Just Be a Better Healthcare Consumer, Will You?

As healthcare woes continue for businesses and individuals alike, there’s growing sentiment from some benefits brokers that patients just need to become better consumers of healthcare. But there are others who realize it’s not that simple, and who are committed to shouldering some of that responsibility— and making a difference.

Common healthcare consumer advice sounds something like this:

  • Spend more time shopping around!
  • Put as much thought and effort into looking for a surgeon as you do into looking for a car! Or a microwave! Or some other fill-in-the-blank item!
  • Get recommendations on hospitals and doctors!
  • Do price comparisons on procedures!
  • Just be healthy to start with!

Often, these things are said with much vigor and enthusiasm. And many exclamation points! As if it’s a simple, basic idea no one has thought of yet. Or as in, “Why aren’t people doing this already?!?!?!”

Well, for lots of reasons. Including the fact that the current healthcare landscape makes it nearly impossible.

It ain’t that simple

When employees think about employee benefits, they see themselves as patients, not as consumers. And that’s a very different dynamic.

Consumers have choices. And time. And alternative options.

Need a new car?

You’re not going to die if it doesn’t happen today. And you probably know a mechanic or two who can give you some pretty solid advice. You could also check out the latest Consumer Reports, which will provide extremely detailed information on which cars perform the best on every factor imaginable. Once you’ve decided what you want, there are all kinds of places you can go to make that purchase, and the MSRP and Kelley Blue Book values make it easy to know if you’re getting hosed or not. More importantly, if you don’t want to rush this purchase, you don’t have to. You can take the bus. Or carpool. Or get a Lyft.

Now, let’s say your appendix goes out.

It happens pretty quickly and you’re in extreme pain. And let’s be honest, it’s probably the middle of the night. Decision making is impaired at best, and comparison shopping is out of the question. There’s one, maybe two hospitals in your area. No sense in getting a recommendation or asking how much an appendectomy costs. You’re stuck with the doctor on call— and whatever random price point the facility decides to set. What’s it based on? You have no clue. You can request an itemized bill after the fact, but you’ll have to jump through hoops to get it. And then what? There’s no option to get your money or your old appendix back. There is only an arduous battle over charges, coverage, networks, and payment plans.

Comparing patients to consumers only goes so far

Patients are often at an extreme disadvantage, even when they don’t need emergency surgery.

The system isn’t set up to be patient friendly. It’s set up to be profit friendly.

  • And cumbersome
  • And inefficient
  • And mysterious

Have you ever tried to shop around for a doctor? There isn’t much to go on. Personal anecdotes from friends, relatives and the Internet— where we all know everyone is super reasonable.

Go ahead! Try to come up with a Consumer Reports style matrix with physician and hospital ratings, success and failure rates, accurate pricing, and comprehensive data based on specific experiential factors. An experienced employee benefits broker may be able to gain access to these kinds of numbers, but the typical healthcare consumer is straight out of luck.  

Being better consumers of healthcare is difficult

Here are a few key reasons why:

1.) Lack of data

Navigating the healthcare system is nebulous at best, nightmarish at worst. Medical charges are based on a variety of factors that patients have little control over or even knowledge of: Contracts between doctors and hospitals, hospitals and drug stores, drug stores and pharmaceutical companies, employers and insurance providers, insurance providers and care providers, and the list goes on.

Plus, there’s that little thing called the Chargemaster, a comprehensive collection of prices for everything from alcohol swabs and IV bags to spinal surgeries and heart transplants. But not only is this critical information not transparent or readily available to patients, it’s not based on actual costs. Plus, it’s not even standardized! Chargemaster pricing varies wildly from hospital to hospital.  

Long story short: Your average Joe or Jane patient does not have access to the information necessary to make rational healthcare choices and decisions.

2.) Lack of power

The doctor/patient relationship is not an egalitarian one. The patient is sick, scared, and in perhaps in pain. They have no idea what is wrong or how to fix it. The doctor has all the knowledge, experience, authority, and power.

And yet somehow the frightened, confused, sick person is expected to take charge of the situation and become an informed consumer. How good are you at research, communication, and standing up for yourself when you have the flu? Probably not nearly as effective as when you’re well.

Expecting patients to take charge when they are feeling most vulnerable isn’t realistic. Their reasoning and decision making have been compromised. They just want to be taken care of. They want to put trust in their doctors and caregivers, not question everything they do. 

3.) Lack of resources

If you’re lucky, you may be able to delay your elective surgery long enough to shop around. If you’re really lucky, you may have found a way access reliable information on the best place to have it done. If you’re exponentially lucky, you have all of the time and resources you need to be able to go to that place.

The problem is that a lot of healthcare consumers don’t. Geographically, their options are limited. Physically, they can’t travel. Financially, they can’t afford to go to the next town or city or state. It’s quite possible they can’t even afford the visit they just had.

In a perfect world, everyone would be able to shop and spend where it makes the most sense. But in the real world, there are a whole lot of people who simply don’t have that option.

4.) Lack of control

“Just be healthier!” can be valid advice, but it’s not the ultimate answer.

The cold, hard truth is that even healthy people can become sick. Or get in a car accident. Or have a child with cancer.

Sometimes, stuff just happens. Despite the best of intentions. Blaming sick people for the cost of healthcare may seem reasonable— until that sick person is someone we know and love.

How employers (and brokers!) can help

A patient is just one person. But a business is a group of people with more resources and leverage, and access to an employee benefits advisor who knows the system inside and out.

Good brokers understand they can’t fix the problems at the core of the healthcare system.

Great brokers know they have the power to inch their way toward making positive change within it, and for the organizations and employees they are helping.

As an employer, you actually do comparison shop for healthcare. Every single year. And, you’re buying in bulk! This gives you a level of power that individual healthcare consumers don’t have. Use this leverage, and the knowledge of your benefits broker, to make choices that make sense not just for your business, but for those who need coverage and care.

Working with the right broker makes all the difference here. You can choose a broker that focuses on plans and premiums, or you can work with an advisor who is committed to helping you create the right healthcare strategy for your business and the build best benefits plan for your employees.

A quality advisor will also go the extra mile, helping to educate your workforce about the plan details, how to use it, and where to go for care— before they need it. The more your employees know upfront, the smarter choices they can make.

People really do want to be better health care consumers. They just need the tools to do it. Let’s all work together to make it happen.


Photo by Dmitriy Shironosov  

4 Keys to More Effective Workplace Communication

We communicate every day in lots of ways. At work. At home. At Starbucks. Most of the time, we do it without a specific plan. And while planning out your communications may sound strange, it can work wonders for your results— especially when you’re talking business.

To make the most of your workplace communication efforts, you’ll want to consider the following factors:

  • Priorities – Are you communicating the most important things?
  • Data – Is your information accurate?
  • Audience – Are you speaking to the right people?
  • Rhythm – Does the timing make sense?

Start with priorities

Some conversations are best when they come about organically, but that’s rarely the case when you need to address a specific topic with your team. Setting your priorities before you have that conversation will help keep you from being unclear, getting sidetracked, or missing the point completely.

To get on the right track, ask yourself these key questions:

  • What is it that you need to convey?
  • Are you leading with the most critical information dancing around the topic?
  • How will you express your thoughts in a way that makes sense and resonates?

Be sure not to cram too many priorities into any one conversation. People can only process and remember so much. Keep the priority list short, clear, and succinct and you will have an easier time getting the information across.

Check your data

If your conversation centers around trends, numbers, research, and/or evidence, make sure you get your facts right.

  • Do your homework
  • Check your sources
  • Write things down
  • Don’t try to wing it or keep a bunch of statistics straight in your head

Which of these approaches sounds more effective?

“According to your last review, you’ve missed 3 deadlines in a row.”

“I feel like you’ve been missing a few deadlines.”

Number 1, right? If you have the actual review in front of you, even better! Now you can work off of documented history rather than hazy memories.

If you’re talking trends, simply saying “Sales are up!” isn’t going to be nearly as impactful as saying, “Total sales are up 12%, but online sales are up 26%.” Now that’s some useful information! But if sales are actually up 36% and you didn’t get it right, you missed an even bigger opportunity.

If you’re using numbers to make your point, the key is to be specific and accurate.

Consider your audience

Before you get into a discussion, take a moment to think about who needs to hear your message and what their respective concerns will be. Depending on who you are talking to, these things can be vastly different. Here are a few examples.

  • Prospects will be interested in what you can do for them
  • Clients need to feel appreciated and valued
  • Partners want to know the advantages of working with you
  • Employees are interested in company culture and values, and where they fit in

Of course, all of these things can adjust and change depending on the topic of the day. The key is to think about who you’re communicating with and how the information will be received and processed— before jumping into that discussion.

Thinking about your audience will help you tailor your delivery to make it as effective as possible.

Get your rhythm down

To communicate effectively, you have to know what needs to be communicated and when. Blindsiding someone with a conversation out of context (or out of nowhere) never ends well and waiting to deliver critical information does way more harm than good.

To make sure the timing of your communications make sense, ask these questions:

  • Is this information urgent or time sensitive?
  • Who needs to know about this and when?
  • Is it something that needs to be communicated regularly?
  • Who should the message come from, and in what format?
  • Is there an existing meeting where it makes sense to bring this up?

But keep in mind that it also depends on who you’re talking to:

  • Prospects don’t want to be overwhelmed with information or solicitations
  • Clients can’t just hear from you when there’s a problem
  • Partners need to be reminded of the value of your relationship
  • Employees get very frustrated when they don’t know what’s going on

Use this information to plan out individual discussions and get the most of your conversations. Or, better yet, put together a big-picture communication strategy that covers all of your needs.

Yes, may sound like a lot of work on the front end, but it’s work that will pay off in the long run.


Photo by rawpixel 

Workplace security: What does it mean?

For some people, workplace security means being able to hang onto a job. But for business owners, it means protecting the organization from all kinds of potential threats.

When it comes to maintaining a safe, healthy, and profitable workplace, it’s important to give workplace security the big-picture attention it deserves.

What kinds of things should you be thinking about?  

Let’s start with your data

Are you aware that the average cost of a data breach globally is $3.86 million? And that’s just the average. The cost of a mega-breach can range from 40 to 300 million dollars. Yikes. That’s a huge expense, especially considering that data breaches are usually sudden and unexpected.

So while the numbers can vary greatly, the facts don’t. Lose your data and it will cost you. Investing in data security measures will help make sure this doesn’t happen. Here are a few basic things you can do to help your data stay secure:

  • Educate your employees about how to create secure passwords, spot suspicious emails, and secure electronic and hard copy and data.
  • Evaluate your processes for how data is handled, stored and disposed of.
  • Create a strategy for how to deal with work-related technology and devices.
  • Keep your software updated.
  • Monitor Internet and network activities.
  • Use spam and email filters.
  • Consider encryption options and two-factor identification.
  • Train your staff on these issues regularly.
  • Offer or invest in identity theft protection.

Doing these things will require time and resources, but not doing these things could cost you far more.

Protecting your assets

We’ve established that data thieves are everywhere. But that’s not the only concern. There are still plenty of old-fashioned criminals out there who are very interested in taking your stuff. Even worse, some of them might be working for you.

Make sure you have systems in place to protect your product, inventory, and cash flow. Depending on your business, this could mean anything from investing in security guards, alarm systems, and video surveillance, to refining your inventory, accounting, auditing, and internal processes. You may also want to implement an anonymous fraud hotline where employees can report suspicious activity.

If you haven’t done a risk assessment recently, there’s no time like the present. As businesses change, so does risk. The threats you identified 10, 5, or even 2 years ago may not be the same threats you’re facing today.

Identify potential vulnerabilities, rank your priorities, and make sure you’ve got preventative and protective measures in place to address them. A trusted insurance consultant can be a very helpful advocate here.

The human side of risk

While we’re at it, let’s talk about investing in additional forms of security— for your buildings, offices, and employees.

It’s not just about protecting your assets, it’s about protecting you and your people. Putting a lock on the door and calling it safe may have worked at one time, but not anymore. Like it or not, workplace violence is on the rise, and emergency preparedness is becoming increasingly important. 

When is the last time you discussed your company-wide emergency/crisis management plan? Is it up to date? Do your employees know what to do if something happens? Is there protocol in place for how to handle a workplace incident or disaster? Are there ways to mitigate confusion, damage, and loss?

Here are some key things you can do to help keep your workplace and your staff safe.

  • Always check references and encourage employees to report threatening or unusual behavior.
  • Educate and train managers and staff on how to identify warning signs and how to handle potentially dangerous situations.
  • Assess your security systems and protocol. How do people get in and out? Who has access? Locking doors, panic buttons, and bulletproof glass may seem like overkill, but you’ll want to look into your emergency procedures to see what seems right for your organization.
  • Create emergency plans for a variety of circumstances including man-made and natural disasters. Share them with the team and practice them regularly.
  • Come up with a detailed communication plan for emergency notification procedures.

If this sounds overwhelming, you may want to work with a professional consultant or organization that specializes in putting together this kind of plan. In a perfect world, you’ll never need to use it. Which is what we’re all hoping for.

But, if you do need to put an emergency plan into action, you’ll be glad you have one that’s well thought out and ready to go.


Photo by igorr

Risk Management: It’s More Than Just an Insurance Policy

When you think about risk management and your business, what comes to mind? Your finances? Your building and equipment? Your insurance policy?

These things are all important and worth protecting. But managing your organizational risk is about more than dollars and stuff. It’s about managing your operations and people, too.

Risk comes in all different sizes

We’ve all seen those scary insurance commercials featuring burglars, car crashes, and destroyed buildings. If you’re a business owner, you’ve likely invested in protecting your business from these events. Which is good! But your insurance policy can only do so much. In order for your business to run as smoothly and risk-free as possible, you’ll need to think well beyond break-ins, vehicles, and natural disasters.

There are all kinds of things that can wreak havoc on your business, and most of them aren’t nearly as spectacular (or unlikely) as a tornado. The key is to break away from these standard scenarios and take a look at things from a big picture lens.

Here are two key areas that may be getting overlooked when it comes to risk assessment and reduction.

1.) Health and wellness

If you think employee health is a personal issue, you are overlooking one key thing. Unhealthy employees make for unhealthy businesses.

The cost of absenteeism is often measured in sick days, but the hidden costs of presenteeism are harder to measure. Because of this, employers may tend to ignore the issue, but presenteeism can have a HUGE impact on your business.

Research by Global Corporate Challenge revealed that while employees reported being absent from work an average of 4 days per year, they also admitted to being unproductive on the job for an average of 57.5 days per year. That’s nearly three months! Or the equivalent of your entire staff working at 75% of their capacity at all times. Ouch. 

But there is hope. The study also showed that presenteeism has an advantage over absenteeism when it comes to fixes.

Employees who participated in a comprehensive health program experienced improvements in sleep, stress levels, and overall happiness. Workers who participated in the program were shown to be happier, more relaxed, and yes, more productive at work. These employees (and employers) gained back the equivalent of ten days of lost time.

Building a healthy workplace means buying into a healthy culture and taking care of your employees. Some quick ways to do that include:

  • Valuing your employees as people first
  • Offering flexible schedules and paid time off
  • Managing workloads appropriately
  • Providing market value wages and compensation
  • Investing in ergonomic office equipment
  • Encouraging healthy behaviors via gym memberships, fitness classes, etc.
  • Participating in community giving and other charitable activities
  • Giving people access to help and support through Employee Assistance Programs, financial education, and employee benefits

You may also want to consider investing in organization-wide training and resources regarding drug testing, substance abuse, and treatment programs.

While these things may not automatically jump to mind when you think risk management, committing to a healthy workplace can be a huge factor in helping you maintain a healthy bottom line.

2.) Safety

OSHA says you must provide a safe working environment for your employees and you’ve likely done some work to make sure those boxes are checked. But when’s the last time you conducted a safety audit? Or asked your employees about what kinds of potential hazards or unsafe practices they see happening around them?

It could be something as simple as adhering that file cabinet to the wall or taping down that loose power cord. Or, it could be something that’s been baked into your organization over time: A pace of work that is unsustainable, hours and schedules that lead to exhausted, mistake-prone staff, or turning a blind eye to unsafe procedures.

If you haven’t built a culture of safety in your company, here are a few ways to start making it happen:

  • Keep your workplace and equipment clean, functional, and clutter free
  • Create an environment that welcomes safety communication and incident reporting
  • Form a safety committee dedicated to identifying and fixing potential issues
  • Conduct relevant, up to date, and interactive safety trainings for your team
  • Reward your team for safe behaviors and hold people accountable for unsafe conduct
  • Don’t just talk about safety. Invest in the equipment, processes, and measures you need to put in place to keep employees safe

Providing a safe work place doesn’t mean slapping up an OSHA poster and calling it good.

Really committing to safety won’t just reduce the possibility of loss due to workplace injuries, accidents, fines, and lawsuits. It will also show your employees that you care.

And that can go a long way toward building a better business.


Photo by Luca Bertolli

Are You Treating Your Employees Like Kids? Maybe You Should.

Being the boss can be as thrilling as it is frustrating. As tiring as it is rewarding. As inspiring as it is terrifying. In other words, welcome to parenthood.

Think about your own parents. What did they do to bring out the best in you? Where did they fall short? Chances are, their parenting styles shaped you into the person you are today.

When it comes to managing employees, we can definitely learn from the vast amounts of research and literature on how best to do so. But instead of hitting the business books, we’re going to take look at Psychology Today’s top 10 tips for parenting to see how they stack up.

Ready? Let’s do this thing.

Top 10 Parenting Tips (from Barton Goldsmith Ph.D.)

1.) Identify your child’s strengths. You can use these strengths to build your child’s self-esteem, helping to provide the confidence he or she needs to tackle whatever seems difficult. Children will be more willing to listen and understand how to correct adverse behaviors if their dignity is intact.

Bingo! Hopefully you’ve done a good job of this during the hiring process by carefully creating an accurate job description and asking all of the right questions. Sometimes, though, you end up with a great employee in a wrong position. If that’s the case, don’t be afraid to mix things up a bit. Putting that person in a position to succeed will make everyone happier.

2.) Punishing a child isn’t as effective as using praise and rewards. Rather than focusing on weaknesses, find ways to assist your child in developing to his or her full potential. When encouraged, children will acquire talents to compensate for any deficiencies. 

True again! If you have employees who are underperforming, don’t rush to call them out in front of their peers or put them on probation. Recognize what they’re doing well and have an honest conversation about what things might be holding them back and how you can help develop their skills and reach their goals.

3.) Avoid negative emotional reactions, such as anger, sarcasm, and ridicule. If your child has problems with control, negativity will only make him or her feel worse. Use short and mild suggestions to remind your child to focus.

This is always a good rule for workplace etiquette, especially when dealing with employees. And while short, mild suggestions may or may not work, strategic re-directing questions can get your team members back on track. Questions like, “What do you need to make this work better?” or “How can we get this project going again?” will re-focus negative energy toward problem solving solutions.

4.) Don’t compare siblings. If a child thinks his or her brother or sister is favored, it can create a rivalry that may last the rest of their lives and cause problems in your family. Make sure your kids know that they are loved equally.

Ding! Ding! Ding! If this is ringing bells for you, it’s for good reason. Comparing or ranking employees may sound like a good idea in theory, but it can definitely cause problems in your work family. You don’t need to declare unconditional love for everyone on your team, but you do need to make sure all staff members know that their work is valued and important.

5.) Get support if and when you need it. Life with children is a roller coaster ride. Understanding that there will be negative aspects to child rearing and getting some professional advice when necessary will help you maintain your sanity and enjoy the experience.

Expert advice… Take it! Even the best leaders need help sometimes. Make sure you have professional mentors and advisors you can call when things get rough. Whether it’s a fellow business owner, HR professional, legal counsel, or some other trusted advisor, surround yourself with people who care about you and the success of your business.

6.) Children need positive attention. If they do not receive positive attention from family, they may choose to seek out negative attention. This is because negative attention is still attention, and any attention is better than being ignored. Remember to communicate with your child.

Remember that guy in the basement with the red stapler? The one who was totally forgotten? Let’s just say it didn’t end well. Giving employees the freedom and autonomy to do their jobs is a good thing, but failing to check in with them, answer questions, and tell them about things that are happening in the organization will make them feel uninvolved, unsettled and unappreciated. It could also lead to negative behaviors and consequences.

7.) Monitor your child’s use of the Internet. The stuff kids can access in cyberspace can be dangerous. Get a program that will let you see the web sites they visit and monitor their chats.

Chances are your employees are old enough to know the dangers of the Internet, but that doesn’t stop some of them from putting your company at risk. Defining your social media policy and setting clear guidelines about how your brand is communicated online have become increasingly important. One bad post or tweet can do a ton of damage. Make sure your employees know what’s appropriate behavior and what’s not.

8.) Accept that life changes when you have a child. Lazy Saturday mornings in bed are replaced by soccer games and recitals. Remember, you still need to make time for each other – date nights and weekend getaways are important for your relationship.

Ah, yes. How life changes when people are depending on you. If your business isn’t successful, nobody wins. And if your leadership team is too busy in the day-to-day grind to spend quality time thinking about the vision, goals, processes, and direction of the company, it’s going to be nearly impossible to innovate and improve. Get your leadership together regularly to foster a healthy, team mentality and drive continued success.  

9.) Parent by example. Think of your kids as little bipedal copy machines who will mimic everything you do. If you behave badly, you are giving them permission to act in the same ways. Check in with yourself, and don’t lose it in front of the children.

Yes. Yes. 1,000 times yes. Gone are the days of “Do as I say, not as I do.” As a leader or manager, you set the tone for everyone in your organization. Clearly identify and articulate the company values and demonstrate them in all you say and do. When things get frustrating, remain calm and lead the team through it. The example you set will be reflected back to you. Make sure it’s a good one.

10.) Don’t give up on your child, ever! All of your child’s problems can be worked through with humor, goodwill, and perseverance. With proper parental support, even the most troublesome teens can become amazing people.

Ever? As in, never ever? While attempting to work through issues with humor and goodwill is a pretty darn good strategy, this is one area where parenting and managing are, in fact, different. If you’ve got an employee who is clearly causing problems in your organization, you can and should let them go. And you should do it without guilt. Troublesome employees aren’t necessarily bad people. Often, they’re just not a good fit. Set them free so they can find an organization that feels more like home.

It’s a huge challenge

But it can also be hugely rewarding.

You’ve taken on a great responsibility agreeing to nurture and develop your employees. There will be good days and bad days. Days where you’re brimming with pride and days where you’re intensely disappointed. Know that it’s all part of the journey. Seek out advice as needed, and do your best to keep a sense of humor.

If all else fails, try milk and cookies. It never hurts.


Photo by rawpixel 

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