Umair Khan, Vice President, Solutions Marketing
Managing employee benefits these days is like walking a tightrope, a risky balancing act. On one hand, HR needs to rein in healthcare costs that are chipping away at their organization’s ability to invest and grow. On the other, they need to help employees stay healthy, happy and productive, and not looking for a better employment deal elsewhere. With goals seemingly at direct odds, it’s no wonder that most HR departments are treading cautiously. Rather than make big moves—like changing insurance carriers or whittling down plans—they’re walking a fine line. Most benefits teams are taking narrow, precise steps in their plan designs to make targeted, incremental improvements and not disrupt things.
The precision program approach
For HR teams taking this approach, there’s no shortage of vendor solutions to choose from. An entire industry has emerged (and continues to rapidly evolve) to help employers tackle specific employee healthcare and benefit challenges with minimal disruption. Price transparency tools, for instance, help people “shop” for the best value in providers and procedures. Virtual health solutions are an easy way for employees to go to the doctor when they might otherwise opt out. Tens of billions of dollars have gone into bringing to market new digital apps and platforms to help people manage diabetes, hypertension or other chronic conditions—or simply stay fit.
The engagement problem
Employers have adopted these solutions as rapidly as they’ve come to market, adding them to their existing health plan programs with minimal risk. The reward? Disappointment. They’re not seeing healthier, more satisfied employees. They’re not seeing healthcare costs go down. Instead, they’re seeing more waste as employees struggle to understand, find and use or get value from their programs. Over the course of a year, for example, less than 4% of Aetna plan members took advantage of a price transparency tool made available to them.1
In industry terms, it’s low engagement, and the stats are bleak. Only about a quarter of U.S. workers understand their benefits2 and are confident they’re using them to their fullest potential.3 Only one in four employees is satisfied with their benefits programs.4 The piecemeal, precision approach to employee healthcare doesn’t add up to desired results.
More technology is not enough
For many HR departments, the answer is more technology—the adoption of digital engagement platforms that bring together all of these discrete programs in one place to create a more unified and simple experience and improve engagement. The National Business Group on Health expects two-thirds of employers will be using a digital engagement platform by 2021.5
Simplifying the experience is critical, but it’s not enough to improve engagement, because digital solutions, even when aggregated, do nothing to address the personal factors that can influence an individual’s decisions over time—factors like emotions, knowledge, finances and everything else going on in their life. Digital-only solutions fail to engage employees for the same reason traditional nurse lines do: they are impersonal and transactional, rather than relationship-based.
Human relationship is vital
To improve employee health and benefits results, an engagement strategy must move beyond transactions to influence, and the only way to do that is through human connection. What healthcare consumers say matters most to them—above any digital tools—is being “heard, understood and given clear directions through a personalized healthcare experience.”6 A man battling cancer and caring for his elderly parents needs someone who can help him not just with his physical health but his emotional challenges as well. A single mom who can’t afford her child’s monthly diabetic supplies wants someone to understand her financial challenges and find options that will work for her family.
A price transparency solution alone can’t do that, and neither can digital engagement platforms. Nurse lines aren’t set up to build relationships or trust. Family members (generally) don’t have the expertise. And the structure, incentives and time constraints built into our healthcare system don’t make it easy for doctors to do so, either.
Moving from an engagement to influence model—people plus technology
After 10+ years serving employers and their people, we’ve learned that the only way to deliver not just a simpler experience but a meaningful one—to help people not only engage but make the best decisions—is through humans and technology working in lockstep. It’s a “people plus technology” model that supports every individual and family in a deeply personal way—reaching, engaging and influencing them at the right time—in two-thirds of cases, that’s before they’ve entered the healthcare system. Using the best of human beings, one integrated platform and intelligent technology, we:
One model, three solutions
And today, Accolade is introducing a portfolio of personalized advocacy solutions with that model at its core.
Our range of solutions means we have the flexibility to give employers the level of support they need, whether helping their people use their benefits, get to the right doctor, resolve a bill or manage chronic conditions. And it means that any HR team—of any size employer—can move beyond the ineffective, wasteful piecemeal approach to employee health and benefits. It’s time for HR to get off the tightrope and help their organization achieve breakthrough results on all fronts—employee satisfaction, employee health and costs.
How can we help yours? Reach out to us at: email@example.com.
1 Riley, B., Can Consumers Be Smarter Health Care Shoppers in the Quest for Cost Containment? NCMJ vol. 79, No. 1.
3 Americans Favor Workplace Benefits 4 to 1 over Extra Salary: AICPA Survey, Nov 2018.
5 NBGH 2019 Large Employers’ Health Care Strategy and Plan Design Survey
6 Health plans: What matters most to the health care consumer? Deloitte’s 2016 Consumer Priorities in Health Care Survey