Email and websites are becoming outdated when communicating with health plan participants as social media moves to the forefront, says one industry expert at the annual International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans Employee Benefits Conference.

If providers fail to use sites such as Facebook or Twitter they risk losing engagement with the ‘net generation,’ or those born between 1977-1997, says Kevin L. Wolfe, vice president in The Segal Company’s Chicago office.

Speaking Monday at the 57th annual conference in New Orleans he said: “Think about this . . . we have this young group of people moving through the workforce and they’ve grown up bathed in bits and bytes,” including broadband Internet access, iPods and iPhones.

The ‘net generation’ processes information so differently compared to those who were born before them, said Wolfe, who is in Segal’s administration and technology consulting practice. “They want to customize things, they are not used to going to some website, they are used going somewhere and making it custom.”

By using social media to engage them in health plans, it becomes more than pushing information; it’s a dialogue that the ‘net generation’ relies on, he says, “an exchange between like-minded individuals.”

Yet, Wolfe warns there are challenges, including legal ones, such as plan members sharing protected health information on the social networking sites. “Don’t forget the information stays out there forever,” he says. “Even if you delete a Facebook post, the information is still there.”

But most important, he says, is getting the pages up. “If we don’t start to adjust our strategic approach to electronic communication with participants . . . I believe we won’t engage them,” he concludes. “I believe we won’t engage them by using the old methods we use now, email, websites, etc.”

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