Tricare, the military’s health program, launched a blog last year that’s paid dividends from the start. “We’ve had 65,000 visits since last July and nearly 1,000 comments and questions,” says Maj. Gen. Elder Granger, who, until he retired last month, was the deputy director and program executive officer of Tricare management activity. “If we’d had to handle 65,000 calls since last July, I would have had to set up a call center about the size of a super Wal-Mart.”
Since the blog is still fairly new and is not being heavily promoted, Tricare officials expect that there will be steady growth in traffic and subscriptions to e-mail alerts each time there is a new posting. Subscriptions have grown from a little over 100 in September to more than 3,500.
Tricare’s blog addresses the concerns of its 9.4 million beneficiaries no matter where they are in the world. “In my opinion it was just the right thing to do. We had no idea it was going to blossom like this,” says Granger.
Tricare will often put a topic on the blog and run it for a week or 10 days, depending on how many hits it is getting.
Participants can ask any question they want and usually get a response from Tricare medical personnel. “Sometimes, I go out to the field and talk to a group of our beneficiaries, and I’ll call back and say, Look, I want this to be the blog topic,” says Granger.
In the past, when a serviceman or woman encountered some roadblock to care, he or she would often contact congressional representatives, who would then make an inquiry. Naturally, the military would like to avoid that.
“We would go through it and research it and give it to our appropriate expert or one of our Tricare regional officers, who would then do the research, and there would be a timeline to respond back to Congress,” says Granger. “Then we prepare a written reply. It goes through legal and all our benefits experts and I sign off on it. I call them the green folders: My green folder stack has gone down significantly since we started the blog.”
The number of congressional inquiries decreased by about 50 percent since last July, says Granger. There were 246 congressional questions from August 2007 to January 2008; from August 2008 to January 2009, there were 167. “That’s a plus, because a lot of times you can clear up a simple question that either the beneficiary didn’t understand or we didn’t understand what he was asking.”
Granger sees no reason private health care plans cannot sponsor vigorous blogs of their own. “Every insurance plan has beneficiaries that they must take care of,” says Granger. “Most of these big companies deal with employers or employer groups. They are dealing with the same issues we’re dealing with: access to care, quality outcomes, disease management, patient safety, pharmacy benefits. These represent a huge cost for any health plan.”