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The Challenges of Data Privacy, Health Engagement, and Employee Benefits

By Jennifer Benz, Founder and CEO, Benz Communications

Jennifer Benz, Founder and CEO, Benz Communications

Large employers are increasingly looking to smart technology and the data it yields to tackle the challenges of employee benefits engagement and health care costs. Programs are increasingly high-impact, enabled by modern technology and user experience. Targeted condition management programs allow employees to manage their diagnosis, coordinate health care programs, and improve treatment plans. Transparency tools, ever more sophisticated and user-friendly, provide information about the cost and quality of medical treatment to help reduce costs and improve outcomes for employees. Wellness programs keep employees healthy and connected, tackling big issues like tobacco use, obesity, poor nutrition, and lack of exercise. Niche programs address once-taboo topics like sleep, stress and mental health.

The combination of these programs provides powerful ways to use data to prompt employees to make conscious decisions and take deliberate actions that will affect their health status.

At the same time, all this available data creates another challenge: to help employees understand how their personal data is used.

Tackling the Employee Engagement Challenge

Engagement in health care programs is a real challenge for employers. Most large employers invest millions in additional health care programs—in addition to the insurance coverage itself—to help employees and their families make good health care decisions and get the best care. Most of those programs go unused, despite their significant value to the employees.

Accolade recently partnered with Harris to poll Americans and found that 43 percent of Americans say they have not used an employer or health insurance company-sponsored program within the past year. That could include a condition management program (such as one for pregnancy) and a wellness program. Only 13 percent have used them just once, and 18 percent have used them 2-3 times.

The top reasons employees gave for not using these employer and health insurance programs more often were:

• They don’t find them relevant (29 percent).
• They don’t remember what’s available (15 percent).
• They find them confusing (14 percent).
• They don’t have the time (12 percent).

This is the precise reason why many companies have developed smart technology to get employees the right resources at the right time. Employees—and the industry—should be applauding those efforts. Yes, companies want to save money and reduce unnecessary costs. And, yes, they will put a lot of effort behind programs that impact high-cost areas such as pregnancy and chronic illness. But, their interests align with their employees’: The company saves money; employees save their health.

Crunching the numbers and using an individual’s health status to strengthen their engagement with the health care system and, of course, save money, is a win-win for companies and their employees.

Yet, we can’t underestimate the sensitivity around health information—especially in areas such as pregnancy, where women are already hyper aware of potential bias and discrimination from their employer.

Shine a Spotlight on Privacy

There are stringent laws in place to protect individual employee data from employers. Benefits and HR leaders get aggregate data about employee health, but no one gets access to individual health data.

We can’t do enough to educate employees about their privacy and employee health benefits. You can start now by reminding employees about measures that protect their data—and, the considerable efforts that employers take to offer programs and resources that help them improve their health.

For some companies, that may not be enough. If you’re taking an aggressive approach to managing employee health and introducing a lot of new programs and providers, now may be the time to audit the privacy and security policies of each of them to ensure they are aligned with your expectations—and the employee experience you want to create.

Even with the best policies in place, though, engagement with health programs will continue to lag until employers put resources, creativity, and consistency behind marketing their programs. The obligation is on the employer to position programs in a way that they are relevant, valuable, and actionable for employees and their families. Until we do that, suspicions will reign and valuable programs will go unused.

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