There’s a seismic shift taking place in the healthcare industry in terms of consumer empowerment and the implications are significant for every major stakeholder, from benefits administrators and corporate HR professionals to medical and healthcare professionals.

The relationship between patient and medical provider is also evolving, given the deluge of healthcare-related data, devices and resources available not just for healthcare professionals, but health-conscious consumers. The clichéd advice to “take two aspirin and call me in the morning” was considered solid medical counsel a generation ago. Today that approach seems almost comically simple and short-sighted, if not downright irresponsible. Patients are increasingly acting as active, informed participants in their personal healthcare plan, empowering them to research and advocate for treatments in close collaboration with their physicians.

[image credit: Bloomberg]
[image credit: Bloomberg]

Similarly, employees are looking to better understand and maximize their company’s health plan benefits in order to manage and maintain their well-being. Speaking personally as a business owner who oversees my company’s healthcare plan, being able to offer my employees a comprehensive benefits package is critical to attracting and retaining good talent in today’s competitive marketplace. In fact, employee healthcare benefits such as medical, dental and vision is our second biggest expense after payroll and we want our team to utilize it.

See also: Demand for dental, vision benefits remains strong

There are services and tools emerging that provide tailored, personalized and medically-precise information for consumers and employees, providing new levels of insight and information that can encourage lifestyle change, more informed decision-making and better utilization of corporate benefits plans. For example:

The power of healthcare concierges
Patient advocates and personal healthcare concierges are helping consumers to better navigate and understand their company’s healthcare plans, maximize their employer’s benefits, and assist with finding providers and resources. According to a survey by Accolade, 43% of 1,536 employees polled say they have not used company-sponsored health programs in the past year. Additionally, 32% of consumers say they are uncomfortable with their personal knowledge and skills navigating their medical benefits and the healthcare system, according to Accolade, an on-demand healthcare concierge.

Organizations such as Accolade, which offer businesses and health plan providers a new level of personalized consumer engagement, can uncover inefficient healthcare utilization and its impact on costs and outcomes. Whether it’s an employee wondering about a benefits claim or if a particular provider accepts insurance, having a personal assistant through the healthcare process can both keep costs down for businesses and improve adoption of healthcare benefits for consumers.

See also: Mercer, Accolade collaborate on new healthcare advocacy platform

Data and devices empowering consumers beyond step-counting
Pedometers and Fitbit trackers are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to consumer health-focused devices. Many diagnostic and monitoring tools that were previously only available to medical professionals are now entering the consumer realm.

Take, for example, continuous glucose monitors, which allow users to continuously monitor and manage glucose levels, an essential part of diabetes management. Today the potential to self-monitor blood sugar levels, metabolism and other key metrics with a CGM device has applications for entirely new audiences beyond the diabetic community. Health-minded consumers could use these devices to monitor weight loss, athletic performance and general wellness, and to access real-time information that is medically precise and accurate. Companies such as Glucovation and Dexcom, among others, are making great advancements with consumer-targeted CGM devices.

See also: Smart glucose meter, virtual care drives down medical costs for diabetics

Implications for employers

As consumers continue becoming better informed and involved with managing and monitoring their health, we can expect a ripple effect to extend to the way they engage with their healthcare providers and their employers. Workplace benefits administrators should anticipate this and proactively work to educate employees about their plan offerings; they should also seek feedback on other programs of interest.

Additionally, as individuals continue to utilize applications and wearables to assess their well-being, it’s only natural that workplaces will follow suit. Some innovative companies are already offering employees the ability to consult with physicians through telemedicine offerings. This can make medical appointments faster and more convenient for employees, eliminating the need to leave the office mid-day for a quick consult.

It’s hard to find a downside to employees becoming more educated and involved with managing their own health and wellness.

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