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Employer Health Plans Can Engage Members with Data, Targeting

Employer health plans can engage their members with data-driven communications that increase productivity and health plan cost-effectiveness.

Employer health plans can use data to message, target members

Source: Thinkstock

By Thomas Beaton

- The use of data analytics and employee wellness engagement platforms may help employer health plans improve spending efficiency while producing a healthier, more productive workforce.   

Employees are not always ready to take part in the use of preventive services, review communications about their benefits, and participate in incentives to effectively use their benefits says April Gill, VP of Analytics Solutions at Welltok.

However, employers can leverage existing data assets to better understand employee behaviors, desires, and challenges to boost participation in important benefits like free flu shots.

Employees don’t always prioritize healthcare utilization, and even disregard utilization for free services that keep them healthy, especially when employees already feel fine.

“Younger populations have a tendency to have that invincibility mindset because they are generally healthy they don’t feel utilization is something that they need.” Gill explained.

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“Employers want to be able to support those employees in the best way possible in the way that they’re going to be most receptive.”

Employees sometimes do not see the benefit in preventive services like the flu shot, especially when they are unclear about who should participate and what the impacts will be.  

“There are a number of different opinions or thoughts around the flu shot itself, such as whether it’s effective and whether or not the flu shot gives a person the flu,” Gill said. “There’s definitely some misconceptions about the effectiveness of it and its level of importance.”

Employees at low risk of suffering serious complications from the flu themselves should be reminded that the shot can prevent them from passing the illness to their colleagues, Gill added.

Flu shots and free preventive services help lower healthcare risks and costs for individuals with chronic conditions, and ignoring these services may result in high-cost utilization.

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“Older populations, as well as individuals with some type of heart condition, COPD, asthma, or similar conditions, are at much higher risk,” she said.

Asthmatic employees have a 21 percent greater chance of getting hospitalized if they contract the flu, according to Gill. She added that employees with COPD are almost two times as likely to be admitted to the hospital than employees without COPD.

“Those risks make it more important for people to get the flu shot,” Gill said.

Employers that want increased member engagement for wellness services such as flu shots or other preventive measures need to capture and leverage data on their employees’ healthcare conditions, preferred communication tools, and motivating incentives for utilization.

Leveraging analytics to identify high-risk populations helps employers determine where to direct communications, and who is most likely to benefit from services.

READ MORE: 44% of Employees Don’t Know Value of Health Plan Benefits

Payers already tend to collect data that can help them with this process, revealed a recent survey by Change Healthcare.  

Data such as member retention rates, satisfaction scores, and patient outcomes can help employers understand why some individuals are not engaged.  Identifying hotspots in utilization, along with examining customer complaints, could also help employer health plans target new services that fill a trending need.

Once employers identify their target populations, several types of communication channels are needed to ensure that employees are receiving educational materials about their benefits on a preferred platform. This includes having readily available resources by phone, text message, email, and web.

In the Change Healthcare survey, 43 percent of participants said that email communications were well-received by their members. Thirty-five percent saw success with mobile apps, while telemedicine, text messaging, and wearable devices also helped members feel more engaged with their care.

Gill and her team also saw positive impacts after running an engagement campaign aimed at improving flu shot utilization. Better messaging to members helped an employer-sponsored health plan drive 65 percent of respondents receiving communications into getting a flu shot.

The plan was also able to reach 40 percent of its targeted population. “Fifty-percent of the respondents in this campaign found the call to be helpful,” Gill added.

Another employer used analytics to identify optimal communication methods and was able to reach 90 percent of its respondents through multiple communication channels. Fifty-six percent of respondents responded with a follow-up call and reported receiving a flu shot.  

“Providing communication in a way that individuals can actually receive that message is really critical,” Gill said. “Some health plans reported an 80 to 90 percent follow up by using a more targeted approach to outreach.”

Engagement incentives can also promote increased utilization, but employers must effectively identify which incentives work best for specific employee populations.

Payers and employers can review their member data to identify financial incentive programs such as subsidized gym memberships that are valuable to their members. Several payers have established financial incentives that provide hundreds of dollars to their members in return for living a healthier lifestyle.

Once employers capture the data to effectively identify higher-risk populations, communicate health plan benefits, and incentivize benefit use, they may start to experience higher returns on healthcare spending and great employee productivity.

Even minimal engagement improvements can drive significant healthcare savings since there is about a 7 percent average expected hospitalization rate for employees, according to Gill.

“If payers can improve the hospitalization rate by one percent, they can bend the spending curve and save a significant amount of money for an organization,” Gill added. “Savings can be significant even for reducing one and ten hospitalizations because an admission is $10,000 to $13,000 for each person hospitalized.” 

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