Transformative Trends Shaping Health and Benefits Strategies Today

As the world adapts to the new digital age, is your benefits strategy ready to do the same?

Digital transformation means rethinking how an organization (or a particular population) can use technology, people and processes to achieve better outcomes, and requires a change of mindset as much as toolset. To help visualize how digitalization can transform your own health and benefits world, consider these four key questions:  

1. What exactly is transforming?

The COVID-19 pandemic brought us to the tipping point for digital transformation in healthcare, with the promise of greater efficiency and on-demand care. As we pivoted to telemedicine, we saw how technology can streamline clinical workflows, deliver convenient, safe care to patients, and even, when deployed effectively, help to lower costs. Importantly, clinical services that can be delivered virtually include condition-specific care, chronic condition management, and behavioral health – and increasing access to these services is a fundamental goal of employer-sponsored coverage.

We predict that intuitive, digital-first triage will become an essential element of the employee experience, helping them take advantage of all services and programs offered (not just healthcare). Embedded artificial intelligence (AI) allows employees to describe the issues they are dealing with and get the answers they’re looking for. Helping people understand and access their benefits continues to challenge employers, and AI is poised to become part of the solution.

Finally, the dramatic changes to work format and flexibility over the past 18 months has required employers to adopt digital tools to promote employee engagement and communicate the organizations broader health and benefits proposition. The ability to rapidly “test and learn” will be crucial to meeting the evolving needs of employees in the workplace of the future.

2. What might surprise us?

While we might have expected to see telemedicine utilization rates surge during the pandemic, the latest Mercer research Health on Demand suggest that 80% of consumers plan to continue to utilize virtual healthcare services at the same or higher rates than they did during the pandemic. Ultimately, virtual healthcare is here to stay.

Over the next several years, we predict we will see further integration of virtual care service. The digital healthcare industry is rapidly consolidating and many companies have gone public or have amassed large capital war chests. All are seeking to differentiate and broaden their value propositions through vertical integration, which allows them to capture more of the consumer health journey and end market. In time, these early vertical integrators could capture enough of the healthcare experience to disrupt the standard carrier/health system arrangements that we are used to purchasing as employer plan sponsors.

3. What are the biggest challenges and opportunities?

Today, with over a thousand health-tech startups looking to partner with employers, the abundance of choice can be overwhelming. Compelling member-facing solutions that can improve health outcomes exist now, but finding the best solutions for a population can be time consuming, and implementation can be a drain on scarce resources.

An aggregator partnership can solve for this challenge. Aggregators come in all shapes and sizes. Ideally, they can offer services such as consolidating the contracting system, streamlining the invoicing process, and integrating into a benefits administration program. With that, comes support for program implementation and ongoing maintenance and management. Different aggregators will offer varying levels of value, so it is important to partner with one that meets your company’s needs.

4. How will this impact the overall employee experience?

Employees can find it overwhelming to navigate this new, digital-first benefits environment. Partnering with a healthcare navigator is the key to making life easier for your employees and maximizing the value of your digital-first programs.

These platforms feature tools for navigating in-person care, such as providing cost and quality ratings for nearby providers. When seeking healthcare, employees want to know what their first step should be and feel confident that they will be guided to the care or program that both meets their needs and fits their lifestyle.

Designing an end-to-end benefits experience that delivers the right interaction at every stage is key. Tracking progress will help keep your strategy grounded as you build out a leading-edge digital health program. We recommend creating a scorecard for your digital ecosystem and your vendor partners. Key performance metrics include:

  • Employee experience metrics. Are you seeing expected engagement numbers and surfacing data to allow you to adjust communications strategies? How are employee satisfaction or NPS scores?
  • Population health outcomes. The measures will vary for each program, but collecting data on specific conditions is mission critical to understand if programs are improving health/cost outcomes.
  • Financial outcomes. Model and measure savings estimates to determine if programs are generating the desired ROI.
  • HR transformation outcomes. Was the implementation smooth? How would you score your account/delivery teams? The HR administrator experience should be considered part of the digitization process.

The future of work is here. In today’s post-pandemic market, businesses are being called upon to rapidly reinvent their strategies to meet the demands of this new landscape. Employees working remotely and across business locations must connect in new ways with their colleagues, the company’s mission, their benefits and resources, and supportive communities. HR professionals are struggling to provide day-to-day employee support while also thinking and acting strategically to propel the company’s larger growth goals. Designing for the time, team and partners to support a more agile approach is more critical than ever.

Heather Coughlin
by Heather Coughlin

Product Management, Mercer Marketplace 365+

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