Consumers overestimate their knowledge of health care concepts and benefits, so your message needs to be really clear, concise, and frequent.
That was my key takeaway from our October 11 webinar with two of health care’s brightest thought leaders: Chief Consumer Officer Rebecca Madsen and Chief Medical Officer of National Accounts Brenda Bruns, MD, both from UnitedHealthcare. They shared some of their latest consumer insights and actionable advice on how to keep employees engaged and healthier.
Each year, UnitedHealthcare makes a significant investment in research to understand consumers and better engage them. According to this year’s survey of 1,000 health care consumers, 72 percent said they felt prepared to make informed decisions during open enrollment. But that figure is deceptive. When asked if they understood basic health insurance concepts such as “health care premium,” “coinsurance,” “health plan deductible,” and “out-of-pocket maximum,” only 9 percent could define all four of those terms.
"When we introduce concepts like HSA or tiered plans, most people tune out and they glaze over,” Madsen said. “They check a box and they move on. Sixty-one percent of people really focus on cost as a key driver of their satisfaction. And when they don’t know the fundamentals, it leads to cost surprises, and nobody wants that.”
Her point? Consumers think they know how to make good cost decisions, but because they don’t fully understand key concepts, it can lead to costly results.
To help clear up the confusion, Madsen suggested sending employees to UnitedHealthcare’s handy glossary of health care and health insurance terms available at JustPlainClear.com. It’s a great resource.
She also recommended taking advantage of technology tools to communicate with employees and guide them toward making better health care decisions. Today’s consumers are really comfortable turning to the internet when they have questions about their health, and a third of Americans say they’re likely to use telemedicine to access health care services, according to the UnitedHealthcare report. So think about how to leverage technology more and more in your benefits offerings. Even some unlikely populations are very comfortable with mobile apps.
But employers can’t assume that throwing up a website is enough.
“Do the work for the consumer. Don’t just put it out there,” Madsen suggested. “With this population, you really need to help guide them. Make it personal and relevant to them.”
She offered these key best practices for communicating with consumers online:
1. Make it easy to navigate. Don’t create a “bulletin board” of information and expect people to find it. Make it very simple and very clear. Less is more.
Simple things to do: Make sure your website navigation labels are descriptive, not generic. Don’t say “videos.” Let visitors know what topics the videos will cover. Avoid drop-down menus. Use as few navigation buttons as possible.
2. Put money first. People pay attention anytime you offer financial incentives or cost savings.
Simple things to do: Show actual numbers whenever possible because people immediately respond to numerals. Visually highlight rewards and savings on your website. Allow users a way to track the rewards they’re earning.
3. Personalize it. Find ways to present information that is highly relevant to each employee.
Simple things to do: Segment members by interest, location, job role, life stage, etc., so you can send different communications to different groups. Address members by name in emails. Take the time to write several versions of an email campaign to specifically target various groups and/or issues.
4. Create consistency across touchpoints. Employees get frustrated when they see or hear conflicting information. What they see online should be the same as what they hear when they’re talking to a benefits representative.
Simple things to do: Require every benefits rep to regularly visit their own company website or intranet, so they can spot inconsistencies and head off any employee complaints. Make sure talking points or customer service scripts are up to date. Make sure employees have plenty of opportunities to offer their feedback on your website so they can help you identify problem areas.
5. Offer immediate interaction. If you use digital channels to communicate with employees, provide a response when they post or leave a message. Otherwise, members won’t come back to those channels.
Simple things to do: Manage expectations by letting employees know when they can expect a response: “Thanks for your message. We’ll get back to you within 24 hours.” Consider using tools to send an automated response so employees know that their messages have been received. Limit the number of channels you’re using so you’re appropriately staffed to maintain them.
Financial incentives is one area where companies can beef up their communications, Madsen said. These are particularly useful in getting members to start healthy behaviors.
According to the UnitedHealthcare survey, 64 percent of employees underestimate the financial rewards they can earn for participating in wellness programs. These rewards average about $742 per year, which is cause for hope. A majority of workers (62 percent) said $500 is enough to get them to participate in a wellness program.
With open enrollment taking place right now at many companies, Madsen recommended that employers focus on communicating three key aspects of their benefits package:
- Big changes: What’s new this year with the plans that you’re offering? What’s new in the lives of your employees? Did they get married or have a baby?
- Costs: Are expenses changing for employees? Are they being asked to carry more of the load?
- Coverage: Can employees expect the same coverage or have their plans changed? Two-thirds of workers go out of network for health care and don’t even know it.
Reinforcing the notion that employees overestimate their knowledge of health care, Dr. Bruns said an annual review of 31 million health care claims showed that 40 percent of individuals could have made better choices for themselves and their families. These not-so-smart decisions include not filling prescriptions, missing regular tests such as mammograms, and seeking out-of-network health care that is inferior. This implies that 12 million decisions were not efficient. Helping even a small fraction of these workers make better decisions benefits your employees, and your budget.
The antidote? Frequent and useful communication provides employees with information that will drive them toward better health decisions, cutting costs for themselves and their companies. With a focused communication plan, one UnitedHealthcare customer, a food distribution company, cut its employees’ use of emergency room visits by 5 percent and increased the use of less costly urgent care by 22 percent. The marketing plan included sending out a printed map that showed the nearest facilities providing urgent care and convenience care in the employee’s neighborhood.
But a one-time communication won’t make a lasting impact. Reinforce the message every few months over the course of the year to reinforce the point.
A key part of developing an effective wellness program at your company, Bruns said, is to fully understand the potential health risks in your employee population so you can create specific interventions to keep workers healthy. Then take action. Don’t wait until the risks turn into claims.
Dig into big data sources such as medical claims, pharmacy data, lab results, network utilization, and biometric results to help you gain an accurate picture of your employees’ biggest health risks and concerns. Then design programs to prevent your employees’ health problems from advancing.
“Identify early risk factors so we may support informed health decisions before they impact health costs,” Bruns said.
She called out hypertension, obesity, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease as some of the biggest health risks facing employees today.
Driving better engagement starts with getting a deep understanding of your employees and the biggest issues that they’re facing, whether related to their health, finances, or social life.
“It’s about segmenting the population and understanding them and giving them outreach and communication,” Madsen said. “A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t really work.”
One final note. If you purchased the customizable version of the Rally(R) platform, take advantage of it. The Rally platform has powerful communication capabilities. Let us put them to work to help you drive utilization of your programs, and bring down costs. Contact your account manager, who can help you get started.
Eric Mann heads up marketing efforts for our key partners. He has more than 20 years of technology and health care marketing experience, leading browser marketing for Netscape and product marketing for Oracle Health Science.
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