How to make technology work for your health benefits strategy

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Incorporating technology into healthcare benefits makes it easier for employees to pick their plans and make more informed decisions about their health. Kieran Pittman, director of strategic growth and product development at BeniComp, a health insurance agency, says these tools make for a more engaged and loyal workforce.

“Employers can be empowered by the data that technology provides,” she says. “With the war on talent and low unemployment, employers are spending so much money on ways to recruit the right people into their organization, and to retain them.”

Employee Benefit News spoke to Pittman about how companies can use technology to cut costs, improve their healthcare benefit offerings and have healthier employees.

Why is technology an important tool for healthcare benefits?
[Benefits are] a large expense, and technology can provide [employers with] analytics on how a plan is performing, so that they can make better decisions. It’s also a way to show the employees that they care about them by [providing] things like an easy-to-use portal, or a self-service of information based on not just what their plan provides, but how to take care of themselves, how to engage with preventive health and what are some of the health risks that they have.

If employers do not have technology incorporated in their health benefits strategy, what are they missing out on?
They don't have visibility to what their employees want and need, and how they can empower their employees to get what they want. And if they don't engage with their employees down to that level, they will probably experience some attrition. Some employees that are not thrilled about their benefits [might start to] look elsewhere, or it can cause frustration and confusion on the employee side. [Employers are] putting a lot of work into engagement strategies, cultural initiatives and cost saving metrics. But if you don't have an engaged workforce, then all of those things are being kind of disrupted.

How can employers use technology to modernize their enrollment communication strategy?
We live in a world where everything is self-serve, individualized and at your fingertips. And employee benefits should be no different. Technology is the way to make them informed consumers of healthcare who know exactly what they're going to get.

One of the biggest concerns for the people who administer [benefits] is that they constantly have to explain benefits and how to use them. Technology can do the work on the front end and engage and educate the consumer, so they know exactly what how to interact with their healthcare in a way that's most efficient for them and most cost effective, then it's going to reduce the amount of frustration.

A lot of the human resources directors that we work with are saying “We're able to not just explain benefits, but work on the business and things that we want to do, like performance reviews and culture, that would have a larger impact on the business.” Having that technology is a way to make the business run more efficiently as well.

Kieran Pittman, director of strategic growth and product development at BeniComp.

For companies that are still behind when it comes to incorporating new technology, how can they get up to date?
You have to work with a company that truly understands the process from beginning to end and then is highly involved with the buy-in of the employees. For example, you don't want to have an employer try to implement something on their own — they need somebody by their side to walk them through the process and be a collaborative teammate towards the end goal. Technology is great, but if you're implementing it for the first time, you can't do it yourself.

What are some essential tech tools or platforms that employers can use for their health benefits?
There's a ton out there and I would say it depends on the employee and what their goals are. If their goal is to get into a program where they're looking at how to change lifestyle to improve health, there are tons of tools out there from nutrition to exercise and those types of things. But as far as interacting with health benefits, [at BeniComp] we actually built our own technology. We created an entire system for things like open enrollment, engagement of employees, health results and prevention and prediction of chronic diseases, looking at quality and cost metrics for providers and being able to shop.

One of the things BeniComp offers is a predictive health management application called “Pulse,” and you have trained hundreds of employers and employees on how to make technology work for their health benefits strategy. What are your takeaways from that?
The biggest piece is to first establish how we can use this as a vehicle to get the company to its goals. A lot of the training would happen on site with a kickoff meeting of the new technology, where we showcase how it can make their lives easier, save them money and give them access to the care that they need.

Some feedback has been "wow, I didn't know that I was able to do all of this inside one system." There's always going to be challenges in terms of the level of comfort people have. So you really need to meet them where they are. Assess who you're going to be training, and then help them understand at a level that's comfortable for them.

How can data and analytics help employers measure and manage risks?
Health data is something that is going to be paramount going forward. [For example] at BeniComp we actually have an exclusive data set, where we are able to get 96% of the people that we work with to engage in in a biometric blood screening. When people give us blood data, we're able to predict expenses for an employer and the employees. We can start to see if people are pre-diabetic and get early intervention. We're also able to see if a liver enzyme changes that could be indicative of liver failure, kidney function and things like that. I think the more data we collect, the more powerful we're going to be in starting to predict things like chronic disease and other issues that we have never touched before.

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