Healthcare literacy can drastically impact the quality of care, outcomes and cost for patients.

Healthcare literacy image

Healthcare literacy is all about being able to properly communicate with your doctor, understand what your doctor is telling you, and make an informed decision. But before you can communicate with your doctor, you need to find a good one in the first place. And to do that you need to know where to find who is covered under your medical plan. Then after you find a good doctor, you should know what questions to ask them and how to shop for medications to get the best price. Not to mention having the ability to follow treatment plans and dealing with medical bills.

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Do People Want To Become Healthcare “Consumers”?

A group of shoppers conversing

I was talking to a family member recently, and she revealed that she had no idea how to go about doing price shopping and quality comparisons when it came to her medical care.  I asked her if she even cared?  “Of course,” she said.  “I feel totally taken advantage of”.   This surprised me.  Being in the industry, we see pushback from people saying that their employees won’t take the time to become empowered consumers. Are they right? Do people even want to help themselves and deal with skyrocketing costs or do they see it as a no-win situation? 

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Free healthcare?

Before we begin, let’s review 4 points:

  1. Insurance carriers aren’t in business to lose money. United Healthcare reported $163.3 billion of revenue in 2017.
  2. There is no such thing as free healthcare. Wouldn’t it be great if you could get BOGOs at your clinic?.
  3. This year’s insurance premiums are based on last year’s claims (Health Insurance 101).
  4. More than half of Americans (57 percent) have less than $1,000 in their savings accounts according to a 2017 GOBankingRates survey. At least you don’t have to feel alone.

Those four statements were running through my head as I read an article on making the most of a high deductible health plan. The article at first glance made some sense. The main premise was that if you are facing a surgery or similar healthcare situation that will bring about significant medical bills after you’ve hit your deductible, then why not pile on the medical services during that same year. After all, once you’ve reached your deductible, the rest of the year you get free healthcare, right? Well, not so fast.

It’s important to understand that a HDHP is a health plan with an annual deductible of at least $1,350 for self-only coverage or $2,700 for family coverage. According to point #4, that means 57% of us can’t afford our HDHP since we have less than $1,000 in savings. Then, remember point #3 – insurance companies don’t lose money in the long run. Therefore, if medical claims exceed premiums this year, the insurance companies will increase premiums next year, meaning either your monthly premium will increase, your deductible will increase or both.

Now let’s “follow the dollar” through this scenario. According to the Business Insider, the average cost of having a baby in the US is $10,808. Let’s say you have a $3,000 deductible, so you will obviously blow past it with the birth of your precious one. Once you hit $3000, your insurance carrier will then pick up the remainder of the balance and any of your healthcare that follows in that plan year is “free”. Therefore, you either decide to have some unnecessary medical procedures or you have needed procedures and don’t feel the need to price shop since you don’t have to pay anyway. Sound reasonable? Yes, according to the article I read. However, what happens next year to the cost of your healthcare? According to the annual Kaiser Family Foundation Employer Health Benefits Survey, insurance premiums have continued to rise ever since they began measuring them in 1999, so most likely, that’s your answer.

According to Benefitfocus, a benefits technology and services firm, 70% of large employers offered at least one HDHP either in addition to a traditional plan or exclusively as a full replacement for traditional coverage. Here’s the conundrum: most of us can’t afford our high deductible plans now and are hearing messages that if the unfortunate happens and we do exceed our deductible in a plan year, the remainder of the year is “free”. This sets us up for a downward spiral for the next year and so on and on and on.

What is the answer – earn more and save more? That sounds great but unfortunately is not always possible. What is possible is to learn how to be a savvy medical consumer by increasing your healthcare literacy. Learn how to compare costs when it comes to pharmaceuticals and medical procedures. Learn how to find quality care in your network. If you are among the 57% that has limited savings, ask the doctor or hospital for a low- or no-interest installment plan and always ask whether a less expensive, alternative treatment is available. Remember, healthcare is a consumer good and we need to treat it as such. The good news is that it isn’t hard, The Definitive Guide on Increasing Employee Healthcare Literacy will show you how.

Help Your Boss Understand the Importance of Healthcare Literacy

Your boss is asking you to help control the cost of your health plan, which is most likely your second biggest expense after payroll. Healthcare literacy is the key to improving your employees’ healthcare outcomes, ensuring quality of care and controlling costs. Now, if only your boss understood that.  We will help you make the case for convincing your employer that healthcare literacy is the way of the future and a necessary component to your benefit package. Healthcare literacy will do the following 10 things for your employees:

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How to talk to your employees about health literacy

HEALTH LITERACY DEFINED

Health Literacy is defined as “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process and understand basic healthcare information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions”.

Currently, only 12% of Americans are considered health literate. Consequently, many companies are recognizing the need to provide easy to use tools with comprehensible language  to improve literacy. This results in healthier, lower cost outcomes.

THE IMPACT OF ILLITERACY

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, people who are considered “Healthcare Illiterate”:

  • Are more likely to have chronic conditions and lack the understanding to manage them
  • Do not use preventive care services
  • Experience longer hospital stays, many of which many could have been prevented altogether
  • Are using medications inappropriately or ineffectively
  • Don’t ask for help because they are feel intimidated and are self-conscious
  • Are less compliant in their treatment due to misunderstanding

For employers, this means higher medical claims, lower productivity, more disability claims and a higher rate of absenteeism.

HOW TO IMPROVE HEALTH LITERACY IN THE WORKPLACE

Luckily, there are ways to improve employee’s health literacy and avoid negative outcomes:

  • Be consistent – Use the same language when describing your health plan, costs and services
  • Simplify your language – Try to write the way you speak. Use short, less complex sentences
  • Make your communication easy to read – Use larger font, headings and bullets. Leave plenty of white space in the margins
  • Use pictures – Some people are more visual learners than others
  • Give specific instructions – Clearly tell your audience what actions you want them to take
  • Get rid of the jargon – Don’t assume people understand things like deductibles, co-pays or FSA’s
  • Treat everyone the same – Remember that most people don’t understand the healthcare system
  • Use peer groups – Encourage your employees to help each other with questions and concerns
  • Use a variety of communication methods – Some people are more technologically inclined than others, so don’t leave employees behind because they are not as computer savvy
  • Remember the families – Many times the healthcare decision maker is not the employee, it may be a spouse or dependent so make sure to communicate with them as often as possible
  • Use mobile apps – Some employees, especially the younger generation will be exclusively using their smartphone, so make it easy for them
  • Use their language – Make communications available in the languages that are most prevalent in your company’s culture

GET HELP

Establishing behavior change in your company’s workplace can be a daunting task. Remember that you’re not alone. Health Literacy is a problem for everyone, but that can be changed. If you are interested in getting more acquainted with the topic, take a look at Trig’s Health Literacy Guide. Get your employees on the path to better care and lower costs through engagement and education.

Healthcare Literacy – What Most People Don’t Understand

Health Literacy is defined as “the degree to which an individual has the capacity to obtain, communicate, process, and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions”. However, over 88% of Americans are not actually “health literate”. That means that nearly 9 out of 10 adults lack the skills needed to manage their healthcare. Further, the average patient reads at about a 5th grade level when it comes to healthcare. And unfortunately, the medical field and health insurance is only growing more complex.

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How to Explain Health Literacy to Employees and Co-Workers

Every year during open enrollment meetings, you have the “pleasure” of standing up in front of your employees and delivering the news that their health insurance premiums are rising again, so in effect, they are getting a salary decrease. They are going to hurl questions at you, (if you’re lucky) or throw things at you, (if you aren’t) and both you and they feel helpless to do much about it. What if we could write a different narrative – one where your employees understood why their healthcare premiums keep rising and actions they could take to help control that upward spiral? The reward to you is lower healthcare costs and appreciative employees, the reward to them is simply, better health.

Here are 5 ways to improve your employees’ healthcare literacy that will help them to control costs.

  1. Use the appropriate level of care. Since your employees are the only ones who can decide when to enter the healthcare system, it is important for them to understand what type of care is available, so that they can make the best decision for their situation. When making this decision, they should consider both cost as well as the level of care required to adequately treat their condition. It is the only way to ensure that they are getting the right kind of care so that they receive the best care for the best price.
  2. Use an in-network provider and facility whenever possible (which is most of the time). In network refers to providers or health care facilities that are part of a health plan’s network of providers with which it has negotiated a discount. Your employees should be encouraged to create an online account with their insurance carrier. Once they are logged in, they can use their carrier’s provider search tool to find an in-network provider.
  3. Use price comparison tools for both medical and pharmaceuticals. Costs for office visits, procedures and tests can vary greatly from one doctor to the next as can prescriptions vary from one pharmacy to the next. Your employees should learn how to shop for affordable care and they can save hundreds or thousands of dollars while making informed decisions about their healthcare.
  4. Get a second opinion when a diagnosis is made and a treatment plan is suggested. Your employees should learn how and when to get a second opinion to avoid unnecessary care. A second opinion can help your employees:
  • Ensure their diagnosis is correct
  • Select a treatment plan that is best for them
  • Learn about clinical trials
  • Understand their condition better
  • Get answers to their questions
  • Become an informed, active partner in their healthcare
  • Find peace of mind
  1. Use a bill review and negotiation service. There can be a large disparity in the cost of services, so your employees should learn how to review their bills for accuracy and how to negotiate a lower rate. One way to negotiate rates is to ask for the cash price.

Getting your employees to take these actions requires a shift in behavior. The most important factor to achieve behavior change success is that leadership must be completely onboard. Help your C-suite realize the impact on the organization of their employees learning how to get the best care possible for the best price. How much does it cost the organization if the top sales performer is out for an unnecessary surgery? You may also need to help your employees realize how becoming a savvy healthcare consumer impacts not only their family’s pocketbook, but more importantly, their health. When your employee finds out that their child’s surgery didn’t happen because they got a second opinion, that “avoided surgery story” will permeate throughout the company and sway others to do the same.

If you wish to learn more about health literacy options that will not only save your organization money but save you time, check out our healthcare literacy guide. This 10-minute read will give you many tips to avoid overpayment for medical services and improper care. Bringing these solutions to your management team will make you a Human Resource’s Superstar in their eyes.

Overcoming Language Barriers in Workplace Healthcare (and improve employee engagement)

One of the most common issues that we encounter in workplace benefits is the language barrier. When it comes to healthcare, the simple truth is that benefits must be communicated successfully. Between your health plan itself, to new cost-savings benefits that you’ve added (tele-health anyone?), you must be prepared to educate your employees about them or face abysmal utilization.

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Getting a Fair Price Shouldn’t Be a Struggle

I’m a 50 year old woman (or at least somewhere near 50) who needs to get a routine bone density scan.  My doctor suggested it as part of my preventive care routine, and I heard it was painless and easy so I consented.  No big deal to schedule, my doctor told me, her office would make the appointment.

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How My Healthcare Knowledge Helped My Family

I work for a company called Trig. Our goal is to increase benefits and healthcare literacy. It’s that simple. Fortunately, I am one of those people who seldom go to the doctor (knock on wood, throw salt over my shoulder, etc.). Therefore, this knowledge has personally, rarely been needed (thank goodness!), however, I can pass this information on to those I care about and our hope is that Trig users do the same.

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