By Valerie Bolden-Barrett | HRDive
Employers can give workers anniversary lunches, recognition ceremonies, holiday parties and employee picnics. But, increasingly, workers stick around longest with an employer that cares about their physical and emotional well-being and offers tools that give them 24-hour access to healthcare providers and medical information.
The array of medical services is virtually at employees’ finger tips and expanding with nearly every technological advancement. Employees can access healthcare services by phone, mobile apps, websites and other virtual “hubs,” says Marcia Otto, vice president of Product Strategy at West’s Health Advocate Solutions.
Otto says these programs can include, but are not limited to:
- Second opinions
- Nurses’ support
- Medical-decision support
- Disease management
- Employee assistance and behavioral health
- Prenatal/maternal support
- Sleep programs and more
Otto notes that employees may prefer different communications channels for accessing these services depending on the circumstances. One employee might want to call a nurse for help managing a chronic condition, but prefer an app for wellness-program tracking.
Access to these services doesn’t end here. Otto says there’s a trend brewing toward developing an all-in-one benefits hub, or one-stop shop, where employees can access all benefits services using one phone number or app.
Advantages of 24/7 access
Thanks to automation, self-service is no longer the oddity it once was. Home improvement stores and big supermarket chains offer self-service aisles to give customers the option – and the control – of checking out their own merchandise. Employees with 24/7 access to their healthcare benefits have the same kind of control and power.
Michael Hough, EVP general manager and founder of Advanced Medical, an HR service for Fortune 100 and 500 companies, says his company gives its customers’ employees access to physician case managers and other professionals in real time. If workers ask for a medical doctor, he says they can get one within two hours.
Hough makes a distinction between phone access, which connects employees with a live healthcare provider who can prescribe an antibiotic or conduct a short in-take process, versus an app, which he says provides largely automated information. Apps are for finding a health plan or providers, he adds, whereas a phone call connects people with a telemedicine service.
“We help people who struggle with complicated health issues,” says Hough. “People are overwhelmed in a complicated health system. They might understand a broken bone, but a pancreatic disorder is more complex.”
Employees also are taking more responsibility for their healthcare.
“They want to better manage healthcare costs, gain a better understanding of their benefits and how to use them, and get and stay healthy,” says Otto. By being able to access their health and benefits services wherever they are and by the way they prefer, whether by phone or app, employees can easily connect with helpful resources to meet these goals, she adds.
Less burden and lower costs for HR
According to Otto, high-tech touch services allow employers to cross-promote benefits to improve employee engagement and reduce workers’ frustration with accessing information.
A high-tech benefits hub requires far fewer administrative tasks and vendors than traditional benefits administration, says Otto. A Health Advocate study found that streamlining benefits can unburden the HR department and cut three to five vendors from its network.
Besides lifting HR’s overload, Otto says that high-tech touch benefits boost employee engagement and cut medical costs in the process. Employers’ ROI hinges on the quality of healthcare and cost-savings that these services provide.
Getting employee buy-in to high-tech touch benefits, or to any new program, can be challenging. Hough says that buy-in is based on the trust employees have with their employers, and that long-term workers are more likely to support and use these benefits.
Otto says incentives can encourage employee buy-in.
“Sometimes the biggest hurdle is the initial engagement in a new program or model,” she says. “There is evidence that both the carrot and stick approaches work to engage employees in these programs.”
When asked about the cost and implementation concerns of offering high-tech touch benefits, Hough says Advanced Medical’s clients are large companies that want to save money, and part of the savings is getting employees the best quality care.
On implementing these services, Otto says many vendors have experience in streamlining the process and know how to work with others in setting up the service to make it as smooth for employers as possible.
Otto and Hough recognize that without technology, benefits would remain a costly, burdensome function for HR. But they agree that the human element is critical in high-tech touch services. Balancing emerging technology with personalized, human support is critical.