How technology may help make health care simpler and more affordable

Technology is reshaping many aspects of life, including how people use their health care benefits.

Employers that focus on technology as a way of simplifying employee access to health care may find it increases worker satisfaction and retention while reducing costs — for both employees and the organization.

Dr. Donna O’Shea, chief medical officer of population health at UnitedHealthcare, offers these tips to employers looking for ways to make the most of technology in health care:

1. Make virtual care a starting point

Virtual care, also called telehealth, has expanded from helping people who are already sick to detecting and preventing illnesses and more effectively managing chronic conditions. Many employees enjoy the flexibility offered by virtual care, and some plans are now built with that in mind. 

2. Provide access to specialized virtual care

Specialist health care providers tend to have long wait times, which can create treatment delays. It can also be difficult to identify which providers offer the highest quality care. To help solve these issues, new virtual care centers of excellence have emerged. These programs help identify providers and facilities that offer expert-level care in virtual settings, which may make it easier for people to identify and access quality telehealth professionals at a more affordable price. This is especially important for people who aren’t near medical facilities.

The UnitedHealthcare Virtual Care Center of Excellence currently offers network access to quality virtual care providers for migraines and will expand services to dermatology, women’s health and more in 2023. So far, UnitedHealthcare members opting for virtual migraine care can significantly reduce wait times for appointments and save between 20% and 40% per visit1.

3. Offer fitness incentives

In response to the popularity of at-home workouts, some health plans now include year-long access to a fitness app to help employees more conveniently integrate exercise into their daily routines.

4. Consider remote patient monitoring

These programs, also called digital therapeutics, are an increasingly sophisticated and convenient way to help people stay focused on their health goals, in part by improving data sharing. The programs vary but generally integrate wearable devices, artificial intelligence and virtual care to help patients and their health teams make treatment decisions based on personal, real-time data.

For example, for people with type 2 diabetes, some plans now include access to a continuous glucose monitor, an activity tracker and one-on-one coaching for help with reducing spikes in blood sugar levels or even achieving remission for this condition.

5. Use big data to reveal social barriers

The more insight available about a company’s overall health data, the easier it may be to create programs that engage employees, improve health outcomes and reduces expenses. Increasingly, employers have access to online resources that help make sense of big data and advocacy programs that help encourage employees to make more informed decisions about their care and well-being.

For instance, research suggests issues like lack of nutritious food, affordable housing and reliable transportation — so-called social determinants of health — impact up to 80% of a person’s well-being. That has some employers investing in programs that can use data to proactively identify team members who may be dealing with social hurdles to health, so they can be connected to community resources for support.  

“Employers are in a unique position to promote current and emerging technologies,” Dr. O’Shea said. “In doing so, they may be able to help simplify the health care experience for their employees, support their well-being and potentially reduce costs for everyone.”

Learn more information on technologies that help simplify health care for your team members.

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