Employers should ‘double down’ on tech and benefits data analytics. Most still aren’t
Utilizing data to understand which health benefits will best work for employees is key to staying ahead of the curve, but just 18% of benefits managers believe their organization has the right tools to implement these programs.
That’s according to a new survey by Artemis Health, which found that while 88% of benefits leaders say data is somewhat to extremely important in designing and managing an effective benefits program, some 53% percent say access to data is their biggest challenge.
“Benefits analytics is the key to feeling confident in building better benefits programs for their organizations and their employees,” says Grant Gordon, CEO and co-founder of Artemis Health.
Obtaining this data is often the biggest challenge to understanding what companies should be offering and if it’s in line with the demands of their workforce, the survey found.
“When you look at data, you can make a hypothesis about what you should do, and if it's working, you double down. If it's not working, then you change tactics,” Gordon says. “But because data is so hard to get here, many benefit leaders don't have that reflex or muscle memory.”
Gordon spoke with Employee Benefit News about the role of data analytics in benefits planning and how companies can best utilize these tools.
Why is data such a critical part of benefits planning?
The top cited source of information that benefits leaders are relying on to define their benefits is employee feedback, and you absolutely have to have that. But if you take a step back from that, the role that I view data having is an objective way to look at what's actually happening with your employees and understand what the big strategic issues are. You may miss a silent group of people who really need help or an emerging trend that you need to address that you could have caught with data.
Most employers said that they didn't have the proper tools to use data effectively. Why do you think that is?
Just getting your hands on the data is a big challenge. You have to go the vendors that hold it, you have to give them assurances and sign legal documentation that you're going to use it appropriately and that you’ll keep it private, and that can take a long time. And then once you get the data, there's no really good data infrastructure in this industry to share data securely. So there's some orchestration challenges in shipping data around. You might get wrong data or you might get incomplete data. And then once you get it, it can be full of errors that need to be corrected. So before you even get to the starting gate, there's a big challenge.
Then you get to the next problem, which is that the data is very complex, and there's a lot of subject matter expertise that you need to have to understand it. And so in order to make this useful to a benefits person who's maybe not a deep, deep expert on medical, clinical knowledge or pharmaceuticals or certain programs, you need to simplify it so they can get to the trends. We can’t expect them to look at raw claims data and make anything of it. There’s a tooling challenge in getting the data and really making sense of it.
How can benefits managers bridge that knowledge gap?
Make sure that people get the healthcare and the benefits that they need. We saw [in the survey] that if they had more confidence in the moves that they were making, perhaps with data, they could get more things that are relevant to their employees into their hands faster, but it's just not the case today. So something needs to be addressed.
Get a data platform. I think some of the players that have been around for awhile, they do a fantastic job at data management and all those other things. I would look at something like Artemis or one of the newer companies, just to get a jumpstart on data-driven decisions on what's important and what's working and what's not. A lot of these companies work with advisers like consultants or brokers and many of them have inner resources internally. There are people who know the data really well who can really help you get more value out of that. So I would encourage them to make sure that they're asking specifically about getting data support from some of those advisers.
What does the future look like when it comes to utilizing technology and data in the benefit space?
If you look at other departments like marketing or finance or sales, they're all using data as a matter of course. It's a fabric that they weave the rest of what they do. The future of data here is making it easy for benefit leaders to understand all of those things and how to do those things and do them every day. When you're deciding what your major strategic initiatives should be for the year, being able to have that on tap in the data and actually being able to rely on that, and once you roll out a program or make a benefit change, measuring the impact of that.