Targeted communications may help increase employee engagement for better outcomes

Employee populations are diverse. Factors such as geography, demographics, interests and values comprise a unique set of characteristics of an employee population. And considering that about 50% of Americans have employer-based health care coverage,1 there’s no shortage of health-related data available for analysis. What employers do with that data, though, can help define their health benefits strategy.

UnitedHealthcare is using advanced analytics to process multiple sources of data --- ranging from claims to physical and behavioral health data --- to help create a more personalized member experience and drive engagement. By identifying unique populations and sub-populations, employers may provide these employees with more tailored support to navigate the health system.

For instance, about 3%–5% of those with complex care needs report 5 times the number of claims than those without advanced needs.2 And about 1% of those with complex care needs drives more than 30% of the total cost for care.3  This example illustrates why treating a complex care population the same as the general population leaves opportunity on the table for cost efficiency and overall member engagement.

“In health care, there’s more than enough data, so to be able to filter it all down, craft the right message, and act upon it, is part science, part art, and one of the key competencies we have in the marketplace,” says Craig Kurtzweil, Vice President, Center for Advanced Analytics with UnitedHealth Group.

The ability to find actionable solutions from data allows employers to:

  • Pinpoint precise opportunities to help employees
  • Target communications to specific employee groups
  • Understand the effect of social determinants of health

3 key takeaways about health care data analysis

  1. Sophisticated data analytics allows employers to understand what’s behind high utilization, engagement and cost at an individual level within their employee population.
  2. Employers can turn those insights into high-touch, personalized member outreach. 
  3. Employees may be more likely to access high-quality and low-cost care, manage their chronic conditions, and avoid costly services after they’ve received targeted communications. 

Pinpointing precise opportunities to help employees who need more care

When analyzing sub-populations, combining UnitedHealthcare’s proprietary analytics capabilities with an employee’s background information provides an opportunity to tailor more relevant communications. This can include an employee’s age, gender or geography, and employment information such as division, job type or salary.

“Without the ability to pinpoint precise opportunities, you’re spreading your solutions across broad populations, and 90% of the employees you’re talking to may not need that message,” Kurtzweil says.

While a large national employer’s population may appear healthy overall when viewing the data in aggregate, Kurtzweil explains that a closer look at one of its locations may reveal a more targeted opportunity for engagement based on condition prevalence in a sub-population, such as a group of employees with type 2 diabetes struggling to effectively manage the condition.

By leveraging the employer’s health care data, UnitedHealthcare discovered that although there were quality, cost-efficient designated UnitedHealth Premium® providers in the area, the employees weren’t utilizing them. The nature of their work made it difficult for the employees to make appointments during regular business hours, Kurtzweil explains.

Through on-site events with providers that engaged both the employees and leadership — a key component to any effective employee engagement effort — employees began compiling with measures such as medication adherence to help manage their condition. This resulted in diabetic HBA1C compliance or controlled blood sugar levels increasing 8% year over year.4 This approach helped the employer address an employee pain point and find the right solution for their employees.

“A key barrier to engagement is vying for members’ time and attention, and our digital channels and advocacy become critical,” Kurtzweil says. “Our sophisticated approach allows us to deliver the right message to the right people at the right time to produce the desired result. We’re customizing what we do to meet the consumer where they’re at.”

Targeting members with timely messages

Advanced data analytics helps employers understand what drives high utilization, engagement and cost at an individual level within their population and turn those insights into personalized member outreach. 

Employers can implement targeted interventions by working with their benefits team and through collaborating with UnitedHealthcare Engagement Solutions, a full-service consulting and creative agency that creates customized multi-channel campaigns and communications for large employers.

“We use the power of our data and the strength of our organization to really understand where our members are in their health care journeys and put that knowledge into action,” says Cheryl Mau, Vice President of Engagement Solutions at UnitedHealthcare.

In order to identify the targeted audience, UnitedHealthcare takes a 4-step approach:

In order to identify the targeted audience, UnitedHealthcare takes a 4-step approach

Engagement Solutions takes a multi-channel approach to create customized, targeted campaigns to help guide members toward optimal health care decisions. These channels may include direct mail, email and text, videos, e-learning courses, incentives and on-site events. Employees and the families may be more likely to access high-quality and low-cost care, manage their chronic conditions, and avoid costly services after they’ve received targeted communications.

After the campaigns conclude, employers receive performance measurement reports that include the actions their employees took and the impact the campaigns had on cost savings. The performance measurement reports also help to inform future campaigns.  

The impact of segmentation targeting was recently brought to life for 10 employers struggling with high-cost musculoskeletal claims. These employees received education around treatment options and assistance in connecting to care providers who turn to pain management and surgical alternatives before surgery. 

Then the analytics team segmented the target audience to members with medical/surgical claims and those with conservative care claims. Next, they developed marketing materials for direct mail and emails to employees that made chronic pain relatable and pointed members to alternative low-cost, effective treatment options. The result was $3.5 million in cost savings over a 2-year period.5

“Unlike traditional marketing, we can be far more specific about what benefits members have and how to access them,” Mau says. “We’re always looking for creative ways to understand where a member is on their journey and where we can help.”

Understanding the effect of social determinants of health on employee wellness

Research shows that medical care accounts for only 10 to 20%6 of modifiable contributing factors to positive health outcomes, while social determinants of health such as education and employment have an even greater impact. What’s more, 61% of consumers report that during the COVID-19 pandemic, at least one of the social factors affected their ability to adopt a healthy lifestyle.7

While claims data is valuable, it’s important for employers to also consider dynamics such as poverty and health disparities to get a better holistic picture of an employee population and understand the why behind health care decisions individuals make. 

“There is only so much that can be gleaned from claims data and there are headwinds and tailwinds that make a significant impact in what the claims look like at the end of the day,” Kurtzweil says.

For example, when an employer discovered high, unnecessary utilization of the ER, the UnitedHealthcare data analytics team discovered that the plant location was in a high-crime area. This caused many employees to not engage with primary care physicians on health conditions that eventually led to the need to use the ER. To address the challenge, the employer added an on-site nurse to tackle less complex health issues and implemented a strategy to promote telehealth and digital capabilities, Kurtzweil says.

Improving the member experience may mean looking beyond employees’ health care needs — acknowledging financial and community factors that may affect an employee’s overall health. UnitedHealthcare is working with employers to address how social disparities and racial inequities impact employee health, and referring members into appropriate programs with partners. When employers address employee needs beyond physical health, they may achieve a more productive workforce and lower health care costs.

“If we have the analytics that can lead us to these opportunities, we believe that we can help make systemic changes in the health care system, and make a long-term impact,” Kurtzweil says. “At the end of the day, it’s about impacting the member and making their experience and their health better.”

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Footnotes

  1. Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2018. United States Census Bureau.
  2. UnitedHealthcare National Accounts 2019 Book of Business.
  3. UnitedHealthcare National Accounts 2019 Book of Business.
  4. UnitedHealthcare claims data, 2016.
  5. UnitedHealth Group Center for Advanced Analytics, October 2020.
  6. Hood CM, et al. American Journal of Preventative Medicine. “County Health Rankings: Relationships Between Determinant Factors and Health Outcomes.” 2016.
  7. PWC “The COVID-19 pandemic is influencing consumer health behavior. Are the changes here to stay?” Accessed December 2020.

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