The overwhelming majority of Americans don’t understand basic health care concepts. In a Carnegie Mellon research survey, only 14% of consumers adequately understood four of the most common terms in health care: copays, co-insurance, deductible and out-of-pocket maximum, “yet those are the very dimensions that people are making very important, financially meaningful benefits decisions [about], says Doug Ghertner, CEO of Change Healthcare.

As employers shift toward high-deductible health plan designs, they need to explain these benefits clearly so employees now holding the purse strings can become savvy health care consumers. In this day and age, technology allows employers to personalize benefits communication and reach an even wider swath of their population.

“Tech is an enabler, it allows us to scale messaging,” says Arielle Bogorad, director of worldwide benefits and wellness at Cerner. The health care information technology company uses innovative technology outreach – personalized in ways not previously available -- with its 9,000 employees based in Kansas City.

Cerner primarily uses engagement alerts that target relevant groups for colonoscopies, mammograms, and other common and recurring services. It also uses the system to try to improve medication adherence in a population, and support preventive or wellness initiatives. These “Ways to Save” alerts concretely show employees how they can save money on health care based on their care usage and the benefit plan’s offerings. The messages also can show participants the top five providers in their area and what price range they offer for services.

“We believe that you create a consumer by educating them about variability and cost and the fact that they can do something about it on the common and recurring things,” says Ghertner of the Change Healthcare program it implemented for Cerner. "Cost is very tangible," he adds, and provides a good opportunity to engage employees.

So far, 80% of Cerner associates have received a “Ways to Save" alert, and of those, 66% of the push notifications were acted on, allowing employees to save money on a prescription drug or dental service, for example. On average, the company has saved $516 per purchaser per year.

Further, participants are four times more likely to shop around for health care when they read these alerts, according to Change Healthcare, meaning they are more likely than those who didn’t receive alerts to proactively research prices and service details for bigger ticket items through the vendor’s tool at a later date.

Real-time feedback

Because the tailored messaging gives participants personalized information, the alerts highlight meaningful savings that are relevant for that individual. Through the alerts, Cerner improved first-time utilization at its onsite pharmacy by 31%, and 22% of onsite clinic users took advantage of the benefit for the first time. 

“The tech helps to personalize [the message] and give people a platform to interact with their health and wellness, which wasn’t possible before," says Bogorad. 

Employees can give real-time feedback on the program and other benefits through the company’s social page, which “allows us to continually make changes and augment the program to better serve the needs of our associates," says Bogorad.

Being a health care technology company, Cerner constantly thinks “about how to leverage tech to personalize your journey and help you become a health care consumer. That may differentiate us from other employers in the benefits space because it aligns with our DNA as a company,” Bogorad says. “We think of ourselves as a living lab, so we’re given the latitude to test new technologies and ideas. Our philosophy is ‘if you’re going to fail, fail fast,’ so we’re a very a dynamic environment.”

Health care is personal

Cerner even built new state-of-the-art fitness centers with the most technologically advanced gym equipment on the market at two of its locations. A fitness coach creates a personalized workout for the employee and inputs the routine on a key. The individual simply inserts the key into the equipment and their tailored gym training guides them through each workout. Coaches can track the member’s workout and send alerts if they haven’t been to the gym recently or aren’t moving as fast as the last session.

“We believe that health care is personal, but it can sometimes take a lot of manpower to make it personal, so we leverage tech to help make it personal," says Bogorad.

Ghertner believes companies will embrace more personalization through technology in the future.

“I think there will continue to be this trend towards consumerism, and not just on the financial dimension, but in how we determine the key decision points that matter to the individual and how we craft a user experience that allows someone to tailor their purchase to those specific attributes,” he says.

And as consumers continue to make more educated benefits and health decisions, technology will only play a larger role in employers’ outreach campaigns, enabling them to reach more people and tailor the information to each individual’s needs and lifestyle.

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