| May 15 2015

Make the Shift Now to More Strategic Health Communication

David Slavney
Partner, Communications Consulting, Career

After two years focused on complying with the Affordable Care Act (ACA), employers now have time to think strategically about communication. Much has been spent to notify employee populations about the impact of reform on plan designs and adapting administration to comply with ACA reporting requirements. Little time was left to communicate beyond this basic landscape.

Employers can use 2015 and 2016 to remind employees about the value of their health benefits package in combination with health management programs. Promotion and marketing efforts should emphasize the comprehensive nature of an employer’s offerings, broaden the focus beyond annual enrollment, highlight a culture of health or corporate caring, and adopt a longer-term view of health plan and financial management. The conversation should be about “health” not just physical but also financial, emotional, and social.

It is a chance to refresh the white board with more meaningful communication about the purpose, value, and objectives of employer-provided health benefits amid a transformation in the health care industry. Just consider the explosion of innovative technologies including wearable devices that encourage a regular focus on health via setting and tracking health goals. There are thousands of apps to help manage one’s health, including about 80 different kinds of wearable devices. The options are both overwhelming and exciting. The time is right to integrate these digital tools and resources in a best-in-class vendor selection so both employers and employees benefit from a wave of innovation in health care.

Another innovation has organizations rethinking the way employees interact with the health care system by promoting a concierge model. Using a variety of vendors, this approach represents a significant departure from leaving employees on their own to navigate the complex health marketplace. Instead, an employee or family member interacts with one contact to handle a range of needs from looking for a provider, to challenging a claim, or to understanding treatment options.

With more consumer health care choices, this is the time to re-focus on the simplicity of key objectives and value of employer-provided health care coverage. Any such effort entails a daily commitment to promoting healthy behaviors as part of a 24/7 health care strategy in contrast to one that focuses on the once-a-year health plan selection. This aligns with technology and employee service trends that simplify and connect various health interactions into a more holistic experience.

Another piece of this more holistic approach involves raising the level of employee understanding about ways to use their investment in health benefits. The shift to health savings accounts (HSAs), as employees shoulder more responsibility for financing their health care needs, changes how we communicate around total health and wealth. Employees have a demonstrable interest and potential return (and loss) from managing their health and costs during the long term.

A communication strategy established to address the totality of each employee’s experience is what’s important for 2015. The strategy needs to equip people to be better consumers in a rapidly changing digital world — from shopping for appropriate coverage in the emerging online marketplace to improving self-care.

The employer health care experience needs to adapt to leverage the opportunities now available — the opportunities to simplify the experience reduce confusion and help employees manage costs and care. Maximizing understanding about value and ensuring the dollars spent really improve and sustain employee health can only pay broad dividends in this rapidly changing and promising marketplace.

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