The Loop

How Technology Can Simplify Healthcare Benefits

Filed under: Benefits

Nearly every field in the business world poses challenges that are driving new technology innovations. Perhaps no segment has greater potential to reduce costs and improve outcomes than that of healthcare. Today's rapidly progressing technological advances continue to change the way we administer medical care.

Employers have the opportunity to lead the charge in this evolution. Presently, 87 percent of private sector health insurance is sponsored by employers, which offers a fair amount of control in the future direction of benefits administration. The more employers harness the power of technology solutions, the greater the potential to not just reduce healthcare expenses but also alleviate administrative hassles and improve the patient experience.

Administrative Automation
Today's patient experience is fraught with a dizzying array of benefits, further complicated and confused by plan networks, referrals and approvals – with unexpected and costly pitfalls if benefits are not administered correctly.

Unfortunately, the burden of figuring out who can get what treatment is often put on the shoulders of doctor's office administrators. Within a singular office or health system, administrators must plow through the quagmire of benefits from multiple, non-integrated carriers and vendors. It is easy to see how mistakes can be made, of which patients typically bear the cost and inconvenience

However, medical technology offers the opportunity to mitigate these challenges. Consider the following innovations.

Electronic Health Records
If every provider had access to a singular electronic record for each patient, accessible on demand, there would be no need for the onslaught of paperwork that precedes office and facility visits. Prescription drugs could be input and tracked, so patients don't have to bring in their bottles. Universal notices for HIPAA privacy and payment obligations covering each provider could be signed and filed in a central location. All tests, screens, labs and their results would be available, so that patients do not have to remember what procedures have been conducted and their doctor's comments.

All of these issues are particularly important with regard to our rapidly aging population – and our inability to remember these details.

Digital Imaging
The future of digital imaging looks to go beyond magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomographic angiography (CTA). Physician instructions to change one's diet and get more exercise are all well and good, but many patients fall short of those efforts within a day or two of walking out of the office. In lieu of handing out a packet of instructions that patients are unlikely to read, we may soon enter an era in which physicians can use augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies. With the ability to create a 360°, 3-D simulation of what the patient would look like if he weighed a bit less, patients may be better incentivized to follow doctor's orders.

Blockchain Technology
Blockchain technology has been used since 2008 to track Bitcoin transactions, an entirely digitalized currency. Blockchain is considered impervious to hacking or manipulation because it is based on a complex set of mathematical algorithms constantly updated across a network of computers instead of being stored in one location.

This technology is now being explored as a means of creating a more private and secure process for information exchange between patients and doctors, providers to insurers, and even insurer data to researchers. The technology offers the potential to not just improve the way benefits are administered, but to direct research efforts toward finding solutions for the most costly health conditions.

For workers, one of the most prevalent issues is balancing work demands against the need for regular or intermittent medical care – whether for themselves or their children. Often a simple office visit, consisting of a 10-minute visit with a physician, requires taking off half a day when you factor in traffic and wait times.

Telemedicine, aka telehealth, can help alleviate this problem with two-way video consultations. Employers may offer a small, windowless office with private computer access available for scheduled appointments for workers. This solution offers a multitude of benefits for employers, workers and even physicians, including:

• Eliminating crowded waiting rooms and the potential spread of germs
• Shorter wait times for patients, who can work while waiting
• Improved access for workers who live in rural areas
• Improved efficiency leading to savings

According to a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, patients report a high level of satisfaction with clinician video visits.

Mobile Health Apps
Mobile Health represents one of the fastest-growing markets in application development, with around 100,000 health apps currently available. A recent study found that nearly 300,000 paid apps are downloaded every day. Apps provide an inexpensive way to foster ongoing health awareness, both for wellness initiatives and for condition and medication management.

When it comes to technology advancements, it is no surprise that Millennial and Generation X populations are more likely to embrace them. Millennials also boast the highest rates of wellness program engagement, ranging from participation in smoking cessation programs; stress management training or counseling; fitness club membership reimbursement; and partaking in free healthcare seminars, health risk assessments and biometric screenings.

Clearly, the use of technology to simplify the administration of – and engagement in – health benefits is a trend on the rise. As more young adults enter the workforce, these tech-driven benefits will not just be consumed – but expected. Employers may be judged by their reputation as cutting-edge or "old school" when it comes to how workers learn about, enroll in, utilize, and monitor health benefits and their health status in general. They will expect all of their health information – from coverage limits to prescription refill reminders to the blood pressure reading from their last office visit – to be readily accessible at their smartphone, tablet or laptop fingertips.

Perhaps insight into the future of healthcare may be best represented by a recent job posting for the new healthcare venture sponsored by Amazon, JP Morgan Chase, and Berkshire Hathaway. The position is for a Data Scientist of Healthcare Benefits, responsible for data science/business intelligence, analytics and reporting for the entity's new health plan. Part of the job description includes crunching data and identifying opportunities to impact overall populations.

This suggests that, in the future, technology will be used to better direct healthcare resources toward solutions that reduce the highest costs in areas that impact the most people.

Given that the U.S. healthcare system today is substantially employer-driven, companies have the opportunity to adapt new technological solutions to test and measure what works and what doesn't. These insights can help create novel designs for health systems and communication networks, and identify best practices in the future for cutting costs, nurturing better healthcare outcomes, and improving the overall patient experience.

The Loop Archives

Open All | Close All

Health Care Reform
Training & Leadership Development
Performance Management
Attraction & Retention

Request More Info


RSS Subscribe via RSS

Join Our Newsletter

Thank you for subscribing.