Three Ways to Help Employees Be Their Own Health Advocates

Here’s an employee advocating for her own health: Before a medical appointment, she checks her health insurance to make sure the visit is covered. During the visit, she takes notes. Before the doctor writes the prescription, she asks, “Are there any generics?”

If more people had taken just that last step to use generic medications, consumers and employers could have possibly saved $25 billion -- yes, that’s billion with a B -- in out-of-pocket expenses between 2010 and 2012, the Journal of Internal Medicine reported in June 2016.

Persuading employees to be their own health advocates is a win-win-win for the employees’ health, their productivity, and the employer’s health care costs. Here are three steps to turn your employees into advocates for their own health:

  1. Tell employees they’re protecting themselves.

The physician may take the lead in providing medical services, but healthcare is ultimately a team sport. Because of the high potential for medical errors, patients are best positioned to play offense by asking a lot of questions and clarifying communications by all parties involved.

Medical errors may lead to serious or fatal events in 80,000 to 160,000 people per year, according to an April 2013 review of 25 years of medical malpractice claims by researchers at Johns Hopkins University. The most common errors are missed, incorrect, or delayed diagnoses.

The study underscores the importance of patients speaking up. Furthermore, seeking a second opinion results in revised diagnoses in 39% of cases, according to Advance Medical, a firm that helps patients obtain expert medical opinions.

  1. Point your employees to technology.

The palette of digital tools to empower employees to be their own health advocates is growing. Here are two:


Mobile health apps

About 30% of employers are encouraging the use of mobile health apps to help employees become more proactive about their health, according to Mercer’s 2015 National Survey of Employer Sponsored Health Plans. For those with chronic conditions, some apps could save up to $3,000 per patient each year, reported Health IT Outcomes in September 2014.

Cost transparency tools

These tools pull back the curtain on healthcare pricing by comparing the price of specific procedures across providers in a given market. Given the wide range of prices charged for even common diagnostic services like xrays and MRIs, finding a lower-cost provider can save employees substantial out-of-pocket cost.

  1. Offer a “script.”

Many patients are murky about what to ask their doctors. However, questions like “What are all of my options?” can trigger alternatives that save money and have better outcomes.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality lists 10 questions that can spark discussions between employees and their physicians. Consumer Reports even offers videos and brochures to help patients speak up about unnecessary tests and treatments.

Resources like these can teach your employees that self-advocacy is not only encouraged, but it’s also the key to value in healthcare -- managing cost while getting the best care.

Peter Bingaman
by Peter Bingaman

Partner, Mercer

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