Provider Directories; What 3,000 Undeliverable Postcards Reveal

Say you buy a house up the street or move across the country after accepting a new job. What’s one of the first things you’re likely to do? Probably update your address with the US Postal Service (USPS). You might even take an added step to inform your family and friends of your new address. Seems simple, right? Then why is keeping this basic information up-to-date so challenging for health plans and healthcare providers?

At Availity, we saw the problem first-hand. We sent postcards to Florida healthcare providers encouraging them to use the new Availity Web Portal verification workflow to verify directory information with five health plans serving the state. The mailing lists came from the plans’ provider directory data, and after de-duplicating the lists, we mailed 23,483 postcards to providers.

What did we find? Nearly 3,000, or roughly 12.6 percent, of the postcards were returned as “undeliverable” by the post office. You see the dilemma? If we had this type of error rate for what may be the simplest data point in the provider directory, imagine how difficult it will be to fix other more complex data elements.

But even a seemingly simple issue, like a delivery, isn’t that easy to fix when you realize there are multiple reasons for the error. We tracked the USPS delivery failure notice for each returned postcard and here’s what we found:

  • 2,521 (85.1 percent) fell into the generic, “Insufficient Address” or “Not Deliverable as Addressed” categories. These addresses might be missing a suite number, have a misspelled street name or have a mismatch between the city and ZIP code, or a wide variety of other problems that fall into the category of “lacks a valid delivery address.”
  • 431 (14.6 percent) were marked “Attempted, not known,” which means that the address is valid, but the organization or individual named is no longer at that address. This often results from an office closing, or an individual provider having left the practice.
  • 142 (4.8 percent) were “Vacant” or one of the more troubling return reasons, along with “No such number” (134, or 4.5 percent) and “No box/No mail receptacle” (54, or 1.8 percent). In aggregate, more than 11 percent of these addresses are either empty buildings or lack a place for the postal carrier to leave the mail.
  • 36 (1.2 percent) postcards were delivered but unclaimed (this usually represents a postal box that’s abandoned), and 17 were refused, another sign that the intended recipient is no longer at that address.

And one of my favorite return reasons:

  • Postcards that were successfully delivered, but a person at the address took the time to send it back, rather than simply throwing the postcards away: 609 of the postcards had a non-automated notation, ranging from blacking out the physician’s name with a marker to “Not here” or “Moved.”

It’s not hard to understand why fixing provider data has become a priority for the healthcare industry. But as outlined here, the problem runs deep and will take considerable time and resources to fix.