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May 25, 2021

Here’s What We Learned at Benefits Spark

Artemis Health

Recently, Artemis Health hosted over 300 HR leaders at Benefits Spark, our virtual conference focused on improving healthcare through benefits data analytics. Our customers joined us for a VIP training session on day 1, where our team walked through the platform and helped users get more familiar with the latest features and tools. Day 2 featured a wonderful array of speakers and panelists who shared their knowledge, insights, and predictions for the future of the health and benefits industry. 

We’ll share some key takeaways and interesting discussion points in this recap. 

Takeaway #1: Appropriate care is just as important as value-based care. 

Dr. Marty Makary, author of The Price We Pay, gave the fascinating keynote address at Benefits Spark. His thesis centered on the idea of appropriate, precision care as a way to achieve both cost efficiencies and better outcomes for patients. 

One example was for appendicitis, which is nearly always treated with emergency surgery in the United States. European nations often start appendicitis treatment with antibiotics, and most cases can be resolved without costly surgeries that could lead to complications or longer recovery times.

Dr. Makary also noted that a new generation of doctors are thinking more holistically about healthcare and wellness. This leads to our next key takeaway. 

Takeaway #2: Healthcare is shifting to a holistic focus. 

A panel discussion employee health and total well-being dove into the trend of holistic well-being in the benefits industry. Panelist Tony Yang, Project Policy Analyst at the University of California’s Student Health Insurance Program (UC SHIP), noted that shifting demographics among students mean a much broader focus on mental healthcare. “Your future employees are our current students, and they are much more likely to seek help for mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. Employers need to account for this as they enter the workforce.” 

Dr. Makary’s keynote also made this point clear. He pointed to physicians who are prescribing lifestyle changes for chronic conditions, like those directing patients to cooking classes for diabetes. Many of the most expensive conditions to treat are also those where lifestyle changes can impact patient outcomes and happiness. 

Takeaway #3: Measuring program effectiveness is really hard (but really important). 

Artemis customers from Travelers and Portico Benefit Services shared case studies of how they are using data to track the performance of their benefit programs. All agreed that it’s not easy to look beyond engagement metrics to find out if a program is actually delivering value for employers and plan participants. In one panel discussion, Laura Miolen, Benefits Analyst at Shaw, and Patrick Wendel, Product Analytics Manager at Portico, agreed that risk scores can be a valuable tool for tracking program performance. 

Risk scores can help benefits teams present data to company leadership in a way that they understand immediately. Wendel also noted that leading with outcomes and engagement, then going into costs, is a way to ensure that company leadership understands the value, not just the investment in these programs. 

Greg Nelson, Benefits Manager at Travelers, showed an impressive study on weight loss participation that he built with the Artemis Platform. His analysis showed results from both Omada and Real Appeal, which Travelers piloted in one office location before rolling out to the rest of the company. When it comes to measuring these programs, he has two words of advice: be patient. Health outcomes are slow to show up in the data, and you often need several years of metrics to be sure your efforts are paying off. 

Takeaway #4: Non-traditional data is not just nice to have; it’s a must for innovative employers. 

The role of non-traditional data is growing in the benefits industry, and employers are using it to get a more accurate picture of employee well-being. This point came to the forefront in a session with Boeing’s Tracy Yunker, Integration and Carrier Relations Benefits Specialist. She walked the attendees through Boeing’s approach to total absence management, and noted, “These are very complicated, disparate sources of data that are non-standard in nature. These complicated data sources don't fit neatly together, so we’re on a journey with Artemis to incorporate and understand these types of data.” 

Boeing is looking at absence cases, average days of absence, average hours, absence cause, leave type, benchmarks, and prospective risk to tackle total absence management and align on employee well-being and business needs. 

Takeaway #5: Employees and patients are ready to help improve healthcare, too. 

If there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that the U.S. healthcare system isn’t working. Patients are experiencing surprise billing, sometimes being sued for non-payment by the hospitals who helped them get treatment. Employers are in an even tougher spot, watching the cost of providing healthcare rise by double digit percentage points each year. It’s unsustainable, and employees are feeling it, too. 

Artemis customers Matt Daniels and Julie Guadino at Paychex pointed this out in their analysis of specialty Rx spending. When making a formulary change, they do personalized outreach to members who may be affected to explain the reason for the change, the potential cost savings for the company, and the possible reduction in out-of-pocket costs. For the most part, members are willing to make a change when they’re included in the reasoning. 

This point also came up during Dr. Makary’s address. He shared the stories of patients who were victims of balance billing, and noted that they had no opportunity to choose lower cost care. For the most part, patients are unable to compare costs or find out pricing before they seek care, with the notable exception being for cosmetic surgeries. Notably, the only area in healthcare where prices have gone down in the last 20 years is for Lasik, IVF, and cosmetic surgeries, where patients know what they’ll pay from the beginning. When price transparency is offered to patients for cosmetic procedures, they will make selections based on price and drive costs down. 


We hope everyone who joined us for Benefits Spark learned something new, shared their expertise, and found inspiration. Fixing healthcare is not an easy task to take on, but self-insured employers and benefits advisors find themselves doing just that in little ways each day. 

If you missed Benefits Spark this year, feel free to catch up on our sessions on-demand at benefitsspark.com

Want to learn more about the Artemis Platform? Watch our 2-minute demo video to get a behind-the-scenes look. 

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