A full 90% of Americans have a cell phone, and more than half own a smartphone. This represents an enormous opportunity for plan sponsors, brokers and vendors to conveniently communicate and engage participants with their benefits.

"It's obviously the preferred method for employees to communicate, and if they get information through an app, they appreciate that," says Jamie Spriggs, president of ConnectYourCare, a platform provider.

Spriggs explained that apps by themselves can spur employee engagement during a panel discussion at this year's Benefits Forum & Expo and Employee Benefit Adviser Summit in September.

"In general, employees don't need incentives to use apps," Spriggs said, because they are just fun to use. It's the remainder of the benefit, the follow through, that may require an incentive.

As a society, "we have created consumers of health care, but not consumers of health," added fellow panelist Kyle Rolfing, president of RedBrick Health.

Before RedBrick Health modernized its wellness offering, it was "boring," explained Rolfing. The company used traditional online and telephonic programs that participants found to be dull. Rolfing often heard feedback such as, "I need something convenient, simple and fun." RedBrick applied this advice when developing the RedBrick Journeys program, a new health behavior change system.

Engagement rates by program participants are already five times higher than they were before RedBrick introduced the app for wellness and disease management activities, said Rolfing.

In the program, participants pick a direction: get active, lose weight or eat healthier. It's all about creating "easy to digest steps," said Rolfing. When participants reach a target, they receive congratulations and rewards. But the program doesn't end with an accolade, he noted, it continues with new goals.

RedBrick cites a 96% participation rates for all employees participating in the company's smartphone initiative - with participation more than doubling since the introduction of the app component.

On another benefit front, mobile app myDrugCosts strives for complete prescription transparency at point of care, said panelist Dan Pollard, CEO. Through its app, myDrugCosts helps employees be able to elect the least expensive medications on the go.

Customized to any health plan, the app shows participants the cost of their prescription drugs and ways they can save money, such as a cheaper alternatives or varying prices at local pharmacies.

 

Mobile apps of the future

Americans with mobile phones rarely leave home without them. In fact, the average U.S. consumer is never more than three feet away from their phone. Benefits technology vendors have only begun to tap this fantastic opportunity to engage consumers, the panelists pointed out.

Trackers, apps that track movements and activity, are "the leading driver in the wellness space," said ConnectYourCare's Spriggs. By analyzing a participant's activity and giving them recommendations, wellness programs can reach new heights.

Spriggs pointed to apps already available, such as one that tracks sleep patterns. Rolfing also described upcoming nutrition apps that detail a meal's caloric and nutritional information when a consumer snaps a picture of it with their smartphone.

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