Open enrollment for health plans begins soon, which means now is the ideal time to start looking at different ways to improve employee benefits packages.
One approach organizations are taking is looking at the Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) to prioritize what programs to implement.
SDOH refer to the environmental conditions that affect people’s quality of life and health outcomes, such as whether an individual has access to safe housing, transportation, job opportunities and nutritious food.
By analyzing the type of social risk employees and their immediate communities are exposed to, companies and HR leaders can more effectively refine healthcare benefits packages and design location-specific programs that better serve employees’ socio-clinical needs.
Identifying social risk and quantifying opportunities give HR leaders the ability to enhance employee benefits packages to help improve the lives of their employees, particularly those experiencing greater socioeconomic disparities and/or health inequities.
Specifically, they can apply precision and measurement to SDOH and then leverage that data to better match new and existing intervention programs to employees’ social needs and health equity drivers. This, in turn, leads to better health outcomes and business performance such as higher employee retention rates, more productive recruitment efforts, improved presenteeism and lower absenteeism.
Trends shaping SDOH
Getting a good understanding of how social risk impacts your employees requires identifying, reviewing and tracking a wide range of data points, which initially can feel like an insurmountable task. Below are three trends to keep in mind when starting this process to help you narrow down the prioritization of employee benefits packages this year:
- The shift to remote work also applies to healthcare. Due in large part to COVID-19, today’s workforce is highly distributed, with many employees geographically changing where they live and work, and more companies embracing remote and hybrid work models as the new norm. The notion of virtual business has also spilled over into other aspects of employees’ lives, including the authorization of virtual care via telemedicine on the majority of all health plans. Employees want this care option to remain, so moving forward it’s critical healthcare benefits include improved telemedicine as an everyday, safe, effective and convenient option.
- Social support programs remain critical. Just as telemedicine emerged as a widespread (and often preferred) healthcare option during the pandemic, social support programs quickly emerged as employee lifelines. Social support programs that offer education and support regarding food and nutrition as medicine, medical transportation, pharmacy refill literacy, copay coupons and temporary housing remain crucial to recovery post-pandemic, so HR leaders should weave these programs into their overall employee benefits plans to provide timely support and foster a more engaged, healthy and present workforce.
- Access to mental and behavioral health support is more important than ever. There always has been and will continue to be a dire need for more mental health programs for almost all health plans. The COVID-19 era shone a bright and alarming light on this weakness in our healthcare ecosystem, yet still many mental health benefits remain unattainable and unaddressed, even for individuals with insurance. In 2021 and beyond, employee benefit design must improve access to mental and behavioral health support. Thankfully, HR leaders can leverage the advent of expanded telemedicine options to provide employees with more accessible, professional counseling options and mental healthcare.
SDOH analysis is the future
Now is the time to analyze the social risk of your employees and the communities where they live and work. Not only does today’s workforce deserve benefits designed to support them, but employee assistance programs like pet insurance and legal assistance are simply no longer sufficient for boosting employee engagement and retention.
By establishing a new, corporate focus on SDOH and its role in worsening clinical conditions and missed workdays, HR leaders have the power to improve employees’ health, happiness and productivity.
Matching employee benefits packages and programs to specific social risks by workforce role, physical location and cultural literacy is a fundamental first step, and by eventually gaining the ability to repeatedly deliver optimal programs for different employee subpopulations, HR leaders stand to differentiate their company in this ever-competitive landscape.