Breaking through the technology noise

It is safe to say the online expansion of healthcare information is not slowing down. The internet will continue to serve as the primary research tool for small business owners and their employees. Just as consumers consult Yelp for business reviews, use TripAdvisor to plan an upcoming vacation and make restaurant reservations using OpenTable, they will seek online sources to guide the decision-making process for healthcare.

According to research published in 2018 by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 80% of internet users (about 93 million Americans) say they have searched online for health-related information. A Software Advice survey found 82% of respondents consulted review websites — with some frequency — to view or post ratings and comments for healthcare providers. A recent update on that survey found the number had jumped to 94%.

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Technology has made it easier than ever for small business owners and employees to educate themselves on available healthcare options. It can also help brokers better serve their clients’ diverse needs. Nonetheless, there is some concern too much automation could render the role of the broker obsolete. Still, one thing is certain, the personalized attention and expertise of a benefits professional is something that cannot be replaced. Here’s why:

· Breaking through the noise. The sheer volume of healthcare information out there can create confusion, even for a seasoned business owner or employee. It ranges from physician networks to hospital health systems and ancillary benefit options such as vision and dental care. Brokers navigate these complexities day in and day out; they have the insight to break through the noise and explain the more subtle aspects of benefit plans, including group and individual price points, specific benefits and access to preferred doctors and hospitals.
· Understanding consumer expectations. Consumers have come to expect a certain level of speed when it comes to service and information access. In many cases, technology has filled this need. While technology is a valuable tool for increasing productivity and streamlining processes such as banking and invoicing, it does not replace the knowledge of benefits professionals or their ability to zero in on optimal coverage options based on a client’s unique healthcare needs.
· Embracing personalized service. When it comes to customer care, nothing beats face-to-face interaction that is timely and valuable to clients. Prices, locations, service innovations — and even some technologies — can quickly and easily be copied. However, personalized service — the type that brokers deliver and small businesses rely upon — provides that signature point of differentiation. It is very difficult to replicate, especially with automated or faceless call center staff.

Technology is not poised to replace the important role of health insurance professionals anytime soon. Instead, brokers can gain an edge by leveraging technology to their advantage. Embracing technology can help benefits experts better support their clients’ diverse needs and perform their tasks more efficiently. In doing so, brokers will continue to play an important role for small business owners looking for health insurance information, guiding them toward more-informed decisions about their employees’ benefits.

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