Many Texans have selected new health benefit plans, and a great number of those plans are offered by their employer. That presents a great opportunity for employers to play a key role in helping employees improve their health, which in turn could lead to reduced healthcare costs.
According to a recent study, promoting employee engagement—things that employers can do to help people improve their own health—makes a bigger impact on health outcomes than previously thought.
An important step for employers in developing a successful health strategy for their workforce is to better understand the vast amount of information available from claims data and patient reports, as well as laboratory and pharmacy data to find gaps in care or quality. Strategies should use available data and patient preferences, and should be refined as that data changes.
The information can help employees make better treatment decisions by comparing provider quality and cost. For example, employees might receive targeted messages by phone, mail, text, or other means based on demographics, lifestyle, and other data, with important reminders about preventive care or medications.
The goal is to support employees through their treatment decision-making process, providing them important information as they discuss treatment options with their care providers.
Employees who are given actionable information tailored to their individual needs are encouraged to take steps to improve their health. UnitedHealthcare’s own employee-engagement strategies and incentives have achieved improved workforce health, saving the company $107 million in healthcare costs within the first 36 months.
An effective health strategy also includes tools and programs that help employees act on the health information they receive. Physician-scoring programs help employees find quality care providers, and online healthcare cost estimators can detail the full costs of a treatment path or care provider.
Health promotion and disease prevention initiatives, such as weight management or food-choice programs, offer significant improvements in health-related quality of life. Other tools, like video-on-demand and video game consoles, are being used to change health-related behavior.
Employer-sponsored financial incentives also can help engage employees toward better health. At UnitedHealthcare, for example, employees are rewarded with premium reductions after taking specific health-related steps. These actions encourage participation in the rewards program and often yield improvements in health measures, including large increases in wellness visits and office-based screenings.
Employers are uniquely positioned to better utilize data and information to identify health and wellness opportunities for their employees, rewarding healthy behavior, and implementing employee-engagement strategies more broadly and effectively. These efforts can have a profound impact on employee health, help achieve wide-scale cost reductions and realize the promise of a truly activated, engaged and empowered workforce.
Tom Quirk is CEO of UnitedHealthcare of Texas.