Everyone should keep an eye on new technology tools that can improve an employee experience and hopefully make our lives easier. In industries where services have been delivered the same way for decades, it makes sense that we will see innovation and disruption.
Within the employee benefits and wellness space there is a lot happening. Insurance and healthcare industries are a prime target for change. Group insurance has been around a long time and the relative experience for a plan member has not changed much over the years. You incur a claim, submit the receipt and get reimbursed – sometimes in real time or with a few taps on a smart phone. The convenience of that experience can start to become the goal or the focal point. How fast can I pay for something?
But, is speed of a transaction always the indicator of real value? Is the technology providing anything beyond convenience or perhaps is that technology ignoring the underlying objective?
In terms of employee wellbeing, we are always looking for ways to improve overall health and to make sure that employees and their families get the treatment they need to manage or recover from illnesses. For employers, they also want to see happy and productive employees that consistently show up for work. A sexy smart phone app or wearable device may or may not be the right tool to achieve this. It’s easy to get excited about technology and the convenience it brings, but we need to look at what we are trying to accomplish – before we commit to specific tools.
As examples, in this piece we will explore two healthcare related technology tools – one in the employee benefits space and one within employee health and wellness. Both are great tools and should be considered and evaluated.
Have you heard of League? – It’s a company that has created a mobile platform for sourcing, booking, and paying for certain practitioner services. You need a massage? Look up a recommended RMT in your area, book the appointment, and then let the system pay the bill through your healthcare spending account. That sounds pretty slick, and for those employees that book a lot of treatments, this would be a nice way to save some time. They offer more than this platform, but the fundamental experience is not dissimilar from other spending account platforms. They are appealing to the tech and start-up communities big time. Those companies are looking for more progressive solutions – because that’s how they do business in the first place. But how do we assess the value behind the transaction? What is a benefits plan trying to deliver – bottom line? Historically, benefits were designed to minimize significant out of pocket expenses that employees might incur. We don’t want a family to be burdened with extraordinary cost as it might create financial stress or it might even deter an employee from getting proper treatment if they are paying too much out of their own pocket. Is the technology platform providing the “protection” we need or is it putting too much control in the hands of the employee/consumer – and maybe clouding our judgement for what the plan was truly intended for?
Another example is the Fitbit. Let’s say I want all my employees to be healthier – so I am willing to invest in their wellbeing. Fitbits or pedometers are really cool right? They track your steps and allow you to challenge yourself and your colleagues to hit and maintain certain “step goals”. But let’s stop and think for a minute first. Is walking or running the only component of healthy lifestyle? Are there other more important lifestyle factors my employees should consider first? How much do pedometers cost for all my employees? Will people get bored of this technology? Would they buy a Fitbit anyway, even if we didn’t subsidize the cost? Perhaps the tool is not the right solution (right now) for improving overall health – especially if employees don’t understand the science or connection between movement and health.
Not to say Fitbits are useless but they are not the only wellness tool available. There are a ton of options worth considering.
The point of this piece is to suggest that we all need to stop and think before we commit to any new tool or device. It’s so easy to get excited by technology but that technology might not be the ultimate solution for what we are trying to accomplish. In our relationships with employees – we have to remember that we are dealing with human beings – where behaviour change is complex and subject to so many competing variables. Every organization is different.
If you are thinking about using more innovative technology in your business it makes sense to get advice from third parties or users of that technology that can tell you (from experience) how that tool has helped them reach their goal. Has that tool become sticky or has the “sexy factor” faded away? Talking directly with any provider – we often get one-sided opinions that can leave us feeling that we were over promised and under delivered.
Where possible, make sure to get advice without bias – or education that allows you to make an investment in a solution that makes the most sense for your particular company.
Contributed by Roger Thorpe
President, Thorpe Benefits
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