“Freeing health data from silos” and fostering collaboration between patients and providers can save costs and improve health quality for employers who sponsor health benefits. The bottom line: employers can benefit from using social media tools for employee health management, according to a report from Healthcare Performance Management in the Era of “Twitter” from the HPM Institute.

As employer health care costs continue to annually escalate in the high single or low double digits, benefits managers have focused on tinkering with health plan design: looking into 2011 health plan strategies, employers are planning to implement

Another prescription for dealing with runaway health costs and mediocre performance comes from Health 2.0 tools, the HPM says. My colleague and friend Brian Klepper is quoted up-front: “Internet-enabled communities of patients and providers are coming together to communicate and collaborate,” and these collaborations are reshaping healthcare delivery and consumption.

The report points to examples that are driving health costs down and efficiencies up in health care when social networks join in. The Veterans Health Administration (a real innovator in health care information technology), Healthcare Interactive and WellNet Healthcare, PatientsLikeMe, and the Toms River School District’s onsite employee health clinic are offered as examples of high-performing health programs that employ online social networks.

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  Employers should look beyond the traditional advice of health benefits consultants who may be offering same-old-same-old-in-new-packaging. The alchemy of adding in online social networking in health – for both patients and clinicians – disrupts traditional relationships that repeat the same-old care patterns and flat outcomes, opens up data silos to data liquidity, and enables collaborative health care that improves outcomes and reduces costs. Listen to the VA, to the new models of employer-based health clinics, and to patients and doctors connecting with each other as early adopters in participatory health. The models are available in the market now. As a tweetstream from a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation meeting of TEDMED this week echoed through the cloud through the #ideapowered hashtag, “We need to start asking how health care reform becomes self care reform.” This is how.