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Healthcare Consumerism Communication: Why it Matters For You and Your Employees

By Ben Eubanks | 3-min read

Healthcare consumerism is a powerful tool for improving employee satisfaction, in addition to the obvious bottom line benefits. If an employee can spend less of her money on her benefits, feel like she’s more in control of her care, and gets better service overall, then that’s a win-win for the employee and the business. As business leaders, we want our employees to utilize and appreciate our benefit offerings, and teaching the workforce about healthcare consumerism can help to make that a reality. 

Healthcare Consumerism in a Nutshell

Nearly three-quarters of Americans have healthcare coverage through an employer, but ever-increasing costs are putting constant pressure on both employers and employees. The answer to this challenge is better communication. Education and information can help to shift costs by improving the decision-making process for users of healthcare services.

Healthcare consumerism enables individuals to make better, more informed choices about how they spend their dollars. According to Jennifer Goodall, a benefits consultant at S.S. Nesbitt, employers can make great headway with this approach. She explained:

“There are so many things employers can do to educate employees on how to ask questions of their providers and make smarter choices. This could be anything from shopping for prescriptions to getting an MRI taken at a diagnostic clinic instead of a hospital, potentially saving thousands of dollars.” 

This is more than just theory. A recent research study showed that employees who had not met their deductible reduced spending by 10 to 17 percent if they price shopped. This is particularly relevant if you have adopted a high deductible health plan (HDHP), as the higher deductible increases the time that employees will shop for better prices. 

Today’s employers shoulder just over 50 percent of healthcare costs, soconsumerism is a clear opportunity to save on medical costs and improve profitability. But what about the overall employee experience? How does that factor into the equation? 

Creating a Stronger Employer Value Proposition

When it comes to healthcare, employees want manageable costs, but they also want to be satisfied with the options they can access. They’re naturally inclined towards those two outcomes, and employers can help them to get closer to both with education on consumerism practices. Some forward-thinking business leaders believe that benefits usage is an indicator for employee retention, and Goodall said it can also affect recruiting as well, if the company takes the time to educate candidates about how it takes care of its employees’ health needs. 

Goodall says that candidates and employees are usually excited to learn that they have some measure of control over their spending, and if employers can help to educate them on how to ask questions this can drive satisfaction on a variety of fronts. Most importantly, from the employer’s perspective, satisfied employees are more productive and less likely to be a retention risk

Creating and Executing a Communication Plan

In spite of this good news story, changing behaviors doesn’t always start off easily. Goodall explained that there is often an initial challenge in making the mindset shift for employees. Especially for those workers using a traditional PPO health plan, it’s often easy to just go to the most convenient provider and let the employer cover the lion’s share of the cost. 

Goodall recommends a thorough, comprehensive communication plan. In a previous job, she developed a 12-month plan with quarterly focal points (preventive care, prescriptions, imaging procedures, etc.) and monthly tips and messages to employees. One of her favorite ways of getting the information in front of employees was to put it on the portal for employee timekeeping. Any time a worker had to log hours at work, they saw the latest relevant information about their benefits, including opportunities to take advantage of them. 

Educating the average worker on something as complex as healthcare choice is more than a one-time newsletter article, email, or open enrollment meeting. Trying to share everything at once is a recipe for disaster, because employees won’t even remember your key message over time. Using regular “Did you know” tidbits and multiple communication avenues helps to drive retention and behavior change over time. 

Benefits, even something as “standard” as healthcare, say a lot about your company and your culture. By helping your workers to be more educated consumers, you can help them to potentially improve health outcomes, create a more positive employee experience, and create stronger ties to the organization. Consumerism is doubly beneficial for employers: not only does it save hard dollars on healthcare costs, it also leads to a better employee experience and higher employee retention by improving worker satisfaction. These outcomes are worthy goals in any business, but they’re more important than ever in today’s tight talent market.