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Artemis Health and World at Work recently collaborated on a webinar focused on new trends in employee benefits. Our panel of industry leaders discussed the COVID-19 pandemic, how employers’ motivations are shifting, and how employees can get the most from their employee benefits.
The webinar was hosted by Haley Eckels, Content Director at Artemis Health, and featured three panelists:
More than ever before, benefits leaders think that employee benefits data is the key to rolling out successful programs for employees and their families. And we found a 12% increase this year in those who think data is extremely important compared to last year. Just 7% marked it as unimportant. Also, we found that 92% of employers report they're using benefits data to make decisions for their organizations. 35% of those rely on a data warehouse solution for those decisions, but nearly everyone in the industry is gathering data in some form from their benefits programs. It might be carrier reports, it might be PBM data, risk scores, health assessments, and even employee feedback. So Emily, let's start with you on this topic. What are some ways that you've been using data since the onset of the pandemic?
Yeah, that's a great question. I think that I'm inundated with a lot of data. It comes from every benefit that we have. And then I have employee survey data. I have a lot of qualitative data to read through too, as things are coming to me from a lot of stuff. So even like our short-term disability and things that I don't normally look at with a fine tooth comb, I need to look at them now. And now it's more important to me it's so which set of data correlates with another too. So if I'm seeing the mental health increase, am I seeing the disability claims increase?
For me, it's now looking at them together versus separately on their own, and then tackling them each on their own. I think like Betsy and Kelly said, I'm not paying as close attention to things like diabetes, smoking, et cetera, because I'm so focused on the mental health pieces, and making sure that those pieces during a crisis, I'm putting more of my focus on. But I would say that, yeah, it's really about now pairing them together, and saying if I'm influencing one, what happens to the other? And that's hard to do without a data warehouse. I completely understand. And I know that's not something that everybody has. But being able to sit down and talk to my broker about which is influencing together, and that VOI that Betsy mentioned, where should we start? I think that is what's different for me this past year.
Very interesting. Yeah, trying to make those connections across different feeds. Betsy, how would you say that you're using data in conversations with your clients because of the pandemic?
So I guess I would start out by saying that we always leverage the data that we have either within our data warehouse, or the external reports. So even if it's not perfect, if it's not in a platform, we're looking at disparate reports. And working with our clients, and really our clinical team to piece it together to help tell that story, it's obviously more time consuming and not as clean when you do it that way versus having everything in a data lake.
We have clients that are interested in looking at the data differently, just like Emily described. And it's exciting because we have nurses and physicians that work with our population health management team and our data analysts to help the clients look at the data and ask those thoughtful questions. I think our team does a great job of trying to tie this together with our clients, and pull more meaning out of what was the impact of COVID, what did you look like before, and what do you look like now from a data perspective? So long-winded way of answering, it's data, data, data to help make decisions about what you do and where you put your clinical in your benefits resources.
Got you. Yeah. Kelly, anything to add there?
Well, I would just add that we've always been very data-driven and looking at solving problems with the employers that we work with. To Emily's point about aligning different sources of data, and Betsy's point about if they're in a common location, we can do that more readily. But we often, in the work that I do, bring in not only just health information and vendor information, but looking at across the benefits spectrum and looking at retirement information as well and voluntary benefits usage so that you can get a broader sense of how some of the employee decision-making is happening. We look at how they're actually consuming benefits in a broader spectrum, so that when you start to think about how we can really address some of these behaviors that we see within our employees, that you have a bigger picture to work from, that you might see specific health issues.
In order to address those, you may have to think about how to come around and engage them in different ways to address that issue, and not just one path that's health-related. So really understanding what's driving some of the behaviors, and where you can disrupt those behaviors and maybe shift direction for some people is key to the work that we do.
Great. Thank you. I'm going to move a little bit quickly on this slide here. So essentially one of the other findings was that employers who rely on an advisor, whether that's a consultant, or a broker partner, are more likely to be innovative and confident in their benefits offerings. Let's go back to you, Kelly. Why do you think that there's this disconnect between folks who feel ahead of the curve and are using a broker versus those who are not, or a consultant?
Yeah, I think it goes back to what I mentioned earlier, where if you have some that safety in numbers, if you have a partner that you're working with that has a line of sight to what other employers are doing, then you don't feel like you're alone on an island. You have a little bit more confidence. So I think that there is that connection there that if you have basically access to a broader view, it can give you more confidence to feel like you're ahead of the curve, and also understand what some of those practices are that creates that the curve concept, what are some of the leading edge practices that are out there?
Betsy, can I ask you to follow up on how your team helps close the gap for these clients and helps them stay ahead of the curve?
Sure. One thing that we do is, we work with a group of folks across all of our regions within MMA, and we evaluate vendor solutions for chronic conditions and other unique categories. So we try to take that workload off of our clients and our account teams to vet them with clinical, health legal compliance, data analytics, and account team review, so that we can understand what the environment is for a particular type of vendor, MSK, diabetes, what size groups they work with, if they produce reports, if they share data back and forth by directionally.
So I think that that's something that's important like Kelly mentioned to understand what are the resources that your broker or consultant can bring to you, and leverage those to the max so that you don't have to do all of that legwork yourself and investigate vendor solutions. Many times in HR, you don't have any clinical experience on your team. So understanding if a vendor is offering a program that really makes sense, and has been researched thoroughly, you've got another team that's already helped you weed through those processes.
That evaluation piece is really interesting, particularly when it comes to some of these clinical programs that you just want to know that your peers are doing the same thing and that the clinical experts agree in that particular strategy. So I'm curious to know how each of your roles have expanded since the onset of COVID-19. How are you helping employers or your employees navigate these uncertain times? Emily, I'd like to throw it to you first on that one. I know that you have had to really adapt to a new style of work for your employees.
Yeah, absolutely. I think the way I consider using my broker and helping my community is really thinking of them as an extension of my team like what Betsy was saying, they have so much, and can do so much for me that if I'm not using them, that's a detriment to me, but I don't know why I wouldn't. So a lot of the things that we're trying to do, get some data around a return to the office and things like that, I'm really relying on my broker to help us with because I think as many of you participating know the benefits team hours have definitely increased. We're working longer hours to make sure we're getting things to employees, and we can use all the help we can get. So I think that's really important.
Yes, thank you for that. Betsy, how are you helping employees navigate this new reality?
We've spent a significant amount of time, as I'm sure Kelly has, working with our internal teams to develop return to work strategies, resource tools in all areas, starting with temperature checks, to COVID testing, and now to COVID vaccines, the legal and compliance landscape that we're faced with. Do you require testing? Do you require vaccines or not? So we have really spent a lot of our resource time from a clinical and pop health perspective on working in those spaces for our clients over the last few months.
I guess the final piece is, I feel like this has allowed things like social determinants of health and the importance of acknowledging that, and helping our clients to understand how they may or may not be able to impact that at the work site. The caring bit of coworkers understanding that now you've got kids at home, or you have to travel a longer distance to go and see a physician for an appointment, and just really understanding the impact that that has on the whole person when they're working, whether it's remotely, or they're the essential workers that go to the workplace.
Good thoughts. Kelly, I know that your organization has also done some work on the health equity and those social determinants of health. Can you speak to that?
Yes, absolutely. I don't think that my role has necessarily changed or expanded, but certainly employers are wanting to dig a little bit deeper on some of these aspects that were fairly high-level and broad before. So social determinants of health, we talked a lot about, we usually narrowed it back to low-wage earners and thinking about how barriers social determinants are specifically barriers for them more predominantly than others perhaps. But with the social injustices that have come to light this last year have really been a focus for employers as well, there's also a lot of focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. And so when you start to take all of this together, you look at not only the return to work policies and vaccination policies, but how we are making sure that there's equitable and inclusive practices for helping and supporting employees.
And that goes broadly within the organization, but certainly just within healthcare, what's the availability of providers so that employees can find somebody that they feel like they have that provider concordance with so they have a similar background or similar understanding. Employees should feel a sense of belonging, or that they just have credibility with that employer, that provider understands them and their needs and what might be unique about them that can be supported by that provider.
So there's a lot of issues there about are we getting the same kind of care to all of our employees or are there gaps? When they see somebody, are they getting the same quality, and are they experiencing high-quality outcomes, or are there inequalities there? So really digging a little bit deeper and using the data to understand and drive the pathway of where can we focus attention to make an impact in some of these areas. Where do we have to rely on pushing back on government or community or other resources to help build out that big picture for our employees?
This discussion with World at Work and Artemis Health really helped us gain perspective on how employers and advisors are shifting their strategies in 2021. Stay tuned for our final part in this discussion series soon.