As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, technology is reshaping many aspects of life, including creating more convenient ways for people to use their health care benefits.
Employers that focus on technology as a way of simplifying employee access to health care may find it increases worker satisfaction and retention. There may also be cost savings — for the employees and the organization.
Dr. Donna O’Shea, chief medical officer of population health at UnitedHealthcare, offers these tips to employers looking for ways to support the well-being of their employees by making the most of technology:
1. Make virtual care a priority
Many employees want the option of using virtual care, also known as telehealth. In fact, some plans are now built around virtual care, offering visits with medical and behavioral health care providers and 24/7 access to other care professionals via a smartphone, tablet or computer.
For example, UnitedHealthcare NavigateNOW is a virtual-first plan that enables members to conveniently connect to their personalized care team via an app. NavigateNOW uses a coordinated-care model that begins virtually and connects to in-person support when necessary.
This virtual-first plan is designed to deliver whole-person care with medical, behavioral and pharmaceutical services offered through a single entry point and with a 15% reduction in premiums.
2. Create access to fitness incentives
Giving employees resources to become healthier and earn incentives for doing so can be a win-win. To that end, NavigateNOW members also have access to a well-being program that lets them earn more than $1,000 per year by using a wearable device to track daily activity targets.
Other health plans offer similar wellness programs with rewards for incorporating healthy activities, such as logging daily steps or going to the gym regularly. Some plans include programs for achieving certain health goals, such as ending nicotine use, losing weight or lowering cholesterol.
To make these resources even more useful, some health plans include, at no additional cost, year-long access to the Peloton App and its thousands live and on-demand classes for at-home workouts.
With the popularity of at-home fitness surging amid the persistent spread of COVID-19, digital fitness apps may help people more conveniently integrate exercise into daily routines.
3. Adopt remote-patient monitoring
Remote-patient monitoring programs, also called digital therapeutics, are becoming an increasingly sophisticated and convenient way to help people stay focused on their health goals, in part by improving data sharing with health care professionals. The programs vary but generally integrate wearable devices, artificial intelligence and virtual care to help patients and their health teams make treatment decisions based on personal, real-time data.
For example, for people with type 2 diabetes, some plans now include access to a continuous glucose monitor, an activity tracker and one-on-one coaching for help with reducing spikes in blood sugar levels or even achieving remission.
Resources like these may help prevent disease complications and the need for emergency or hospital care to deal with them.
4. Use big data to reveal opportunities
Data is only helpful if you can make sense of it and use what’s revealed to address issues. Increasingly, employers have access to online resources to help do this.
The more insight available about a company’s overall health data — things like aggregate medical, prescription and specialty claims, demographics, clinical and well-being information — the easier it may be to create programs that engage employees, improve health outcomes and mitigate expenses.
Additionally, predictive analytics can now address social barriers to health, such as access to nutritious food and affordable housing. With research suggesting these types of social determinants impact up to 80% of a person’s health, some employers are investing in programs that use data to proactively identify employees who may be dealing with social issues, so they can be connected to low- or no-cost community resources for support.
5. Consider bundling benefits
In a UnitedHealthcare survey, more than 80% of respondents said it’s important to have access to specialty benefits, such as vision, dental, hearing or accident protection. By bundling these benefits with medical coverage, it may be possible for employers to create a simpler experience for employees while also trimming health care costs.
Importantly, employers who combine medical coverage with specialty benefits through a single health care company may be able to use data to help improve health outcomes, flag gaps in care and reduce costs.1 Some bundle-and-save programs enable employers to save 4% on medical premiums through improved health outcomes and operational simplification.
Employers are in a unique position to promote current and emerging technologies to help simplify the health care experience for their employees, support their well-being and potentially reduce costs for everyone.
For more information, visit uhc.com.
1 Review of the impact of the UnitedHealthcare integrated approach on Key and National Account customers, 2018