Employe Benefits Health Care Data Trends

Data Analytics in Health Care and Benefits: Key Trends to Track in 2019

The changing landscape of health care and benefits has created enormous demand for data-driven insight. Faced with increasingly higher costs, plan sponsors are looking to big data for additional help in trying to control those costs and make sure their investment is translating to quality outcomes for plan participants.

In recent years, we've seen growth in technology solutions designed to help plan sponsors turn data into savings. Benefitfocus has been a leader in this space, providing employers, their brokers, carriers and third-party administrators with sophisticated tools to monitor and manage health plan performance, identify cost drivers and forecast future spending.

Learn more about Benefitfocus' data analytics solutions.

However, with additional sources of information becoming more broadly available, there's a growing opportunity for data analytics to provide even more value and direction in the health care and benefits industry. The future holds much promise for new and innovative ways to harness the power of data to optimize cost-effectiveness for both plan sponsors and participants.

Here are just a few of the trends I'm most excited to see and help develop over the next year:

1. Expanding Use of Wearable Technology to Drive Wellness

Fitbit introduced its first wearable fitness tracker hit the market nearly a decade ago. Today, with the proliferation of 'smartwatches,' over half of Americans use wearable fitness trackers on a daily basis.1 A recent study suggests that the market for these devices will generate $20 billion in annual sales by 2021.2

A large part of that growth is and will likely be fueled by a shift from simply tracking activity to monitoring overall health. Many of today's wearables can now monitor things like calorie consumption, heart rate and quality of sleep. With all of that data comes enormous opportunity to integrate wearable technology into the health care system.

One of the most exciting aspects of this opportunity is the ability to help consumers better individualize their health care. We're already starting to see commercial integrations with concierge medicine services, who can feed wearable data into a person's health record, combining it with medical history, genetic information and other data points to inform care decisions from a more complete perspective.

Specifically, there's a lot that wearable technology can contribute to the management of chronic conditions, such as diabetes. At this point, it's not hard to imagine a day when a typical smartwatch can monitor someone's blood glucose levels in conjunction with a prescribed exercise program. This type of application could do wonders for care adherence and compliance.

On another level, it's possible we could see data from wearable technology used to determine or influence medical insurance premiums. Similar to some auto insurance programs that track driving behavior to set premiums, individuals could receive discounted rates for meeting certain wellness goals tracked through a wearable device that links up to the carrier. Life insurance companies are actually already doing this. In fact, John Hancock recently announced that, starting in 2019, it would only be offering 'interactive policies,' which are designed to encourage healthier behavior through lower life insurance premiums.3

Questions remain as to what extent consumers are willing to trade privacy for cost. But as technology improves the ability of devices to record relevant data on health and wellness, we're only going to continue to see more momentum behind the wearables movement.

2. Enabling Consumers to Make Better-Informed Health Care Decisions

Let me set the stage here with a few statistics around today's health care consumer:

  • 83% of consumers spend less than an hour researching their benefit plan options during open enrollment4
  • 92% simply select the same plan(s) they had the previous year4
  • Only 4% can correctly define each of the termsdeductible, out-of-pocket maximum, copay and coinsurance5

These numbers all point to a major gap in health care and benefits literacy. For the most part, consumers are just not in a position to select the appropriate benefit plans for their needs. As an extension of that, they're not equipped to make optimal choices in health care utilization, creating a likelihood of either overspending or putting off necessary care due to cost. So there's a large and growing need for tools to enable better-informed health care decisions from consumers.

It starts with benefits enrollment. At Benefitfocus, we've put a major emphasis on creating a retail-like shopping experience for consumers on our platform, equipping them with data-driven insight to guide their enrollment decisions and educate them in the moment. This includes serving up a recommended "best-match" health plan based on the consumer's responses to a brief survey of their health and financial situation, as well as the ability to project future coverage needs based on the consumer's claims data from the previous year, which is integrated into a health plan comparison tool.

Learn more about how Benefitfocus technology empowers employees to make smart benefits decisions.

Moving forward, artificial intelligence (AI) gives us a significant opportunity to provide new ways to support consumers' benefits enrollment decisions. Using machine learning to analyze all of the various data points relevant to consumers' coverage needs (age, income, marital status, dependents, prescription and medical experience history, previous benefit elections, etc.), AI can help consumers more easily zero in on the most appropriate plans. And not just medical. Decisions around supplementary coverage options like voluntary accident or critical illness insurance, as well as specialty products like pet insurance and student loan repayment programs, can be optimized through the ability of smart machines to identify patterns and predict outcomes.

With the continuing sophistication of voice recognition and "chat bot" technology, we're rapidly approaching the day where an Alexa or Siri-type assistant will be able to provide consumers with a fully personalized benefits enrollment recommendation on demand.

3. Deeper Data Analytics to Match Benefit Options to Employee Needs

While it may be obvious, I’ll go ahead and state it. Before a consumer can enroll in the right benefits, they must be offered the right benefits. As the competition for talent continues to escalate, employers are tasked with creating compelling, holistic benefit packages tailored to the needs and expectations of a multi-generational workforce.

The good news is that there is plenty of data available to support this effort—demographics, benefit utilization, employee survey responses, biometrics, workers compensation, etc. The problem for many employers is that this data is difficult to access and even more difficult to consistently interpret, largely siloed in disparate spreadsheets and other similar documents.

That's why one of Benefitfocus' largest areas of focus is quality data integration. Through our powerful data analytics solutions, and our commitment to setting the benefits industry standard for data exchange, we're helping employers consolidate all of their benefits data – from all of their various systems, vendors and partners – in one place to drive strategic decisions about what they're offering to employees.

The goal is to eliminate the take the guesswork out of designing a benefits package, enabling employers to analyze trends across a wide range of data sets to pinpoint employee needs, as well as the reasons behind the needs, and make strategic adjustments accordingly.

As benefits continue to evolve with consumer demands and workplace dynamics, we're excited to drive new applications of data analytics and machine learning to help both employers and consumers make the smartest decisions possible.

Learn more about the exciting future of data analytics in health care and benefits at Benefitfocus' annual One Place conference. Join the nation's largest community of benefits professionals, brokers, insurance executives and product suppliers to share best practices, build your network and discover the latest developments in benefits technology.

1.Clinical Innovation+Technology
2.Juniper Research