doctor phone

Michael Yang is Managing Director, Comcast Ventures.

[Editor’s note: Michael Yang and Keas CEO Josh Stevens will be debating the topic of educating employees on health benefits at HealthBeat 2013 next week. See Josh Stevens’ story published yesterday: “Getting American employees online is key for health care — and reducing health costs.”]

Despite some recent news that healthcare spending may be slowing down, it continues to increase each year, and traditional financial sponsors of healthcare in the U.S. — be it the government, the health plan, or the employer — are increasingly adopting a more “consumerist” mindset when it comes to healthcare.  This is especially prevalent in the employer market, which continues to underwrite approximately half of Americans’ healthcare costs.

So what have the leading employers in our country been doing about it? From pushing patient portals rich with online content, to offering decision-support tools for provider selection and procedure price transparency, to leveraging game dynamics and social networking techniques for corporate wellness programs, HR benefits teams have introduced numerous waves of innovation targeted at making employees more sophisticated consumers of healthcare. The central hypothesis is that if you know what you are consuming and how it affects you financially, you will better manage your utilization of healthcare. But is it working?

Health tech is no different than any other new innovation – just because you build it, does not mean they will come. No one remembers the portal’s URL address; no one remembers their log-in for their provider search tool; and no one cares about the leaderboard for weight loss. We are losing the war on patient engagement as these solutions on a standalone basis are not enough. If the patient or employee will not engage, then there is little hope that information is exchanged, proper guidance is given, and appropriate actions are taken. So the real question is, how do you encourage employee engagement?

True engagement can only be achieved through the helping hand of an emerging class of players in the health advocacy, health assistant, and health navigator space. Our Byzantine healthcare system is so complicated that most of us are effectively healthcare illiterate. “Do-it-yourself” is arguably easier with a home remodel than a chronic condition in our healthcare system. As such, it is falling on the shoulders of companies like Accolade, Health Advocate, and Quantum Health that are offered as an employee benefit to assist employees through their healthcare journey. Professionally trained health coaches and assistants are accessible to employees by phone, email, chat and even sometimes on-site, and can help problem-solve a wide range of topics from administrative to clinical, all with the objective of helping the employee understand their options and having all the relevant information in front of them to take the right next step. A patient portal, a wellness program, or a price transparency tool is so much more powerful when an employee can talk through what they’re seeing with a health assistant (or better yet, have their health advocate do it for them).

Early results are in and engagement is high, patients are satisfied and healthcare costs can be managed. Perhaps this is the formula for the future. Engaged employees can equal smarter patients, which in turn can be healthier employees, but you have to help them become engaged.

To learn more, come hear Meghan Kelly of VentureBeat moderate a fireside chat with Michael Yang and Josh Stevens of Keas at HealthBeat 2013’s Healthy Employees=Smarter Patients.

Disclosure: Comcast Ventures is an investor in Accolade.

Doctor image
via Shutterstock