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n April 1, 2014, when the Healthy Michigan Plan opened for enrollment, thousands of previously uninsured Michiganders finally had access to health insurance. In an effort to sign up as many Detroiters as possible for coverage under the plan, the Detroit Medical Center (DMC) took a unique approach.
DMC Chief Executive Officer Conrad Mallett knew that to reach much of the patient population the DMC serves, the health center would need to tap into existing trust relationships.
"Most people don't find their dentist or doctor by searching through the Yellow Pages," explains Mallett. "They turn to friends. If their friends are satisfied with the care they receive from their providers, they'll recommend them. In turn, their friends are more likely to call that dentist or doctor because someone they know already respects the care that person provides."
So in addition to traditional outreach efforts including mailings, phone calls and advertisements, which resulted in 16,000 Healthy Michigan Plan enrollments, the DMC created its Community Ambassador Program. The idea behind the program is that trusted community members willing to serve as ambassadors each identify 10 or more people they know in need of insurance and share those names and those individuals' contact information with the DMC.
"It's the Mary Kay method of community-based outreach," Mallett says. "We're not asking for help facilitating enrollment. We want help facilitating contact."
To engage potential ambassadors, the DMC sent letters to all of the 16,000 Detroiters whose Healthy Michigan enrollment the health system facilitated.
"We invited them to hear about the Community Ambassador Program and ultimately help us help people they know in need of insurance," Mallett notes. "Typically you can expect a 1 percent return on direct marketing efforts like this. We got twice that when we signed up 300 ambassadors."
Those individuals went through a short training session at the DMC where they learned the basics of the Healthy Michigan Plan, how it works and the phone number prospective enrollees could call to sign up. DMC Community Ambassadors then talk up the plan to individuals with whom they come into contact. If a person is interested in signing up for the Healthy Michigan Plan, the Community Ambassador shares that person's contact information with the DMC, which facilitates the enrollment process.
While the Community Ambassador Program has generated some early momentum, it has not yet resulted in the large numbers of sign-ups initially hoped for.
"I was expecting it to be fairly simple for our ambassadors to provide 10 names, which would mean up to 3,000 potential enrollees and a powerful community-based juggernaut going forward," Mallett says. "Frankly, that did not happen. The Community Ambassadors were as stunned as we were, but it's a different kind of process."
And the DMC is sticking with it.
"I don't think we'll be successful in population health management efforts without this group," he says. "We know they're interested in the forward progress of people close to them. While the efforts of our ambassadors haven't yet yielded the predicted 3,000 sign-ups, they have yielded 600."
The program now has 765 Community Ambassadors who the DMC keeps motivated through periodic events, like its upcoming back-to-school luncheon where attendees can purchase school supplies at a reduced rate and learn more about proper eating and sleep habits.
Community Ambassadors may also receive up to $50 in gift cards for their efforts.
"We try to make their affiliation with us valuable to them and to their family," Mallett says. "There is, in fact, an upside to their involvement with the program. Membership has benefits that will thrust their family forward.
"The program is a way for us to reach out to a health care population that still sees medicine as episodic and ER-based only," Mallett says. "The process of educating this portion of the community will take time and significant effort requiring the participation of our ambassadors. They refer to us people who would otherwise be hard to reach and thus hard to serve."
Become a DMC Community Ambassador! Join the group that's helping themselves and their neighbors, friends and family get the health care they deserve. Call 800-DMC-2500 to get started.