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Smart Phones – Smart Future!

David P. Lind BenchmarkIn March, on behalf of Humana, Inc., Forrester Research released their report, “Mobile Application Adoption Trends and Strategies To Engage The Workforce”. According to this report, the trend appears to be that more employers embrace the idea of interacting with their employees for personal and work-related activities using new technologies offered through smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices.

Three key conclusions come from this report:

  1. An emerging demand for health and wellness mobile applications. Such applications enable employees to locate healthcare provider sites, track exercise activities, or monitor various biological conditions such as heart rates, glucose levels, and other health-related.
  2.  Mobile recruitment applications are emerging. Capturing candidate information during job fairs, interviews, or sharing video clips to candidates about specific jobs available within the organization.
  3. HR and benefits professionals implement awareness campaigns to promote employee adoption of mobile applications.  Purposes may include rolling out a new wellness campaign, incentive programs, and other new initiatives that are central to employment.

This report allows human resource executives and benefits administrators to look into the future when attempting to engage their workforce…using existing and new technologies.

Consider this:

  • About 17,000 health-related mobile applications are on the market*
  • By 2015, the number of mobile health service users are expected to reach 500 million*

Sprint launched a 12-week “Get Fit” challenge during the summer of 2011 and found big success using social media tools to engage employees to participate in wellness activities, such as weight loss, exercise minutes and pedometer steps. The estimated savings from this challenge, according to Sprint, was approximately $1.1 million. Partnering with ShapeUp, a wellness software company, Sprint used social networking tools that allowed employees to log their progress online through a website portal in addition to using mobile devices. Employees interacted with other employees throughout the country with friendly competitions – holding each other accountable. Sprint attributes a big part of the programs’ success to social networking. Social media tools can be a good thing when used appropriately!

Hmm, maybe it is time to learn more about what Iowa employers plan to do in the future regarding this new technology! Stay tuned.

*Stetler, Mark, “Trends in Healthcare and Medical Apps

Comparative Effectiveness Research? It’s About Time!

David P. Lind BenchmarkI’m all for it.

An earlier blog of mine described the dysfunctional health care delivery “system” that we have in this country. The intent of my blogs is not to point fingers, as assessment of blame does little to solve the problems we have within our own state and country.

A recent California study was published about the associated cost to remove an appendix. As typical, the cost for this procedure could be as little as the price for a refrigerator – or a house! The cost disparities were alarming, ranging from $1,500 (refrigerator) to $180,000 (house). How can this happen?  Why is this allowed? Are the outcomes of the procedures better at a higher price?

Don’t know. That’s part of our problem.

That is why I see a glimmer of hope for a new initiative (generated by the health reform law) called, Comparative Effectiveness Research (CER). In a nutshell, CER includes research to evaluate risks and benefits of medical treatments, services, procedures, and drugs that treat, manage, diagnose or prevent illness or injury. Too often we have extreme variations on how procedures are performed, both by region and by health providers. CER will attempt to help bridge this gap of extreme variation using sound research when comparing health outcomes. Reducing variation chasms can save lives AND potentially big bucks.

Don’t take my word on this subject. The  Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care does a good job of documenting the variations of health care that is delivered in this country.

CER will be funded through a fee that will be assessed to plan sponsors and issuers of individual and group policies. Plan sponsors will be required to pay $1 per member per year beginning with policy or plan years ending after September 30, 2012. The fee increases to $2 per member annually for policy years ending after September 30, 2013. The fee will discontinue after September 30, 2019. See the published Federal Register on this fee.

I admit, paying additional fees within your insurance premium does not sound good – especially when premiums have increased by over 141 percent during the last 13 years in Iowa* (about the same nationally). But perhaps CER will more than pay for itself by providing a sound practice of comparing the risks and benefits of two or more medical treatments based on health outcomes and clinical effectiveness.

We can only hope.

*2011 Iowa Employer Benefits Study©

New Beginnings for Benchmarking Benefits in Iowa

David P. Lind BenchmarkSince 1999, my firm has surveyed Iowa employers to learn about the benefits they offer to their employees. The “Iowa Employer Benefits Study” has revealed many key facts that allow employers, regardless of size and industry, to determine annually how competitive their benefits are when attempting to attract and retain employees. After all, to be successful, employers MUST have the right employees when competing locally, nationally and globally. This is a fact of business life!

Prior to 2012, our surveys have randomly-selected Iowa employers once a year. Annual surveys are really a “snap-shot” in time, allowing us to sample a particular population for that time period and compare the results to previous years’ results.  Doing this has provided a wealth of data on employee benefit trends that provides meaningful information for employers, policy-makers, the media, etc. This work also allows us to compare different industries within Iowa to one another. All industries, by the way, are NOT created equal! There are inherent issues within each industry that impacts the type of benefits offered to employees…and the costs can be considerably different when comparing industries.

Beginning in 2012, we have updated our survey process to make it even more fresh, relevant, local and customized for the Iowa employer. Instead of surveying all industries at the same time each year, we are staggering the survey process to allow a greater likelihood of observing trends sooner, rather than later.

Here’s how it will work:

Every two months, beginning in January and February of 2012, we will survey just one major Iowa industry. For example, we just finished surveying the Manufacturing industry in Jan/Feb, and we are now “interviewing” the Retail sector for March and April. The other survey periods for 2012 include:

  • May/June – Finance and Insurance
  • July/August – Healthcare & Social Services
  • September/October – All Other Sectors not interviewed in the other five periods
  • November/December – All State & Local Governments

In 2013 and beyond, the process will be repeated as mentioned above. During any given survey period, new questions can be added once new trends and developments have been identified, including new questions about health reform issues, wellness initiatives, and employer attitudes on various subject matter, to name a few.

In addition to having on-going “fresh” data, we will seek a higher number of respondents for each industry than we have in the past, making our already credible survey even more robust! Our studies have consistently interviewed over 900 employers in each of the last several years…and we will now add to this number under the new survey process.

If your organization is randomly selected to participate in this new and improved study, I highly encourage you to participate (if you already have, we thank you!). By participating in this important research, you will receive an overall summary of the survey results that will help your organization compare itself to other Iowa employers. If your organization has not been randomly selected to be surveyed, don’t despair, you still have access to this information. Should you wish to have an easily customized benchmark analysis with other Iowa employers both within and outside your industry, you can perform this anytime here. New and improved benchmark programs will also be developed within the near future! Many changes are being made to this landmark study, but its’ integrity remains unchanged. You have my word on that!

Here’s to a new beginning – for all of us!