In a gadget-driven world that has nearly erased any boundary line between work and life, there’s an app for just about anything. The employee benefits landscape is no exception.

Mobile applications are putting more benefits information in the palms of employees’ hands as never before, but what are some of the most noteworthy ones on the market? A panel discussion at the EBN-produced 25th annual Benefits Forum & Expo Sept. 9-11 in Phoenix, Ariz., “The Best Mobile Apps for Benefits,” will help industry practitioners explore their options.

The power of mobile apps is that they represent “a compelling way to connect healthy habits into the everyday life of consumers, allowing them to track, participate and monitor their activities on the go and at their convenience,” explains one of the panelists, Kyle Rolfing, founder and president of Redbrick Health, a provider of consumer health engagement technology.

He says research shows that to effectively spur behavior change, timely triggers or prompts are needed to create a desired call to action for the individual. The ideal solution is through the use of cell phone text messaging known as “short message service,” e-mail or app alerts that are almost always readily available to the consumers. Indeed, Nielsen estimates that 40% of mobile consumers in the U.S. who are 18 or older now have a smartphone.

“Facebook, Groupon and other general consumer sites have mastered this,” he notes. “We believe the health industry can replicate this process to facilitate sustained healthy habits by simplifying and making the user experience more convenient.”

Adds Jamie Spriggs, who also will be speaking at the workshop: “Today’s health care user is more sophisticated, more technologically savvy and a better consumer.” The founder and president of ConnectYourCare, which administers consumer-directed health care accounts, says that “in order to compete successfully, health care organizations need to provide the same level of access and convenience as retailers.”

His company has developed an app that allows employees with flexible spending accounts, health savings accounts, health reimbursement arrangements and other tax-advantaged accounts to view account balances and claims, as well as submit new claims and upload receipts. In addition, users can opt into an alert service that immediately informs them whether additional documentation is required when purchasing items with a health care payment card.

Spriggs notes that while research suggests working Americans are generally pleased with their primary care physician medical treatment, many gripe about the financial aspect associated with their health care. This, of course, is where a mobile app can be deployed to help raise their level of satisfaction.

Dan Pollard, Ph.D., founder and CEO of myDrugCosts, believes that information technology can go a long way toward reducing the more than $95 billion in wasted prescription drug costs each year associated with poor choices on part of the health care consumer.

The chief culprit: inadequate information on cost and purchase options when prescriptions are written.  By the time patients are ready to pay for their prescription at the pharmacy counter, he fears it’s too late to make a change without them incurring an additional expense.

“A small amount of information, but applied at the right time with the right amount of information, can have a huge impact on prescription drug costs,” he told attendees of Health Data Initiative’s recent “Health Datapalooza” forum.

His company, which operates a cloud-based platform featuring prescription drug cost transparency and comparison tools, seeks to simplify and improve purchasing decisions for consumers. How so? By extrapolating data from the federal National Library of Medicine and U.S. Food and Drug Administration, along with specific health plan data from employers and payers as well as market data from pharmacies and drug brand manufacturers.

Rolfing cautions that mobile apps or any technology are not a panacea, but when used properly, they can help drive “a well-executed health and wellness program.”

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Bruce Shutan, a former EBN managing editor, is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.

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