MetroPlus’ free telehealth program saw 7,000 enrollees during pandemic through multi-channel outreach

Jannie Delucca

New York City-based MetroPlus Health Plan enrolled almost 7,000 members in three months in its new telehealth service program, with nearly half of the enrollees going on to have a virtual doctor visit, according to an Amwell case study.

The program, in partnership with Amwell, launched at the beginning of the pandemic to MetroPlus’ membership base that includes more than 500,000 individuals. It consists of three programs including an urgent health option that launched on March 23, followed by the therapy and psychiatry programs on April 1.

“On March 16 New York City basically went into lockdown,” said Kathryn Soman, director of corporate communications at MetroPlus. “So what you had was provider offices were not open for visitors, people were being told ‘stay in your home’ and we had to radically accelerate the process because it needed to be launched as soon as it could.”

The telehealth program offers free, round-the-clock access to a physician, psychologist or counselor through video or audio calls to assist with the patient’s medical needs. The typical visit is 10 minutes long but more time can be added if necessary, which can typically cost $139 for an in-person office visit or $645 for an emergency room visit, according to MetroPlus. Additionally, members can get prescribed certain medications through the virtual visit.

“What we found was we had so many members who needed to talk to somebody, see somebody, get advice, but they were afraid to leave their home,” Soman said.

The providers giving telehealth visits get reimbursed by MetroPlus through its relationship with Amwell, according to Soman.

Getting people to sign up for the program stood as a challenge to overcome, according to Soman. Because people couldn’t physically come in to learn how to sign up for the program, the company needed to get creative in how they got the word out.

“It really was this absolute need to outreach dramatically in a number of ways to our members right in their homes where they were sheltering,” Soman said. “To say ‘We know that’s where you want to stay and we’re providing a way for you to access a doctor for free 24/7.'”

To get people signed up, MetroPlus and Amwell launched a multichannel approach that consisted of emails, a direct mailer, interactive voice response (IVR) calls, and short message service (SMS) texts.

All of the methods emphasized that the program was free and available at all times of the day and night. They also provided members step-by-step instructions on how to enroll and answered frequently asked questions about the service.

Through the direct mailer alone, more than 2,500 members enrolled. The email drove 300 registrations. The text message resulted in more than 3,340 virtual visit enrollments, while IVR calls drove 78 additional enrollments, according to Amwell. Additionally, MetroPlus saw a click-through rate of 27% for SMS, well above the industry average of 6%.

“We were very pleased with the results,” Soman said. “Especially because there was an urgency around making sure our members were getting the care they needed. This was just a great way to find them where they lived and show them how they can do what they need to do for their physical health, for their mental health safely wherever they are.”

WHY THIS MATTERS

Through this service, many individuals that would have otherwise not had access to healthcare during the pandemic were able to get connected to a provider.

“When you have 400,000 lower-income members, you already know you’ve got quite a few that are sick, that have real needs,” Soman said.

One woman who received a text message providing information about the telehealth program described it as a “sign from God.”

“She said she was in the deepest despair of her life,” Soman said. “It’s the middle of COVID, she’s alone in a shelter, she received the text and was like ‘Yes, I need help.'”

Now she is on track to finding permanent housing and continues to see a therapist virtually.

“This is why you do this sort of program. Because we would have never found her,” Soman said.

THE LARGER TREND

MetroPlus says these services will be available beyond the pandemic. It is currently looking for ways to enroll new members to the service as well as adding more providers.

The pandemic brought a boom in telehealth services being offered by providers and used by patients.

Sixty percent of people in a global Accenture survey said that they want to use technology more for communicating with healthcare providers and managing their conditions in the future.

Earlier in August, President Trump signed an executive order making telehealth waivers put into place under the pandemic, permanent. The order will allow Medicare to cover telehealth visits at no additional cost and copayments can be waived for telehealth services.

ON THE RECORD

“This is something that we feel very strongly had real value to our members during COVID-19, but will have long-term value when this pandemic is over,” Soman said.

Twitter: @HackettMallory
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