The First Step in Handling Employee Substance Abuse

The First Step in Handling Employee Substance Abuse

In the years since I began opening up about my own family’s struggle with substance abuse, I’ve found that nearly everyone I know has a similar story. Nearly 21 million Americans, or 6.5% of us, have at least one addiction. Of those friends, family members, and coworkers, only about 10% will receive treatment.

As an employer, you might think that helping workers cope with substance abuse or addiction is beyond your scope. Maybe you worry that it’s too personal, just none of your business, or simply too big a problem for your company to tackle.

Getting our arms around substance abuse won’t be easy, but the workplace should try. Your employees spend one-third of their lives at work. That means you’re likely to see the effects of substance abuse in low productivity, absenteeism, increased sick leave, and distraction. More importantly, you’ll see the human toll that substance abuse exacts on your employees, their family, and your coworkers.

To offer help, many companies turn to Employee Assistance Programs (EAP’s’). No, an EAP won’t solve the problem. But it can offer an entry point for employees to begin to seek treatment. In this post, we’ll discuss how EAP’s can tackle workplace substance abuse and offer our best tips for maximizing this benefit.

How does workplace substance abuse look?

The American Psychiatric Association defines addiction, or severe substance use disorder, as a complex brain disorder resulting in compulsive substance use. Those with a substance abuse problem or addiction are more likely to deal with health problems, face financial difficulties, and struggle with personal relationships. As their work performance suffers, the cycle of stress and abuse continues. That said, substance abuse and addiction don’t always fit the profiles we’ve come to expect. For example:

  • Most Americans who drink don’t do it in moderation. The latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health, published in 2016, found that slightly more than half of Americans who consume alcohol binge drink (for women, binge drinking means having 4 or more drinks at a time, and for men, it’s 5), and one in 8 are heavy users (meaning they binge drink 5 or more times per month).
  • Rates of alcohol and drug use rise with increased levels of income and education. White-collar urban employees might lean on alcohol or illegal drugs to wind down after long hours at their desk. In general, jobs with higher rates of stress—across every industry—also have higher rates of drug and alcohol use.
  • About 130 Americans die every day from opioid overdoses. Rural communities, where many people struggle with job loss and falling wages, have been hit especially hard. This problem isn’t limited to rural communities, though, as 71% of US employers say they’re affected by employees misusing prescription medication.

As you build out your employee benefits package, don’t avoid creating a strategy to compassionately address substance abuse and addiction. All the free snacks and transit benefits in the world can’t help a struggling employee. Instead, let’s discuss how EAP’s can point your employees toward recovery.

EAP’s and substance abuse

Supporting employees through substance abuse might seem like an insurmountable obstacle, especially for small businesses. But an EAP benefit is usually a relatively affordable solution. Employee Assistance Programs are confidential and typically address mental health, stress, substance abuse, or family and marital problems through assessments, short-term counseling, and referrals. They’re effective, too.

In a study of one short-term counseling program, participants reported improvements in alcohol use and absenteeism after just 30 days. In the same program, 69.4% went from low or moderate productivity to high productivity during that period (see our post Does Short-Term Counseling Really Work?).

When an employee is struggling with substance abuse, their supervisor or coworkers might not know how to help. Referring to an EAP is a helpful first step. Employee Assistance Programs may also be a good entry point for more severe mental health and substance abuse concerns. In these cases, your employees will likely need longer-term, structured treatment plans that aren’t available within your EAP. An EAP counselor can help employees take the first steps toward recovery by pointing them to resources within the mental health and substance abuse (MHSA) component of a medical program.

Helping employees make the most of EAP

It’s a safe bet that you’re already offering an EAP; in 2019, 79% of employers polled by SHRM did. If so, it’s essential to ask whether your employees are using this benefit. Do they even know it exists?

Employees struggling with substance abuse may be wary of coming to their manager, coworker, or even HR about their concerns. They may worry that they can’t afford to seek help on a high-deductible health plan. It’s essential they know they aren’t alone and can always access a confidential, low-cost option like an EAP.

Relying on traditional benefits education and delivery methods isn’t enough. Some estimates put EAP utilization as low as 7%, and studies of other widely-offered benefits bare out the idea that awareness is low (see Why Employees Don’t Use Your EAP Program for more). A Gallup study found that more than 85% of large employers offer a wellness program, but 40% of their employees aren’t aware that the plan exists. You want your EAP to be an exception to that rule because this offering, perhaps more than anything else on your benefits roster, can change lives.

So, where do you start?

  • Create a plan to highlight offerings beyond OE. If employees only vaguely remember hearing about a benefit during a meeting, they won’t know to turn to it for help with a mental health or substance abuse problem.
  • Don’t rely on traditional communications channels. Ever sent a message about the EAP outside open enrollment? There’s no time like the present! Considered sending a push notification or SMS about this benefit? Go for it! The more you remind employees, the more likely they are to call on this service when they need it most. Read our post “The Best Benefits Engagement Tool You Haven’t Used Yet,” to learn more.
  • Make sure employees understand their EAP. Remind them—in all your communications—that it’s confidential, inexpensive, and requires no prior approval. Asking for help is already tough enough. Make it simpler by assuaging their fears and explaining the EAP process.
  • As an organization, work to remove the stigma associated with treatment. Share stories of the ways your EAP has helped employees. When someone celebrates their sobriety on social media, stand behind them and be vocal in your support.

If your company is one of the few in the US that doesn’t already offer an EAP, it’s high time to hop on board. Combined with a compassionate approach and organizational support, it’s a significant first step toward coping with substance abuse and addiction and improving life for struggling employees.

The Best Benefits Engagement Tool You Haven’t Used

The Best Benefits Engagement Tool You Haven’t Used

To make the most of their benefits outside of open enrollment, your employees need a more natural way to turn information into action. Yet your traditional delivery methods—benefits booklets, posters, email campaigns—aren’t cutting it. Instead, consider adding mobile notifications to your toolkit.

Whether you choose push notifications or an SMS strategy, we’ll clue you in on a secret: mobile notifications are the best benefits engagement tool you’re not using.

Notifications are the new communication standard

To understand why notifications are useful, you only have to look at a crowd of commuters, grocery shoppers, or coffee shop patrons. Nearly all Americans now own cellphones, according to the Pew Research Center. Of that number, 81% own smartphones.

We’re used to being pinged, prodded, and notified by our devices. We use them as alarm clocks and egg timers. They remind us to download our favorite podcast and let us know when it’s time to leave for work. In other words, they’re part of our lives in a way print materials never were.

Unlike paper communications, mobile notifications prompt users to take direct action. Sure, emails can serve the same purpose. They’re also easily lost in our inboxes. Notifications cut through the noise.

A Localytics study found that app users who receive push notifications had 53% more sessions than app users who didn’t get notifications. SMS notifications equally compel users. A study in the UK found that 98% of mobile users will read a branded or business-based text communication—90% within the first 3 minutes. Those statistics blow even the most optimistic email open rates out of the water.

Since it’s a good bet that every single one of your US employees has a mobile phone, notifications as a benefits engagement tool are pretty darn valuable.

Notifications prompt action

Here’s the thing: to make the most of the benefits package you put together, your employees have to remember to use it.

Sure, if your open enrollment education campaign went well, they should know they can save money by switching to a preferred pharmacy or completing their wellness exam. Actually calling the pharmacy or scheduling that exam may be a different story.

We already know that notifications can remind us to make better choices. It’s something wellness apps have used to great success. For instance, when you enable push notifications for the Fitbit app on your smartphone, you’ll get messages throughout the day, reminding you to move more.

Calm, a meditation app, enables a daily push notification reminding users to take a break and meditate. Apps like AloeBud are almost entirely built around custom push notifications reminding you to drink water, take your medication, or get up and stretch. Even iPhone’s bedtime feature makes use of push notifications to help us make good on “get more sleep” resolution.

These apps rely on the idea that push notifications drive action merely by reminding us they exist. We can apply the same concepts to benefits delivery apps. When push notifications drive users back to a centralized benefits experience platform, they can also save users the work of tracking down phone numbers, plan details, and other necessary minutia.

If your benefits exist outside an app, you can still take advantage of the power of notifications by using SMS messages as a benefits engagement tool. Though more straightforward than a push notification, SMS messages can contain much of the same information. When they include a web link, they’re just as equipped to drive action back to a site. Your employees may even be more likely to opt in to SMS notifications than to allow them from an app.

That may be one reason that, even as smartphones and app technology advances, marketers are returning to SMS messages to promote deals, offer discounts, and drive traffic directly to their sites.

Notifications drive benefits engagement

We’ve found the combination of push notifications and a centralized, app-based benefits experience is a one-two punch for year-round benefits engagement.

Let’s say a user hasn’t engaged in the HealthJoy app for 30 days. They get a push notification with a short message: “Are you maintaining your vision?” Perhaps they’ve been putting off their annual eye exam, all while ending the day with headaches and eye strain. They click through to the HealthJoy app, where our virtual assistant, JOY, guides them through a journey to schedule an eye exam using their employee benefits.

Over the course of a few minutes, they’ve learned why eye exams are critical to health, their plan’s specific coverages, and maybe even booked an appointment. This process takes only a few minutes of our members’ time, but it significantly improves our engagement rates and our clients’ employee satisfaction.

If you aren’t yet using a benefits experience platform, you should still take advantage of the power of mobile notifications. Your email marketing client or intranet provider might already offer SMS messaging, or you can employ a third-party service. Send an SMS message reminding your employees when it’s time to schedule a biometric screening, ping users who haven’t yet elected benefits during open enrollment, or include information about flu shots. Off the OE cycle, you might use SMS to promote a mid-year wellness initiative or remind employees to make HSA contributions.

The bottom line: mobile notifications are the best benefits engagement tool you’re not using yet. Whether you use push notifications to drive users to a benefits experience app or employ an SMS strategy, notifications are a surefire way to make your employees sit up and take notice. Thanks to their flexibility, affordability, and relatively high open rates, they deserve a place in your year-round benefits education strategy.

This Benefit is Vital for Rural Employees

This Benefit is Vital for Rural Employees

Keeping your rural employees healthy might be harder than ever before. Primary care is sparse in rural areas, and specialists are even less common. Hospitals are closing even as the population increases for the first time in nearly a decade.

When getting basic care means spending hours in the car, the health of your rural workers suffers. Amid these challenges, how can employers keep employees happy and healthy while lowering their healthcare spend?

Telemedicine is one solution. In this post, we’ll explain how it can provide much-needed care for rural employees and why it’s essential to your rural workforce.

Why access matters

Rural populations finally ticked up in 2018, but that trend followed eight years of decline, the first rural population decline in the nation’s history. As the number of people living outside urban centers shrank, the number of rural hospitals did, too. Right now, one-third are at risk of closure, according to the National Rural Health Association.

Nearly 20% of the population of the United States lives in rural communities. Yet the population of primary care physicians—the doctors who administer preventive care, treat sinus infections, and generally take care of us when we’re sick—isn’t meeting their needs.

There are only about 40 primary care physicians per 100,000 residents in rural areas, as compared with 53 per 100,000 in urban areas. Without local primary care services, many rural residents rely on hospitals as centers of care. Lack of choice means higher healthcare spending.

It also means worse health outcomes. Living far from medical care keeps people from getting the help they need. Rural employees may skip essential wellness exams or flu shots. They could also miss necessary screenings, ignore dangerous symptoms, or avoid treatment for chronic illnesses. All these behaviors stack up to create an unhealthy workforce, higher individual costs, and greater plan charges.

High prices climb even higher when rural employees do seek attention without finding the best option. Telemedicine can’t replace in-person care. But this valuable virtual benefit can serve as a first-call option for medical concerns— especially in rural communities.

In general, we find that telemedicine keeps healthcare costs low. Telemedicine can help the parent with a sick child who might have to drive hours—or visit a costly ER—to see a doctor in person.

In urban communities, an ER visit can mean a short trip and a bill for thousands of dollars. In rural communities, it can mean hours driving for care and still getting socked with that bill. As hospitals continue to close, savings from telemedicine is likely to become even more significant.

How telemedicine works for rural employees

Without enough doctors in rural communities, telehealth solutions are a popular way to offer virtual care without additional onsite doctors. This telemedicine technology can take many forms. For instance, telehealth solutions might allow local doctors to consult with specialists from isolated locations, or mental health counselors to work with an under-served population from a community center telehealth station.

Telehealth differs from telemedicine, which is an individual benefit often provided by employers. So, how might a telemedicine benefit the health of your rural workforce?

Unlike the advanced telehealth technology used in hospitals, telemedicine is widely accessible. It makes use of a device already in hand for most employees—the smartphone or tablet. We know that Americans of every generation have adopted this technology with zeal. Many seniors prefer to communicate with smartphones (see Why Baby Boomers are Flocking to Healthcare Apps for more).

Most telemedicine benefits exist in an app. Some even offer patients the opportunity to upload photos of visible symptoms. That gives telemedicine services the flexibility of face-to-face chat. Medical professionals can diagnose and treat illnesses by phone, even prescribing medication where appropriate.

Telemedicine can step into the gap to answer late-night questions and address concerns. In some cases, your rural employees may still need urgent care, a specialist, or an in-person visit. But for non-emergent concerns like ear infections, flu symptoms, and headaches, treatment can come from a face-to-face chat on their phones. Best of all, telemedicine costs less (often, nothing at all) than a visit to a traditional primary care provider, and represents incredible cost savings over an ER visit (see Why Telemedicine Use is Skyrocketing for more).

Of course, rural employees have to make use of their telemedicine offerings. That’s where a strong benefits communication strategy—during open enrollment and beyond—becomes essential (see How to Simplify Benefits Communication for Open Enrollment for more).

How HealthJoy increases telemedicine use

Choosing to roll a telemedicine benefit into your healthcare plan can fuel your cost-containment strategies (see HealthJoy Accelerates Your Cost Containment Strategy for more). If you employ a rural workforce, it can markedly improve access to medical care and, in turn, employee satisfaction.

HealthJoy’s telemedicine benefit boasts one of the highest rates of utilization in the industry, and we’ve learned a lot about promoting this valuable benefit.

For one thing, we emphasize telemedicine use beyond OE using custom notifications. For example, we might send an educational journey using JOY (our virtual assistant) reminding members about telemedicine a few months after OE. We also target members who haven’t engaged in the app for a few weeks, leading them through a journey that encourages understanding of their benefits and drives utilization.

With HealthJoy as your benefits experience platform, your employees gain a deeper understanding of the package you worked hard to build. That means that, when a medical need arises, they’re primed to make a decision that’s in their best interest. The result is better cost-containment, higher employee satisfaction, and a benefits experience your rural employees will love.

Want to learn more? Download our Telemedicine Buyer’s Guide e-book for step-by-step instructions on selecting the right telemedicine benefit for your rural employees.

It’s Time to Kill the Benefits Booklet

It’s Time to Kill the Benefits Booklet

As you consider how best to engage employees this Open Enrollment season, may we suggest you ditch the benefits booklet?

Burn it.
Flush it.
Use it to wrap a gift.

Just don’t rely on a booklet to handle your benefits communication. Because the benefits booklet is a terrible employee. We want to make the case they’re little more than a pile of useless paper most likely to be shoved in a drawer—if anyone picks them up at all. It’s as useful as the yellow pages… when’s the last time you used one of those?

In our competitive labor market, it’s more important than ever that employees see the value in their benefits. Benefits are second only to payroll in terms of your company’s employee spending. No matter how much time you spend putting together a killer benefits package, a confusing experience is sure to lead to low benefits satisfaction.

Here, we’ll share far more effective, efficient, and empathetic ways of communicating your benefits offerings during Open Enrollment and beyond.

Meet employees where they already are

In an HR Tech Weekly poll, 50% of employees reported they couldn’t access their benefits in the way they prefer. Guardian reported in its 2017 Workplace Benefits Survey that 3 in 5 millennial workers wish it were easier to understand and access their benefits.

Older generations are reflecting a similar mobile-first preference. An AARP study from 2016 found 73% of 50- to 59-year-olds own a smartphone. Most actually prefer smartphones as a way to access online information (read our post Why Baby Boomers are Flocking to Healthcare Apps for more).

It’s clear the outdated benefits booklet just isn’t cutting it anymore.

The Guardian survey reported that 77% of companies rated employee engagement as a top priority. If it’s also your goal, it’s a no-brainer to meet your employees where they’re used to seeing company messaging: in their inbox, Slack feed, or both.

Digital communications have a few advantages over paper pamphlets. For one thing, nothing gets lost. An email with benefit details or open enrollment dates might come at an inconvenient time, but an employee can bookmark the message for later reading. If you ever want to update a benefit off-cycle, it’s easy if its in digital form.

Where does a benefits booklet end up in the same scenarios? At best, shoved under a desk. At worst, in a trash can.

Digital communications are an effective way to keep employees engaged beyond open enrollment. On that note, let’s talk about how other strategies exceed the benefits booklet outside of OE.

Look beyond Open Enrollment

If your employee engagement goals go beyond Open Enrollment (as we assume they do), how can you continue to bring them back to their benefits in February, March, and beyond?

Hint: the Benefits Booklet won’t get you there.

That’s because benefits booklets are a maze of complicated language, confusing details, and unclear points of contact. They’re so ineffective that employees will likely neglect to read them entirely. Instead, they’ll wait until they need their benefits, then make a hurried decision.

That usually spells high cost across the board and, ultimately, lowers employee satisfaction. So how do you stop the vicious cycle?

You guessed it: kill the benefits booklet.

Consider ways you can proactively help employees engage with benefits throughout the year. Perhaps a monthly email campaign, an intranet series, or paper posters are the answer.

We find that helping employees love and engage with their benefits beyond Open Enrollment is a matter of getting ahead—communicating benefits value before employees even need help.

Centralize the experience

The HealthJoy approach rolls all these strategies and more into one centralized benefits experience platform.

Our benefits wallet keeps each employee’s benefits, provider contacts, and account balances at their fingertips—and the top of their minds. Plan changes are communicated instead of being buried in a benefits booklet. If you ever update anything outside open enrollment, it can be communicated to thousands of people in an instant.

We’ve found this centralized experience helps push employees toward cost-cutting strategies like telemedicine, a benefit that’s trending even as its utilization drags (read Why telemedicine Use is skyrocketing for more). Merely stating that employees have a benefit isn’t enough—we need to help them keep it top-of-mind, year-round.

Finally, HealthJoy’s live concierges are always on hand to answer plan questions. They can determine whether a purchase is HSA eligible, whether their favorite doctor is in-network, and even find a less expensive MRI. Answers once buried in a maze of paperwork are now handled by our expert team with a few screen taps.

In reality, killing the benefits booklet is just a first step. Active communication drives employee engagement, and if we’ve learned anything from ineffective benefits booklets, it’s that a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work.

 

Why Telemedicine Use is Skyrocketing

Why Telemedicine Use is Skyrocketing

Telemedicine use is growing at an exponential rate. In the US, 72% of employers offered a telemedicine benefit this year, up from just 23% in 2016. Another report estimates that the global market will expand from $38 billion to $130 billion over the next six years.

Sure, smartphone saturation and cost containment efforts are fueling the online consultation trend. But in this post, we’ll explore some more noteworthy factors we see driving telemedicine’s skyrocketing popularity.

It’s quick

Time might be the modern employee’s ultimate currency. Most of us survive thanks to a tightly-regimented schedule, and a doctor’s appointment represents a wrench in our carefully-laid plans. Beyond the time employees spend at a doctor, there are the hours it takes to get there and back, the time spent in the waiting room, and perhaps even the adjustments required to childcare or eldercare.

A report from the American Journal of Managed Care found it takes 121 minutes each time someone seeks medical care. The total includes 37 minutes of travel time and 87 minutes at the doctor’s office—for a total time with the doctor of just 8 minutes.

For employers, that missed time at work means money lost. So, too, does the loss in productivity that comes when employees come to work sick. Telemedicine bridges this gap by quickly addressing the problem so employers can return to health more quickly. In the US, the average wait time to see a doctor is 24 days, but our members can usually log on, book a consultation, and talk to a medical professional within about 15 minutes.

It’s simple

A face-to-face video consultation with a medical professional is incredibly simple. The freedom to do it from your living room, in your pajamas, within minutes? Even better.

The ease of this process is one of its most appealing factors. Just imagine: you’re traveling for work and suddenly come down with a pounding headache, sinus pressure, and chills. With telemedicine, you can get a sinusitis diagnosis and a prescription without ever leaving your hotel room. HealthJoy centralizes this experience, so we can even send your prescription to a nearby pharmacy.

If you’re wondering, “will my older employees want to use telemedicine?” consider this: Baby Boomers are driving the telemedicine use trend. Millennials aren’t the only group willing to adopt healthcare technology. At HealthJoy, we see the highest rate of use for our mobile app among those over 65 (read our post Why Baby Boomers are Flocking to Healthcare Apps for more). According to Aging In Place, telehealth can provide comfort and support to seniors between medical appointments and bridge gaps in care.

We keep telemedicine top-of-mind with push notifications, and thanks to JOY, our virtual assistant, booking a virtual consult is seamless, simple, and rewarding. It’s one of the reasons we’ve achieved the highest telemedicine use rates in the industry.

It’s accessible

Telemedicine represents accessible care for those too sick to leave home, too busy to schedule an appointment, or with limited mobility.

Other situations where accessibility drives telemedicine use:

  • In rural communities, where telemedicine can provide vital access. In one study from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Harvard, about one-quarter of rural Americans said they lacked adequate health care access. In places where the internet connection is reliable, telemedicine can bridge that gap.
  • The popularity of the “laptop lifestyle” and flexible work arrangements allow for more travel, and employees want to know their benefits can travel with them. Remote workers appreciate medical appointments that work with their flexible lifestyle.

Well-developed telemedicine services should make the most of existing technology, allowing you to upload photos of injuries or problem areas, chat quickly with a medical professional, and easily send your visit history to providers for follow-up care. HealthJoy bakes telemedicine into our app, so integration is seamless.

It’s inexpensive

We know employees often make expensive healthcare decisions when they’re stressed, scared, or pressed for time.

A prime example is the employee who takes their child to the ER with a cough. When it’s late, and they’re out of options, a frustrated parent isn’t likely to take a chance with their child’s health. An unnecessary trip to the ER could cost the employee, and the employer, thousands of dollars.

With a telemedicine benefit, the same employee could get 24/7 answers to their questions for no or minimal copay; HealthJoy members can often access telemedicine for no cost. The cost to employers is lower relative not just to ER and urgent care, but to many primary care providers, too. In this example, the anxious parent could get answers, a prescription, and late-night peace-of-mind without a multi-thousand-dollar bill.

It’s effective

Despite the ease and speed of accessing virtual healthcare, there’s a lingering perception that it’s too good to be true. Surely a virtual consult can’t be as good as the real thing, right?

HealthJoy’s telemedicine professionals use your phone’s photo capabilities to examine areas of concern, write prescriptions, and refer more serious matters to in-person services, making them a smart first-line solution for most medical questions.

Telemedicine providers are still subject to state and federal regulations governing care. Organizations like the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) are private, non-profit organization dedicated to improving healthcare quality. HealthJoy works exclusively with board-certified professionals credentialed by NCQA.

Medical professionals like telemedicine, too. Advocates say it’s a way to provide a satisfying clinical experience without the additional pressures of clinical practice.

Telemedicine use is blasting off

We expect telemedicine use to multiply as more employers buy into its ease, speed, accessibility, cost savings, and effectiveness. Are you interested in adding telemedicine to your 2020 offering? Download our Telemedicine Buyer’s Guide eBook for a step-by-step guide to finding the right vendor—and making sure employees make the most of what you offer.

HealthJoy Accelerates Your Cost-Containment Strategy

HealthJoy Accelerates Your Cost-Containment Strategy

As we barrel into open enrollment, healthcare cost-containment strategy is at the top of every HR leader’s mind. You might be considering a telemedicine benefit for your 2020 plan or wondering about onsite clinics. No matter what you’re thinking, you’ve probably noticed: cost-containment ideas don’t necessarily translate to savings.

In this post, we’ll examine some standard cost-containment techniques. We’ll also explore how HealthJoy’s benefits experience platform can accelerate your strategy by centralizing your benefits, communication, navigation, and automation.

Price transparency

Given a choice between two gas stations, can you imagine filling up at the more expensive one? We can’t, either. We know employees want to choose the most inexpensive option for their MRI, primary care visit, or annual physical. Unfortunately, medical procedure pricing isn’t as easy to compare as fuel. Even employees who want to find an inexpensive option might give up if the process isn’t simple. That can mean a higher copay for them and increased costs for your company.

At HealthJoy, we know that price transparency is key to accelerating your cost-containment strategy. That’s why we emphasize it in every member communication. Say an individual member needs to find an inexpensive MRI in their city. Our live concierges will research the highest quality provider at a fair price, then send members a simple breakdown of the cost at different providers.

To make it even simpler to encourage healthcare shopping, we recently debuted HealthJoy Rewards. Our solutions make it easier for employees to understand what they’ll save when they make smarter healthcare decisions.

Onsite clinics

We know that encouraging employees to shop for healthcare is an excellent cost-containment strategy—but only if they’re willing to put in the extra work. Onsite clinics let employers leap this hurdle altogether.

These all-in-one wellness centers typically offer a lower price for acute and primary care services and might also simplify access to weight loss programs, mental health services, and condition management. They keep preventive medicine top-of-mind for employees, making it easier to stay healthy, manage their chronic illnesses more effectively, and save time.

The investment for an onsite clinic can pay off in increased productivity and lower rates of absenteeism. A 2015 survey by the National Association of Worksite Health Centers polled 255 employers with onsite clinics and found that 64% reported a reduction in medical care costs. One-third of large U.S. employers with 5,000 or more employees now offer onsite clinics.

HealthJoy works alongside your onsite clinic to increase utilization. The benefits wallet integrates with clinic benefits to remind users of this option every time they open the app. Year-round education by JOY works even harder to keep your clinic top-of-mind. We can also send results from a HealthJoy telemedicine consultations to an onsite clinic for a seamless follow-up experience.

Telemedicine

Telemedicine is an increasingly popular strategy for employers focused on cost-containment. Virtual healthcare solutions, like onsite clinics, allow employees to avoid expensive claims, spend fewer hours at the doctor, and sidestep an unnecessary trip to urgent care.

The average employee wastes 2-3 hours in wait and travel time when they go to see the doctor. Americans, on average, earn over $27 per hour, which means a productivity savings of $50-$75 per telemedicine visit. Wait times are one striking example of telemedicine’s potential savings. The average wait time to see a typical doctor is 24 days. HealthJoy’s telemedicine solution, in contrast, usually offers a screen-to-screen meeting with a medical professional in less than 10 minutes.

Most basic telemedicine vendors can help clients achieve a break-even ROI, but with higher utilization, you might see savings of 10-20x more. HealthJoy’s telemedicine benefit has the highest utilization rate in the industry. Our live concierges redirect members to telemedicine when appropriate, and communications from our virtual assistant, JOY, ensure they’re aware of their benefit. HealthJoy allows you to add the ease of automation to your cost-containment efforts.

Preferred Pharmacy Providers (PCP)

Prescription medicines are a significant driver of healthcare spending—especially when employees don’t know how to select the least expensive options. Negotiating a preferred pharmacy provider program (PCP) is one way employers can manage prescription costs.

It may be smart to build a PCP into your plan design if you see that prescription spending is high among employees. From there, teaching employees how to make the most of your pharmacy partnership is vital.

We know employers see more significant cost savings when benefits are top-of-mind. That’s why HealthJoy’s artificial intelligence-powered virtual assistant, JOY, creates custom notifications about prescription benefits, preventive care, and more.

Even if you don’t elect to go with a PCP, consider ways your company can lower prescription spending as a cost-containment strategy by working within your plan.

One of the built-in features within HealthJoy is Rx Savings Review. The doctor-created program uses nine different strategies to find your employees the lowest cost medication. We utilize everything from therapeutic alternatives to international mail-order on expensive tier five drugs to save companies money. If your company has a preferred pharmacy, we’ll always add this recommendation when applicable.

Case-management service

As our population ages and chronic illness rates increase, case-management services offer a way to bridge gaps in care. Case managers help patients navigate the healthcare system and get the care they need to be comfortable. When that navigation includes finding lower-cost medications, avoiding unnecessary procedures, and managing symptoms, it can also spell plan savings for employers.

Though case-management services might require an investment, they can also spell significant savings—especially when you consider that impaired performance from chronic illness costs employers an estimated $198 billion per year. Cancer, HIV, and cardiovascular disease, conditions that are commonly addressed by case-management services, are expected to continue as leading drivers of employer healthcare costs in 2020.

EAP

Untreated mental health conditions are a huge driver of healthcare costs.

For one thing, employees struggling with mental and emotional stress tend to miss work. When they are present, they’re distracted and less productive. One report estimates that depression and anxiety cause a loss of $1 trillion in productivity per year. That number doesn’t factor in employees experiencing marital stress, family issues, addiction, or grief.

Employee Assistance Programs, or EAP’s, offer cost-effective solutions to help workers proactively tackle life’s stressors. Resources are typically limited in scope, but in many cases can be just as effective as long-term or broader solutions.

A short-term counseling EAP solution, for example, might offer employees six targeted counseling sessions to help them cope after a divorce. Short-term counseling can improve presenteeism, absenteeism, and productivity markedly over a short period.

The ROI on an EAP depends on utilization. Since we know that employees often don’t use their EAP’s, generating awareness and centralizing the benefits experience is essential. HealthJoy makes this process simple, with communications that keep employees engaged and educated about their benefits year-round. We recently launched our EAP to make integration with HealthJoy even simpler.

Reference-based pricing (RBP)

Reference-based pricing (RBP) is slowly growing in popularity as a way to manage healthcare costs. But without proper education, it can create financial stress and confusion for employees and considerable headaches for HR.

In RBP, the employer sets a maximum amount they will reimburse for certain medical services. Whereas traditional network agreements rely on a discount off billed charges, RBP reprices claims based on fair market pricing (usually Medicare plus an additional profit margin).

Implementing an RBP strategy can be tricky guided to appropriate providers, and they can end up with a bill for the amount between the reimbursement maximum and the provider’s charge. This practice is known as “balance billing.” The financial stress of several thousands of dollars of unpaid medical bills can impact productivity—as well as the employees’ perception of their benefits and the company as a whole.

That’s why successfully incorporating RBP into your cost-containment efforts means consistently educating and engaging employees. HealthJoy makes this cost-containment strategy simpler. From the moment an employee logs into the HealthJoy app, our virtual assistant JOY can educate them on RBP. If employees have questions beyond what JOY can handle, one of our healthcare concierge team members joins the chat to explain more complex concepts.

HealthJoy stays top-of-mind with both a physical and digital presence, reducing the risk of surprise medical bills and helping ensure an RBP strategy works for employers and employees.

Accelerate your healthcare cost-containment strategy

As you finalize your company’s benefits package for the coming year, it’s worthwhile to consider where this cost-containment strategy list fits in. Once you know what you’d like to use to cut costs, it might be time to ask: is your benefits tech stack helping to accelerate your efforts?

Remember that centralizing the experience, making your cost-containment strategy more straightforward for employees, and even incentivizing smarter healthcare decisions can go a long way toward improving your 2020 healthcare spend.