Today is a big day for implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Consumers can finally purchase insurance through health insurance exchanges. Fortunately, the government shut down won’t affect millions of uninsured American’s ability to obtain insurance in the public market. However, as implementation of this momentous change in American healthcare marches on, many American’s don’t seem to understand HOW to access insurance through this process. According to recent polls by several media outlets, Americans are not only confused but also worried that the new policies will cost them more money than they’re currently spending. While the government and media discuss the politics of healthcare, physicians and hospitals have focused on helping to alleviate this confusion and concern for patients and consumers.
So what can we learn from these healthcare experts? At WCG, we’re tracking these two critical groups to better understand how they behave online. In the last few months, there has been an explosion in conversation, especially among physicians, about insurance exchanges as they elevate themselves as reliable resources for patients and consumers to find accurate and mostly apolitical information.
Focusing on the bulk of this conversation, I analyzed the last three months leading up to the health exchange implementation. When discussing the insurance exchanges, both physicians AND hospitals spend most of their energy on answering general questions and discussing what exactly the insurance exchanges are. The top two most linked to articles for both groups dealt with explaining how the implementation of the exchanges would affect Americans – with the top shared link across both groups being the government site, Healthcare.gov, which not only answers major consumer questions about available coverage and premium rates, but also directs consumers to actual providers. It’s worth noting that as of this morning, this website has been shared over 154,000 times on Facebook alone since it was created. Though physicians outnumber hospitals in our database a little over 2:1, they link to this government site 3 times more than hospitals. Rather, hospitals are much more likely than physicians to have a hyper local focus in their tweets and direct consumers to specific, local providers.
Both of these groups take advantage of credible government resources to educate their patients and largely stay out of political discussions that are rampant online about the issue. Physicians however, are slightly less shy about participating in political discussion. It makes sense that physicians, who as individual actors are generally less tied to an organization, would be more open to sharing political beliefs and commenting on political processes. This accounts for a little over 10% of their conversation on insurance exchanges. This boldness is especially evident in the type of language they use when discussing the Affordable Care Act. Obamacare, once a highly politicized term has now become a colloquial replacement for the Affordable Care Act and much like the general public, is very common in physician conversations. Hospital’s reluctance to adopt this language and even their use of an even more tame replacement, “Healthcare Reform,” as a replacement of the phrase, Affordable Care Act, indicates that on an organizational level, they are avoiding the political dialogue.
As patients and consumers figure out how to navigate the rapidly changing world of healthcare, physicians and hospitals have an opportunity online to advocate on their behalf. They can do this by providing the accurate information to enable informed decisions. And fortunately for millions of uninsured Americans, they are.