Use of technology in healthcare benefits

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  • More employers are investing in healthcare technology, such as online wellness programmes, flex platforms and smartphone applications.
  • Online healthcare provision can be offered and accessed 24 hours a day.
  • Web portals and flex platforms make it easier to manage sickness absence, wellness programmes and benefits.
  • Do not risk alienating staff who might prefer traditional communications, such as payslip notes or leaflets.

Technology is being used more and more in the delivery of healthcare benefits, but employers should not abandon traditional communication methods, says Georgina Fuller

The wide use of technology in healthcare benefits has the big advantage that employees can access services 24 hours a day, including medical advice, and health screening.

The use of technology is becoming increasingly common with the increase in online wellness programmes, flexible benefits platforms and online communications. A range of occupational health schemes, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), can now be offered through online portals, SMS text messages and smartphone applications (apps).

Online health screening is becoming more prevalent, especially risk assessments that give staff information and guidance on any health concerns, says Andrew Aldana, senior health and wellbeing consultant at Thomsons Online Benefits. “This information is then provided to the employer for headline statistics about the overall health of employees so it can measure this on an ongoing basis, and quantify it in terms of any wellness programmes it has invested in,” he says.

Some private medical insurance (PMI) providers have also introduced online claims processes, with members able to log in and check the status of their claim.

Tony Free, business, licensing and digital media director at iThinkSmarter, which provides a CBT iPhone app, says apps can provide staff with a range of treatment options, including practical advice for those suffering from depression, stress or anxiety. “They can be used by any number of employees at any one time, are easy to follow and the treatment comes in stages, enabling behavioural and cognitive changes,” says Free. “We aim to embed the programme into employee assistance programmes and offer training. Should an organisation need web back-up, we can facilitate that also.”

Flexible benefits platforms

Flexible benefits platforms are becoming an increasingly common way of engaging with staff, says Brian Hall, sales and marketing director at healthcare provider BHSF. “Online lifestyle screens and pre-employment screens are increasingly popular, as is the use of flex platforms to enrol staff into health insurance schemes,” he says.

Platforms can also enable staff to manage their voluntary healthcare benefits and total reward statements online, says Hall. “Often, the flex provider will manage the other supplier relationships and the kit takes care of the administration. It is an easy way to get health messages across.”

However, some employers many not be able to use cutting-edge technology, such as smartphones, to communicate with their workforce or risk alienating a large number of staff by relying solely on online portals. Aldana says: “The UK population has good access to internet technology, at home or at work, but if staff do not have access because they, say, work in manufacturing, then traditional methods, such as hard-copy literature, payslip notes, posters, leaflets, canteen talks and email flyers, need to be used.”

But employers should not necessarily favour the latest technology over tried-and-tested communication methods, says Declan White, group risk head of strategy and marketing at insurance provider Friends Life. “Old technology paper and new technology smartphones all have a role to play in accessing and communicating healthcare benefits,” he says. “The most important factor is still the careful selection of the right benefits delivered in the right way.”

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