The Holistic Perspective

Jeff Silver | American Healthcare Leader

From financial impact to wellness, Pam Mortenson shares how she helps Health Advocate develop customized solutions that address customers’ goals

For decades, West Corporation has been a leading technology-enabled company that connects people all around the world and makes companies more efficient. It provides innovative solutions to companies ranging from telecommunications and entertainment providers to financial services firms. But in 2014, a new opportunity arose when the company acquired Health Advocate, a national health concierge and benefits solutions company. The acquisition merged West’s communication technologies with Health Advocate’s expertise at supporting employer health benefits. As a result, Health Advocate now offers even more valuable insights and services to employers and their employees who face ongoing health- and benefits-related challenges.

“We offer an integrated approach that addresses the many different factors impacting claims costs and overall employee health,” explains Pam Mortenson, Health Advocate’s executive vice president, product strategy. “Many start-up companies in the wellness space only focus on solving one isolated area and miss the holistic perspective that’s needed to produce meaningful results.”

Mortenson says that Health Advocate’s clients and members face four main challenges. First, employees encounter risks associated with high-deductible health plans. Second, companies struggle to increase user engagement with their health programs at the same time that they want to see quick returns on their investments. Simultaneously, their claims costs continue to rise without a clear understanding as to the reasons why. And finally, employers often offer so many different programs that employees may not realize what is available or how separate services are all connected.

Health Advocate addresses these issues by simplifying and clarifying healthcare for its members. A consultative approach is used to garner information from members through health risk-assessment questionnaires and, in some cases, biometric screenings. Claims data analysis is also used to help spot gaps in care, such as missed physicals or inconsistent diabetes care management, as well as pinpoint sources of care costs and identify chronic conditions that may need to be addressed.

“We work with our clients to understand their goals and issues, and then we recommend services and programs that will help meet the needs of the employee population,” Mortenson says. “Otherwise, you’re throwing a lot of darts and hoping one or two of them actually hit something that produces the value you’re looking for.”

Once those issues and priorities have been assessed, Health Advocate helps employers connect appropriate programs and services to the right employees. This is accomplished through both print and digital communications, as well as person-to-person interactions. Employees can call a single number that connects them with a Personal Health Advocate. From this single point of contact, they can then get answers to questions about their health plan options or referrals for second opinions, among other types of assistance.

In addition to these interactions, personalized digital programs have also proven to be effective. The Smart Goals program, which recently completed its pilot phase, sends text messages about personal goals, such as daily diet and exercise reminders. The results have been staggering, as a reported 95 percent of participants completed the pilot program, 68 percent agreed to continue their participation, and a majority felt that the program helped them achieve their health goals.

In the spring of 2017, a major upgrade of Health Advocate’s member portal and mobile app was also rolled out. Improvements increased the ease of use as well as the value of the available information. Although available services vary by employer, members can find health plan information, health and wellness advice, health procedure cost estimates, information about various incentive programs and fitness challenges, and tools to help track their levels of participation in the programs.

Since the launch, member visits to the online portal increased by roughly 55 percent, and first-time downloads of the mobile app jumped by 129 percent. There have also been more than two million actions tracked indicating that members took specific steps to improve their health.

“The combination of so much information developed for specific users who can access it through so many different channels is what makes our approach successful,” Mortenson explains. “Having digital solutions in addition to live coaches and nurses enables us to address everyone’s preferences and a variety of needs.”

Mortenson often focuses with her clients on transitioning from traditional wellness programs that highlight physical fitness to well-being initiatives that emphasize a broader view of holistic health. In addition to physical conditioning and healthy eating, for example, the well-being approach could include support and advice for chronic illnesses, education on planning for retirement, guidance on finding a physician, and referrals for substance abuse.

“Overall physical fitness is obviously important, but we have to be sure to meet the needs of the entire person,” Mortenson says. “That means going beyond traditional exercise and medical visits.”

Mortenson speaks from experience. As an avid runner, she rediscovered the sport when her late husband was fighting a terminal illness. In addition to strengthening her cardiovascular system, running relieved some of her stress and gave her extra energy to care for him and her family.

“Running was a huge part of how I got through a very difficult time in my life,” Mortenson says. “I wouldn’t have been able to care for my husband the way I did without the benefits I got from taking care of myself by getting out on the road every morning.”

As a firm believer in a healthy lifestyle, she welcomes the opportunity to deliver that message to Health Advocate’s customers as often as possible.