Employers Seeking Better E-based Tools to Raise Employee Health I-CUE™

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Health information technology may transform health care but not unless tools are available to consumers. Consumer-directed health care (CDHC) plans are gaining ground with employers looking to lower costs. But large employers say the tools available for consumers to evaluate and choose health care are way behind the curve.

Consumer-directed health care (CDHC) plans are gaining ground with employers looking to lower costs. But large employers say the tools available for consumers to evaluate and choose health care are way behind the curve.

Those e-based plan selection tools just scratch the surface of what employers really want. Employers are ready to invest in Web-based tools that will help educate employees about their health, communicate with disease and care management providers, and even help them change unhealthy behaviors. The eHealth vendor market is ripe for the player with the right tools—and employers are willing to work with vendors to develop them.

The findings are at the heart of a recent report by Health2 Resources, a national health care public relations and marketing agency based in the Washington, D.C. area. According to the report, “How Employers Are Using the Internet to Increase Employee Health I-CUE™,” employers are aggressively working to push health care information technology vendors to develop tools that increase the consumer’s ability to choose, use, and evaluate health care, or consumer Health I-CUE.

“Employers are increasingly using health information technology to administer health benefits and to help employees choose better care,” said Edwina Rogers, vice president of health policy for The ERISA Industry Committee (ERIC). “As health care evolves and more consumer-centric plans come on the market, employees will need even better tools to evaluate health care providers and plans based on quality. If employees only know who offers the cheapest care, they may not always choose the best care.”

ERIC represents the employee benefits interests of America's largest employers, who in turn provide benefits to some 25 million active and retired workers and their families. Several of ERIC’s member companies are featured in the new report as early adopters of innovative employee-focused IT solutions.

The report arrives at time of rapid growth in adoption of CDHC. The plans typically include a high deductible plan and health savings account paid for by the employer, with options to “buy up” richer coverage. Critics of the plans say the tools that are available to evaluate the plans focus more attention to cost than to the quality of the care they provide.

Emerging public interest in consumer-directed health care decision support tools is reflected in action from government entities as well. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services launched a new Web site (http://www.hospitalcompare.hhs.gov) March 30 that compares hospital quality using 17 widely used measures for treating heart ailments and pneumonia. “Hospital Compare” includes data reported voluntarily by nearly all of the nation's 4,200 general hospitals.

And the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has recently published its second annual “National Healthcare Quality Report ” on behalf of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The report sizes up providers using a set of health care measures across four dimensions of quality (effectiveness, safety, timeliness, and patient centeredness), plus additional measures focusing on effectiveness in nine targeted clinical condition areas.

“Employers are looking for tools to equip employees to be better informed health care consumers, and Health I-CUE is a rubric for evaluating those tools,” said Katherine H. Capps, principal consultant for Health2 Resources. “Overall, we found that employers are becoming much more sophisticated in using IT in the health benefit arena, and are indeed driving the market by demanding more than provider lists from content vendors and health plans.”

The report includes an evaluation of how employers select health benefit IT vendors, based on their ability to offer:

1.    Information to Choose— individual providers, hospitals or care networks, health plans, benefit programs, physicians and systems of care;

2.    Information to Use—tools that allow interactive claims management, enable chronic disease and care management, educate them about best practices for chronic conditions and acute care needs, offer research and evidence-based treatment options and caregiver options.

3.    Information to Evaluate—tools that measure outcomes, assess safety, quality and cost; comparative customer service and patient perception reporting.

While the new government sites are a starting point for consumers to evaluate provider quality, the report found that employers are looking for ehealth vendors who can offer consumer content for self-care and for disease management. In the Web environment, employers are challenged to point their employees to sites with peer-reviewed, accurate content that is free from sponsorship ties and associated bias.

“Employers and employer groups need to pursue a new strategy for better employee health, and it will require the right e-based data and tools to make it work,” said Sean Sullivan, president and CEO of the Institute for Health and Productivity Management. “Large and small employers alike know that it’s time to stop futilely trying just to ‘manage’ costs and instead seek ways to improve disease management outcomes and help employees better manage their own health. The problems of absenteeism and presenteeism affect every employer’s bottom line. It’s in our best interest to use technology as a tool to help solve these problems.”

About the report

Health2 Resources (http://www.health2resources.com) employed a three-pronged approach, beginning with a review of the pertinent literature. Primary research used a survey of business coalitions and a small segment of large employers who were identified as “early adopters” of health care IT. The survey results represent responses from local and regional employer coalitions representing more than 8 million employees (more than 21 million covered lives) and large employers representing an additional 1.2 million employees in the U.S. (close to 3.4 million covered lives). Third, Health2 Resources sought to understand the actual use of eHealth tools via extended interviews with benefit management executives from General Electric, Ford Motor Company, Proctor & Gamble, UPS, Southwest Airlines and RR Donnelly & Sons; narratives from the interviews are included in the report.

The report also features an updated “Employer’s Guide to Selection of eHealth Vendors,” a detailed guide for employers to determine their health care IT needs and tips to find the right vendor.

About The ERISA Industry Committee

ERIC is a non-profit association committed to the advancement of employee retirement, health, and welfare benefit plans of America's largest employers and represents exclusively the employee benefits interests of major employers. ERIC's members provide comprehensive retirement, health care coverage and other economic security benefits directly to some 25 million active and retired workers and their families. ERIC has a strong interest in proposals affecting its members' ability to deliver those benefits, their cost and their effectiveness, as well as the role of those benefits in the American economy.

About the Institute for Health & Productivity Management

The Institute for Health and Productivity Management (IHPM) is a global enterprise created in 1997 to establish the full value of employee health and maximize its impact on business performance. It does this by helping employers to identify the total cost impact of employee illness on business performance; choose the best opportunities to reduce this cost impact and improve performance; and measure the success of their efforts.

This press release was distributed through eMediawire by Human Resources Marketer (HR Marketer: http://www.HRmarketer.com) on behalf of the company listed above.

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Katherine Capps
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