News 1/30/2018

BenefitsPro: HR Tech to Watch in 2018

Technology is transforming today’s health care system for the better–particularly for human resources departments charged with educating and engaging employees on their health care benefits. While rising costs, complex billing systems and health care illiteracy remain today’s top benefits-related challenges, new software solutions and tools geared toward the HR function have made them easier to tackle.

Fifty-nine percent of employers have adopted HR technology for benefits enrollment, administration or both, and those that haven’t are looking to start. Among the most promising HR technologies are cost comparison tools, interactive SPDs and telemedicine, which have shown strong signs of improving employee experiences, optimizing organizational resources and maximizing employers’ investments in health care. Here’s what you need to know about these health care benefits gamechangers:

Cost comparison tools

Rising costs have created an era of health care consumerism in the United States, whereby individuals are expected to comparison shop for their medical procedures and treatments. Despite this fact, and that costs can vary greatly from provider to provider, people still don’t spend as much time researching their options as they should. In fact, only three percent of Americans compare medical costs across providers before receiving care.

While employees want quality services and treatments with little to no out-of-pocket costs, employers also want to maximize their ROI in health care by helping employees make informed, cost-effective decisions in line with their insurance plans. These factors point to continued interest and investments in health care transparency services in 2018, and specifically cost comparison tools.

Whether housed in an app, a website or a licensed software solution, cost comparison tools generate cost estimates for in- and out-of-network providers based on their location. They often show the costs of common related services too, helping users secure a more comprehensive view of what they can expect to pay out-of-pocket, or what will be covered by their employer-sponsored plan.

To ensure cost comparison technology is being put to its best use, HR leaders should incorporate human touchpoints throughout the employee user experience – whether that’s through one-on-one and group training sessions, or building a support feature into the technology for phone or instant message support options. People tend to prefer working with real people when it comes to their personal or their family members’ health information, so remember to keep the “human” touch in human resources.

Interactive Summary Plan Descriptions (SPDs)

What was once the source of much undue stress, Summary Plan Descriptions (SPDs) are another aspect of employee benefits administration being improved upon by technology. Time and resource-strapped HR departments were challenged to create or update dozens (or for large companies, hundreds) of different SPDs year after year. By converting these documents into digital, Internet-accessible forms, employers cut out most of the manual time they might have spent preparing this information, while gaining unique measurement capabilities that help them tailor benefits education and engagement methods along the way.

Electronic SPDs analyze employee engagement by tracking sections that employees visit most, or the hyperlinks most often opened. In doing so, they uncover where employees may have knowledge gaps about their benefit options, and help employers create personalized communication plans and materials for their workforces. Employers are also augmenting their digital SPDs with embedded videos and voice guides – all means of ensuring employees understand and have access to information they need about their health plans.


More than one-third of large employers offer telemedicine services today in the states that allow it. That figure stands to increase as more legislators come around to the fact that telemedicine has improved and earned its place in today’s health care system. Used as both a cost-prevention tool and means of ensuring benefits utilization, more employers are offering telemedicine to guide employees away from unnecessary health care services, and toward better options covered by their insurance.

Some of the most common and expensive medical missteps are avoidable emergency room and urgent care visits. If an individual is contemplating whether to visit the ER for non-serious injury, a qualified medical expert consulted through their employer’s telemedicine service would refer them to an in-network doctor that is covered. Especially as employees look for more support from their employers in improving overall health and well-being, services like telemedicine will be ones that employees value for round-the-clock access to expert medical opinions.

There’s little doubt that technology will continue having a transformative effect on health care and HR in 2018. While HR leaders stand watch to see which tools will have real staying power and create sustainable benefits in their organizations, one thing’s for certain; new tech initiatives that begin with a smart strategy and measurable goals are those best poised for success in the years ahead.

Read the article here.

(Kim Buckey is the vice president of client services at DirectPath.)