State-of-the-art CRM system improves efficiency and engages members at the point of contact

PLYMOUTH MEETING, PA – Health Advocate, a leading provider of health advocacy, navigation and integrated benefits programs, announced today that it has been granted three U.S. patents for the technology behind its state-of-the art customer relationship management (CRM) and case tracking system, MemPHIS (Member Personal Health Information System). MemPHIS was purpose-built by Health Advocate to support its entire suite of fully integrated products and programs while optimizing their impact on health outcomes and medical costs.

“Since its introduction, MemPHIS has been a game changer for Health Advocate because it allows us to fully and seamlessly integrate our many member-facing and care management programs into one platform,” said Matt Yost, President of Health Advocate. “Winning these patents demonstrates the innovative structure and capabilities of MemPHIS while signifying its uniqueness in the health and benefits industry.”

Health and benefits programs are most successful when they blend integrated solutions and a high-tech/high-touch approach. MemPHIS has made this a reality by providing an integrated environment in which all user benefit information is assimilated and accessible at the time of an employee’s call or online contact.

The first granted patent covers the technology in MemPHIS that automatically opens a member’s health and benefits profile when they contact Health Advocate, enabling the Personal Health Advocate to immediately begin assisting the member in ways that are personalized to their medical history and any gaps in care that may need to be addressed. Advocates can track details of the member’s benefits, recent interactions with Health Advocate staff, and the status of any open cases, enabling them to efficiently respond to questions and proactively coach the member to take additional steps to improve their health.

The second and third patents apply to the transfer and conferencing capabilities within MemPHIS that allow member and case information to be automatically transferred to the receiving advocate. In Health Advocate’s collaborative environment, multiple Personal Health Advocates may participate in a case behind the scenes. These features allow our staff to share information seamlessly so that our clinical professionals and claims and benefits experts can all contribute to the case. These same capabilities will be featured in the upcoming chat capability being introduced later this year.

For more than 18 years, Health Advocate has provided integrated clinical and benefit solutions to companies and organizations seeking ways to improve medical outcomes, enhance employee well-being and save money on healthcare costs. As demonstrated by these three patents, MemPHIS improves efficiencies and greatly enhances the impact of the data Health Advocate collects. The system’s architecture ensures that all information is secure and available in one place, resulting in seamless service and an improved member experience.

About Health Advocate:

Health Advocate makes healthcare easier for over 12,000 organizations and their employees and members nationwide.

Our solutions leverage a unique combination of personalized, compassionate support from healthcare experts using powerful predictive data analytics and a proprietary technology platform including mobile solutions to provide clinical support and engage members in their health and well-being.

Our members enjoy a best-in-class, personalized concierge service that addresses nearly every clinical, administrative, wellness or behavioral health need. Our clients benefit from high levels of engagement, improved employee productivity and health, and reduced medical costs, while simultaneously simplifying and upgrading their health benefits offerings.

By Dr. Raffi Terzian | IndustryWeek

Through these best practices, manufacturing organizations can significantly change the reduction and mitigation of MSDs, improve health outcomes, reduce costs and increase productivity.

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are common among all Americans; however, employees in manufacturing settings are especially vulnerable to developing these injuries due to a number of factors specific to their occupation. Heavy lifting, bending, awkward postures, reaching overhead, pushing or pulling heavy loads, and repetitive tasks are all risk factors, which increases the chance of injury on the job. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 41 out of every 10,000 manufacturing workers experience a musculoskeletal issue or disorder.

A Growing Issue

These injuries have a significant impact on workplace productivity, absenteeism and healthcare costs. Across all industries, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration estimates that employers spend up to $20 billion each year on direct costs related to MSDs, with indirect costs due lost productivity and turnover far exceeding that amount. Work-related MSDs are among the most frequently reported causes of lost or restricted work time.

Further, a 2017 analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which explored trends in the cost of treating diseases, found that MSDs were ranked among the leading contributors to overall health services spending growth. As additional evidence of the impact of this issue, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that among injuries and illnesses causing days away from work in manufacturing, MSDs accounted for 34 percent of the total cases for all workers.

Whether employees develop back pain, arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, rotator cuff injuries, or any number of other musculoskeletal disorders, it is critical that organizations take proactive steps to both prevent and mitigate these issues to preserve the health of their workforce and their bottom line. By improving ergonomics in the workplace, manufacturers can address many of the root causes of MSDs among their employees.

Utilizing Ergonomics to Reduce Risk

While the risks inherent in manufacturing facilities are not easy to mitigate, there are measures organizations can take to help protect their employees from developing MSDs and helping those with injuries return to work faster. To improve ergonomics within manufacturing facilities, here are few strategies and best practices to consider:

  1. Go beyond the standard assessment. Ensure that any workplace assessment not only takes into account the unique factors of the facility’s environment, but also the hazards specific to each employee’s role. While some employees may be standing on their feet all day, others may be lifting heavy objects or working in awkward positions. This should not be completed in a vacuum; it is critical to involve employees in this process to address the issues affecting each individual’s health and productivity. A comprehensive approach to the initial assessment will lay the foundation for implementing effective ergonomic improvements that make a positive impact.
  2. Select appropriate safety equipment. Based on the assessment, introduce and provide employees with suitable safety equipment that encourages safe postures, aids lifting heavy items and protects them from common musculoskeletal injuries. This could include, but is not limited to:
    • Cushioned floor mats for those who stand for long periods
    • Ergonomically designed chairs for those who are seated
    • Carts or machinery to assist with moving heavy or cumbersome items
    • Knee pads and similar items to reduce pressure if kneeling
  3. Take varying heights into account. Three employees performing the same job may be three vastly different heights, meaning it is unlikely that all of them are comfortable at their fixed workstations. Instead, they may be stooping or reaching repeatedly throughout the day, increasing the risk of developing a musculoskeletal disorder. Implementing height adjustable equipment when possible can ensure employees are working in a safe, comfortable posture, preventing injury. This could include adding stools, adjustable tables and similar fixtures that can compensate for employees’ diverse needs.
  4. Offer opportunities to mix it up. Spending too much time in one position, either sitting or standing, can lead to potential injury. Height adjustable workstations can also benefit employees by enabling them to alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day. Additionally, ergonomic chairs, apparatus that allow for leaning, and specialized stools that can adjust to support sitting or standing, are all great options that enable employees to minimize time in one position. Providing variety can reduce stress-related injuries. 
  5. Consistently communicate and educate.  Raising awareness of the risks among employees and reminding them to adjust repetitive movements, take breaks, use protective equipment, and avoid hazards can have a big impact on the number of incidents leading to injuries. While initial training is important, continuing to communicate this information through discussions with supervisors, posters, and other internal communications channels will keep this important information top of mind for employees. Introducing ergonomic equipment and other best practices into the workplace will only be effective if employees consistently utilize them correctly, and frequent outreach is critical to achieving this.

Implementing these strategies not only prevents new injuries from occurring, but can also support employees with existing MSDs, improving turnaround time to return to work and mitigating the otherwise detrimental effects on productivity and costs.

The Role of HR

Human resources professionals play a very important role in addressing MSDs in the workplace, especially in manufacturing settings, with key responsibilities including:

  • Coordinating worksite training that educates employees on reducing risk
  • Leading ergonomic assessments by the company’s health and safety units or external stakeholders
  • Instituting policies to support employees with MSDs and appropriate return to work guidelines
  • Liaising with the company’s worker’s compensation and medical benefits carriers, as well as occupational health providers and other involved parties
  • Guiding employees to appropriate resources to help prevent individual risk or treat existing MSDs

Through these best practices and more, manufacturing organizations can significantly move the needle on the reduction and mitigation of MSDs, improving health outcomes, reducing costs and increasing productivity. Musculoskeletal disorders are a significant cost driver for employers in terms of both direct and indirect costs. Developing a comprehensive strategy to prevent and reduce MSDs and promoting workplace health is of benefit to employers and employees alike.

Creating a new normal with EAPs

By Alan Goforth | BenefitsPRO

Well-designed and implemented employee assistance plans can provide significant benefits to both workers and employers.

Workplace mental health issues often go unreported and unnoticed. The cost to employee health and employer productivity, however, can be every bit as substantial as that caused by physical illness.

“When a person is experiencing a personal issue outside of work, it often spills over into the workplace and influences other employees’ productivity and morale,” says Bert Alicea, executive vice president of EAP+Work/Life Services for Health Advocate in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania. The company offers a range of employee assistance programs (EAPs) and wellness benefits.

“For example, if an employee is experiencing substance abuse in their family and needs to make frequent phone calls during the workday to address the issue, the employees around them may also feel distracted, stressed or upset by the situation at hand,” he says.

Judi Braswell also sees a link between mental and physical health problems. Braswell is vice president, business development, for Behavioral Health Systems Inc. in Birmingham, Alabama, which administers a comprehensive suite of behavioral programs for employers nationwide.

“Research bears out the correlations between behavioral health issues and attendance, productivity and safety,” she says. “There is high comorbidity of behavioral health issues and chronic medical conditions, long recognized by employers as having an impact on workplace productivity and health care costs. A behavioral health program that can reduce non-compliance, provide education and actively engage members impacts not only the success and cost of those services but also physical health, prescription costs and workers compensation claims.”

Statistics show that a well-designed and implemented EAP can provide significant benefits to both workers and employers, says Rahul Mehra, M.D., CEO and chief physician executive for the National Center for Performance Health in Tampa.

“In larger, self-insured employer groups, a robust and responsive EAP can help save at least 30 percent in mental health claims, reduce emergency visits and reduce medical and pharmacy claims,” he says.

Bumps in the road

This leads to an obvious question: If mental health is such a pressing issue and EAPs are part of the solution, why are they often not as effective as they could be? Mehra has three general answers:

  • Stigma, which is improving but still faces huge hurdles.
  • Lack of awareness and education, such as health care literacy in mental health.
  • Access issues. Only 55 percent of practicing psychiatrists take private health insurance, which is the lowest number of any physician specialty.

The structure of many EAPs, which are embedded in medical plans, is another part of the problem, Alicea says. “While some people with mental health or substance abuse issues may utilize the service, those with temporary setbacks in life may not reach out for assistance. The medical benefit may be viewed as something to use only in the instance of a serious problem. If employees view the service as something that is only available for issues on the severe end of the spectrum, they may not reach out in the earlier stages when it is possible to address issues before they escalate.”

Braswell points out that before medical parity, most health plans covered mental health and substance abuse on a limited basis, often capping exposure at a set dollar amount for outpatient and number of days for inpatient care.

“EAPs began to reduce their cost, and competition resulted in very low cost for services on a capitated, per-employee, per-month fee,” she says. “That also resulted in little to no promotion or employee communications, limited network options or services provided by a limited number of providers employed by the EAP. As a result, they are very underutilized. Some companies felt the program’s low utilization meant they had no value in the workplace, with no return on investment from the capitated cost. While some companies continue with EAPs and accept this as just the way it is, others elected to not provide the services.”

The good news is that many employers are gaining a better understanding of the benefits of mental health EAPs.

“We are beginning to see a shift in employers recognizing the need for behavioral health services in the workplace beyond a poster with an 800 number,” Braswell says. “With mental health and substance abuse benefits now on the same cost-sharing structure as physical health benefits, and with arbitrary limits removed, employers are recognizing the need to provide services to assist in earlier problem identification, easy access to quality providers and workplace support, such as management consultation on problem employees, critical incident response and development of effective communication campaigns.”

Reducing the stigma

One of the biggest challenges for brokers and employers is the stigma often attached to engaging mental health services. Employees who would not think twice about seeing a doctor for an illness or injury often are reluctant to seek help with depression or a stressful situation at home. Alicea recommends shifting the focus to temporary setbacks.

“Position the EAP as an educational resource with mental health and substance abuse components without focusing entirely on mental health,” he says. “This can help employees feel more comfortable reaching out for help by not putting a label on what they may be experiencing.”

Just as with any other benefit, communication is essential. “EAP utilization is driven by communications that are relevant and at the point the member is experiencing difficulty,” Braswell says. “Management acceptance and their knowledge about EAPs is a major factor in utilization by employees. Supervisors who are supportive of seeking assistance and know how the process works help dispel the myth that we shouldn’t need assistance. Normalizing seeking assistance for personal problems by integrating it in wellness initiatives can be very helpful.”

Employers should position mental health benefits as part of an overall health and wellness plan.

“It is important to recognize that mental health issues do not happen in a silo,” Alicea says. “By integrating the EAP with other services, including advocacy and wellness, it not only makes managing benefits programs simpler for employers, but it can also help to identify issues much earlier.

“We’ve found that a large percentage of referrals to our EAP originate from a medical issue with underlying emotional concerns. While the member may not have originally reached out for EAP support, it was still possible to connect them to services that could help them holistically address the issue at hand.”

Role of brokers

Brokers can do several things to help their clients maximize their return on a mental health EAP.

Do the homework. “Brokers who have an understanding of the components of the EAP are better able to match employers to the program that can best meet their needs,” Braswell says. “It’s helpful for brokers to at least know how account management is handled; who takes the calls and makes the referrals; how much flexibility exists in plan design; what the capacity is for training and communication campaigns; if that is driven by the company or if the EAP works with company personnel to monitor events that may warrant education; and if utilization trends are considered.

“It’s also important to know if the company values the cost savings and flexibility that come from self-insuring or the budget consistency of a capitated program that must clearly define what is included in the plan and set a rate that will cover the cost of delivering all of the services that could be utilized, even if they are not.”

Demonstrate value. “If you have 5 percent utilization for EAP services, it is possible to achieve a 10-to-1 return on investment, which does not take into account services beyond clinical utilization, including manager consultations, on-site training and support, and more,” Alicea says. “Look at other aspects of the EAP and not solely clinical utilization in order to appreciate and understand the true value.”

Make it specific. “There are a number of EAP models,” Braswell says, “including assess and refer, where a treatment plan is developed and the member is referred for the treatment within their insurance or as private pay; those that allow members to use all sessions available before referral; those that offer access to a network; those that allow access only to their employed staff; programs that offer access only to mental health professionals; those that also include psychologists and psychiatrists; models that allow access only for non-clinical issues, such as grief, marital and family but not clinical issues such as eating disorders and manic depression; as well as variances in communication and training capabilities.”

Maximize access. “We have found that making it easier for people to access EAP resources from anywhere helps drive utilization,” Alicea says. “Employees want to know that when they access the EAP, it is confidential and their privacy is protected. For example, offering videos, self-assessment tools, webinars and more enables them to get the information they need from the comfort of home or anywhere, really. This also extends to how employees access live support, including chat functionality on EAP websites, to protect their privacy and make the experience easier.”

Be visible. Mehra and his team make a conscious effort to be the face of the EAP.

“We attend open enrollment meetings, do lunch-and-learns and educate HR staff of supervisory referrals,” he says. “We also provide responsive on-site crisis counseling related to traumatic events in the workplace. NCPH also meets with senior management. A lot of effort is spent in building trust with the leadership of the organization such that a culture is created that supports emotional well-being.”

“EAPs can be a valuable partner to HR, managers and employees and dependents they serve if they have a seat at the table and are a visible presence,” Braswell says.

Engaging employees in effective mental health EAPs is simply the right thing to do from a human perspective. It also is a smart choice for employers trying to boost productivity and brokers looking to expand their product portfolios.