Member to Member

A Member state was asked to answer the following question:

How is the Utah Department of Health currently utilizing social media and what is the value? 

Kathy Paras
Utah Department of Health 

Debbie Miller, RN
PEHP WeeCare Program 

At the Utah Department of Health's MCH program we use Twitter and Facebook to reach and engage members in our programs and services. It has been an effective channel for communicating to certain segments of our population who regularly use these tools. We are also finding many ways to integrate these tools into our new and existing programs and activities. For example, all health assessment sessions are posted on Facebook a week before to remind members to make an appointment. In respect to one of our new activities, Wellness Warriors, we work with and follow eight members' experiences over two months to help them achieve a wellness goal, such as to lose weight or to train for a marathon, etc. The Warriors post their "stories" and photos on Facebook to inspire other members who have set similar goals. Twitter is used to get out simple health messages, promote health assessment sessions, and direct members to our website to check out what's new. Our participation numbers have started low, but using these tools has helped us reach a demographic that would otherwise be difficult to communicate with. I'm optimistic our numbers will continue to increase as we incorporate these tools into more programs. 

Also, we started a pregnancy case management blog for members of our public health plan, PEHP, in a program we call WeeCare. We encourage all pregnant members to enroll in WeeCare for support and education throughout their pregnancy and lactation periods. We started the blog in November of 2008. It has been tremendously successful as a way to reach the target population of women in their childbearing years. We present information a couple of times a week and I like to update the themes monthly to keep it fresh and interesting, highlighting healthy foods of the month, healthy snack ideas and seasonal items like flu vaccine information.  

We use it to place many links to referral agencies, websites, books and online videos. We use a "folksy" and personal format, including an occasional commercial link when we find something unique, unusual and/or of interest to our moms at a good price. We encourage input from the readers and sometimes get feedback of other suggestions they have come across. One example is the post about breast pumps. Since this can be a big-ticket item, we researched and found some reliable online sources where good ones could be found at discounted prices. I received a comment from one of our moms who delivered nine months previously and had used a particular pump I had mentioned. She gave her own review of the product and in this way it becomes a sharing experience. Incidentally, she was still coming back to the blog long after she delivered her baby, validating our idea that this would be a regularly visited and reliable site.

After seeing the popularity of the blog we realized it was beneficial to all women; not just those enrolled in PEHP insurance plans, so it is open to all. We do mention specifics about PEHP, but we let them know that while everyone is welcome, any insurance benefits mentioned apply to PEHP members only. We have received nothing but positive comments in the 16 months of its existence. I believe it allows us to get information out in a very non-threatening, ecologically-friendly way, that meets people where they are. Sometimes as I speak with clients and suggest a resource they ask, "Is it on the blog?" and when I reply in the affirmative, they say, "OK, then I have it." This lets me know they consider it a good resource to find other information and can use it as a type of directory for pregnancy-related needs. 

Because they continue to come after the baby is born, we also include references to pediatric information and child safety. I also include a list of recalled items for safety concerns (if they relate to moms and babies).  

Blogging is a little bit different than standard websites in that we can be more casual and often even use the first person in writing and sharing experiences. This makes it more personal and I believe makes us more "real" to the reader. The March of Dimes has a blog and the author is a mother who shares her own experiences as she discussed topics of interest. We decided we liked that feel so we sometimes include similar blogs. We also include links to a few other "mother blogs" of interest from writers around the country. I believe this makes people feel connected with each other - even strangers. Sometimes the social element is lacking for new moms and they look to these sources for reassurance, help, friendship and support. To view the PEHP blog, visit here