and marketing with an emphasis on healthcare, financial services and government. Clipson brings 25 years of experience translating industry needs and data into market strategy and programs for Milliman, PacifiCare Health Systems and other organizations.