Healthcare Decision Support Tools – Sizzle vs Substance

While there is little debate within the employee benefits industry as to whether employees need to be educated about their benefit program, there is a great chasm of differing opinions as to how an employee should be taught the ins/outs of their benefits. Many argue it must be done in person, while others want to leverage the latest technology has to offer with respect to on-line decision support tools. Not surprisingly, given my profession and experiences, I lean towards the latter. However, I am not alone – the millennials want/need the latest, greatest technology to help them make informed decisions. Before you dismiss their way of thinking, remember that they are 80,000,000 strong and flooding the workplace. The millennials expect to leverage technology to learn — it is what they have done from middle school through college. Throughout their lives, they have looked to technology to help them solve problems, whether it is shopping for a car, a smartphone, or are looking for reviews on the latest iPhone. Based on the most recent MetLife Benefits Trend Survey (2012), there is little discernible generational difference in how each generation views benefits as a reason to stay with an employer. Across generations, employees cite benefits as an important reason to stay with an employer (58%). However, benefits are seen by younger employees as more of a differentiator as a reason to select a new job. So, it behooves the employer to make their benefit program both compelling and easy to understand and on-line decision support tools are a critical part of this education process. Keep in mind; you only get one chance to make a first impression. Unfortunately, while the time is ripe for decision support tools to deliver immense value (escalating costs, shifting cost burdens, more choices), many benefits administration providers don’t seem to be keeping up. A greater number of plan sponsors than ever are providing decision support tools for plan participants, although satisfaction with the tools has decreased, according to a recent survey of annual enrollment from Towers Watson. Nearly six in ten plan sponsors (57%) provided decision support tools for participants; however, the intended beneficiaries (employees) are becoming less satisfied with the quality of the tools, most notably for estimating life insurance needs and helping employees understand new plan features. As an employer’s competition for top talent continues to escalate, they must underscore the value of the benefits they are offering. Though benefit plans are often complex and difficult to understand, providing employees with the resources they need to make benefits decisions frees employers from time spent answering benefit-related questions and helps them shine a light on the value of their benefit program. Rich and compelling decision support tools must be leveraged with today’s workforce, yet they must also carefully walk the line between sizzle and substance. A slick-looking avatar that doesn’t educate is about as useful as a screen on a submarine. Employees need substance to help them make informed health and wealth decisions. They must have access to comprehensive content and tools that include dynamic plan comparisons (not just an uploaded .pdf), medical calculators, medical selection tours, physician and hospital quality data, high deductible plan information, and consumer-driven health care content. With the right tools, individuals will make objective, cost-effective decisions about the healthcare coverage they purchase, the physicians they visit, the hospitals and medications they use, and the care they consume – and their employer can take the credit and accolades. Without the right tools, an employee may simply find another employer to guide them through the healthcare maze more effectively.

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