HMOs can promote positive behavior

Here’s proof your members are listening

Managed care patients are as likely to respond to skin cancer prevention messages from their own health maintenance organizations (HMOs) as from their primary care physician, according to a study in the May issue of the Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Researchers at the University of California – San Francisco mailed questionnaires to a random sample of 981 patients to assess their concern about and risk for skin cancer. All the patients belonged to a large medical group that contracts with several HMOs to provide care.

A letter was mailed with the questionnaire inviting patients to call a toll-free number. The patients received the letter written and signed by either their primary care physician, their HMO, or a fictitious direct mail organization.

The letter emphasized one of three messages about the effects of ultraviolet rays on the skin. One-third of the patients received a letter emphasizing skin cancer, one-third a letter stressing aging and wrinkling, and one-third a letter emphasizing aging and wrinkling along with a book that focused on preventing the aging and wrinkling effects of the sun. All three messages were based on factual medical information.

A total of 66 patients responded to the mailing by calling the toll-free number and completing a brief interview. Of these, 34 received the physician letter, 23 the HMO letter, and nine the direct mail letter. Findings show that messages appealing to patient concern about skin cancer were just as effective in activating patient response as messages that appealed to concern about wrinkling and aging of the skin.