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January 28, 2020

Trends in Health Data Analytics To Watch In 2020

Artemis Health

We’re nearly a month into 2020 already, and we’re already seeing some trends and patterns emerge in the benefits industry. While hot topics and buzzwords come and go, some things always stay the same: 

  • The desire for more accurate, reliable health and wellness data 
  • The drive for meaningful benefits programs that truly help members 
  • The need to measure and report the impact of benefits to others 

Benefits brokers and consultants are under a little extra pressure to keep up with industry trends, so we thought we’d provide a helping hand. Here are four trends in health data analytics we think will be on your radar in 2020. 

Trend #1: The “Social Determinants of Health” 

If you’ve been on the benefits conference circuit over the last few months, you’ve probably heard people talking about how to quantify the impact of the social determinants of health on an employee population. Social determinants of health are a set of conditions that affect your health based on where you live, work, learn, play, and experience life. Think about the conditions you face each day as you go about your life. What kind of neighborhood do you live in? What’s your work environment like? How does your financial situation affect your daily health? Did you grow up going to the doctor or dentist for annual check-ups, or is preventive health not part of your routine? 

We recently wrote about the social determinants of health and how this concept is of interest to benefits leaders and advisors. Benefits advisors and self-insured employers are looking at some common metrics in their health and wellness data to help them address access to healthcare or health equity gaps in their populations. 

There are a number of metrics brokers, consultants, and their clients can track to get a sense for population health and socioeconomic factors that may affect it. 

  • Age and gender
  • Geographic distribution 
  • Income level / pay grade 
  • Financial wellness (401k contributions, HSA or FSA contributions) 
  • Preventive care visits 
  • Child wellness checkups and vaccinations
  • Preventive dental and vision claims  
  • Diagnoses per thousand for common conditions associated with impoverished populations (heart disease, obesity, diabetes, etc.) 
  • Primary care physician designations 

A robust data warehouse and health analytics tools can help benefits leaders keep track of social determinants of health like those listed above and many more. It’s especially important to look at these metrics in combination with one another; if your data analytics platform doesn’t allow you to compare dental and medical, wellness and engagement, or prescription and financial wellness in one report, you and your clients should be shopping for a new tool. 

Trend #2: Program or Point Solution Justification 

When was the last time you were evaluating a new program or point solution? What was the vetting process to help you decide it would be a good idea? How did you ensure the program would work? Did you determine what success would look like for your population or your client, and how you would report on it in the future? 

These may seem like basic questions that any benefits broker, consultant, or benefits analyst worth their salt would be able to answer in their sleep. But we work with clients all the time who roll out point solutions without knowing if or how they would work. Program justification is a best practice that not all benefits leaders are following, but that we think will be a big trend in 2020. 

Let’s look at an example. One of our clients suspected they had a gap in coverage for mental/behavioral health conditions. They noticed high utilization of the Employee Assistance Program and thought a behavioral health wellness program might benefit their population. So we worked with the employer and consultant to look more deeply at the data and found some remarkable statistics that helped them make the case: 

In every measure, we found that members with depression and anxiety were struggling. They had higher absentee rates, higher medical and prescription spending, more disability work days absent, more ER visits, and more comorbid musculoskeletal conditions. These numbers made it easy for our clients to justify a new behavioral health wellness strategy to their C-suite and get these members the help they needed. 

This kind of program justification is a growing trend in health data analytics that will not only help employers spend wisely on point solutions, but will also help members get better care and better benefits.

Trend #3: Formulary Management 

You’re probably thinking, “How can formulary management be a trend? It’s practically a whole industry by itself.” Yes, formulary management has been around as a cost-saving strategy for a long time in the benefits industry. But prescription costs are getting so out of control that employers are finally starting to take this tactic seriously. 

Approximately 77% of employers spend 16% or more of their total healthcare budget on pharmacy benefits for their employees, with nearly 5% of employers spending more than 30% of their healthcare budget on pharmacy. 30% just for prescription benefits can’t be ignored. In the past, we’ve seen some employers who are intrigued by some formulary adjustments that could save them hundreds of thousands each year, but who didn’t take the steps necessary to actually put these controls in place. We think 2020 will be the year of action on pharmacy benefits. 

Benefits advisors and their employer clients are using some lesser-known strategies to manage the cost of prescription drugs:

  • Changing to a transparent PBM 
  • Getting unfettered access to pharmacy data 
  • Monitoring quantity limits on equipment that passes through the pharmacy benefit (think diabetes test strips or double billing for implanted birth control devices) 
  • Keeping tabs on lifestyle drugs or vitamins that may be available over the counter (prescription fish oil, for example)

Strategies like these can add up to big savings for benefits leaders who keep a close eye on the data. It’s also crucial to compare health data across feeds to get a holistic view of how pharmacy is affecting overall spend. Artemis Health is increasingly helping benefits professionals make the data connections that ensure formulary management efforts are effective and don’t sacrifice the quality of care employees and their families need. 

Trend #4: The “Little Things” 

As healthcare data and benefits analytics strategies gain traction, employers and their advisors are making changes to make their benefits more efficient. That means that “low-hanging fruit,” like a major formulary audit or ER utilization campaign, aren’t available to forward-thinking benefits leaders. They’ve already done these big things. So now they’re focusing on the little things that add up to more efficient benefits. Here are some examples from our work with benefits advisors and their employer clients: 

  • One client used the anonymous data from their fertility wellness program and medical carrier to determine which office locations could use more member education about this benefit. 
  • A broker using the Artemis Platform built a custom report on a high cost condition for one client, then easily rolled it out to all their employer clients so everyone could benefit from the analysis. 
  • Another client measured member engagement with each point solution at each jobsite and used the results to determine where they should spend the most time during Open Enrollment. 
  • An employer worked with their consultant to look closely at musculoskeletal conditions in their population, then held a “vendor summit” to brainstorm ways to better support these members. 
  • An analyst for one client built a report that looked at year-over-year trends for high cost conditions and shared the results with their financial leaders for more accurate forecasting. 
  • An Analytic Advisor at Artemis helped a client work with one of their point solutions to structure their data feed and focus on metrics that are meaningful for their business. 

If these seem like tiny victories to you, that’s because they are. These actions won’t result in millions of dollars in savings. But they add up. Each time a benefits advisor or employer takes a small step toward better, more efficient employee benefits, it’s a win in our book. We expect to see more benefits leaders celebrating the “little things” they do that add up to better benefits for employees and their families. 

These are just a few of the trends we’re watching in health data analytics this year. We’re sure many of you in the benefits industry are keeping a close eye on other buzzwords and new ideas to help you provide better benefits. 

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