Engaging Employers and Educating Employees for a Stronger Community

08 May 2013

High-deductible, consumer-directed health plans currently cover one out of three of all employees in the Cincinnati area. These plans, with their low premiums and minimal charges for preventive care, make staying well more cost effective than ever. On the other hand, getting sick, experiencing an injury, or having a chronic condition can result in significant out-of-pocket expenses. Employees with these plans are finding the choices they make about their health and health care can impact their monthly budget in a big way.

Cincinnati Aligning Forces for Quality, led by the Health Collaborative, recognized the opportunity these self-directed plans create for employers to encourage their employees to become savvy consumers of health care rather than powerless patients. Concepts such as making informed choices about your treatment options, becoming a partner with your doctor in your care, and choosing high-quality care, take on a different meaning to employees and their families when the bottom line can be measured in both better health and fewer dollars and cents.
The Health Collaborative works directly with local businesses by providing materials to their employer benefits managers to support conversations about health care quality and patient engagement. Representatives of the Health Collaborative also present at employer health fairs and put on workplace lunch-and-learn events to educate employees about steps they can take toward being informed health care consumers.
Most of the materials are available online at www.YourHealthMatters.org. Hundreds of hours of consumer marketing research went into developing the website. It is packed with information and tools developed from a consumer-centric view and created to empower patients to be engaged partners in their care.
A key feature of the website is its unbiased rankings for local primary care physicians and hospitals. Visitors to the site can use the search tool to find a primary care doctor, or see how their doctor’s practice compares to those of their peers as well as well as to the community benchmark. Local hospital ratings reflecting patient experience, safety, and effectiveness are also available to search and compare. 
“We like that our employees can compare doctors based on clinical data collected and presented in a consumer-friendly way by a local community organization.”
A special tab on the website leads to an Employer Toolkit. Employers can download brochures, consumer activation articles, and posters to incorporate into their own education programs. Employers can also direct their employees to the YourHealthMatters.org website for a wide array of tip sheets, checklists, and other resources to meet specific needs. There are lists to help patients prepare for a safe and successful hospital stay, others to help organize questions patients may have for their doctors about treatment options or care plans—there are even checklists to help prepare for an appointment, with charts to record daily progress toward health goals.
The employer engagement efforts have contributed to a 300 percent increase in visitors to the YourHealthMatters.org website. 
When employers told the Health Collaborative they liked the provider ratings but preferred to keep all of their employee information on their own company benefits site, the Health Collaborative answered with its latest offering: a widget. The widget is a version of the YourHealthMatters physician-rating tool that can be imbedded into any site. It is ideal for employee intranet sites, community health websites, and any website that includes Cincinnati area wellness content. By adding a widget to their page, employers can provide employees with access to the latest quality-of-care data without leaving their website. Content is automatically updated and presented in an easy format. The widget can be accessed through the YourHealthMatters site and is free to download and embed.
“This puts the latest quality-of-care information at employee’s fingertips without leaving their website. It is easy to install and customizable,” said Erika McMullen, project manager of employer programs for the Health Collaborative.
The Health Collaborative’s efforts are integrated into the Cincinnati community. According to McMullen, the city of Cincinnati’s human resources director uses consumer activation articles as content for the city’s monthly employee newsletters. The publication reaches more than 5,000 employees.
The Collaborative also participated in Northern Kentucky University’s employee health fair focused on colon cancer. “We provided a colon cancer screening checklist. To keep it fun, we had employees spin a wheel to try their hand at questions about quality of care, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and colon cancer,” said McMullen.
Karen Campbell, director of wellness for Northern Kentucky University, said, “We like that our employees can compare doctors based on clinical data collected and presented in a consumer-friendly way by a local community organization.”
A key to the success of this initiative is active participation from all involved community members, including the Health Collaborative, primary care physicians, employers, and employees.
“We are fortunate in Greater Cincinnati that almost 600 primary care physicians in our community volunteer to provide their patient outcome data to YourHealthMatters.org,” said Judy Hirsh, director of consumer engagement at the Health Collaborative. “This commitment to transparency not only helps patients make informed choices, it helps doctors benchmark their performance and raises the quality of care for all of us.”
For employers, the benefits are many. Employees who are engaged in their care and making informed health care choices are the key to curbing the increase in the cost of health benefits. In addition, a study by the National Business Group on Health found that healthy employees are more productive and engaged. The Health Collaborative believes employers play a powerful role in realizing the community goal of better health, better care, and lower cost. The organization is working to have its efforts serve as a model for other communities looking to improve health care quality.