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3 Bright Spots: Lower-Wage Workers Are Ready for Health Care Communication

With health care again politicized in the daily news, people are talking in their everyday lives about their struggles getting the health care they need and want. New research focused on lower-wage workers lets us listen in on some of the dinner table conversations happening right now.

Lower-wage workers want information
According to a nationally representative survey of 4,068 consumers conducted by Altarum Institute and funded by the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, lower-wage workers are “significantly more dissatisfied than middle-income consumers” with the health care information available:

  • To compare costs. The pressures of higher out of pocket costs have had the intended impact that many health economists hoped: individuals are asking for more cost information. While critics worry that costs will cause patients to indiscriminately delay or avoid needed care, a new reality is here. It makes sense that lower-income families would be more eager to actively shop for this proportionately larger household budget item.
  • On mobile devices. 84% of Americans under age 50 accessing the internet with their phone most days. In our hyper productive culture, it makes sense that Americans would search for information on-the-go: waiting in line, commuting, at school pick up. Have employers placed too high a priority on the usability of valuable consumer tools on computers, and neglected the mobile user experience? Maybe.
  • To find respectful providers. Lower-wage workers are sensitive to finding providers who respect them, based on their own past negative experiences or stories shared with them by family and friends. Patient reviews are frequently consulted. Employers have long known that provider networks are a top priority for all segments of the workforce, but this research illuminates a unique nuance. It suggests that employers should raise the profile on provider searches among employees as well as work with their insurance partners to increase the substance of what employees can learn about potential providers.

Put training and communication on the short list
It has always been the position of best employers to empower their workers to purchase the right care at the right time. Although employers cannot afford not to pass along some costs to all employees, this puts the squeeze more intensely on some workers. The research suggests three strategic communication tactics to better support lower-wage workers in 2017:

  • Be the first stop. To get health care information, Americans rely first on providers and second on online searches. Employers, nationwide, fall near the bottom of the list according. Yet, best employers already curate a suite of good tools. Why let Google be the default search engine for health care information? Employers can serve as a conduit for the right online information. Make it work well on mobile and bring cost search tools to the top.
  • Keep up the pulses. Investing in robust media channels like a health care portal is foundation to directing people to the right places. Yet, lower-wage workers access health information less frequently than middle-income workers. Bite-size, visual messages about the available tools will go a long way to raising the profile of you as a reliable first stop for health care information. Think advertisements. Think infographics.
  • Slow it down and count together. While short and sweet reminders are critical to keeping an idea alive, there is clearly room to engage workers in a training format. Employee trainings can do two things: increase the skills of individuals and illuminate those areas where the existing tools aren’t meeting needs.

Would you like to talk more about how to engage lower-wage workers? I was privileged to participate in the focus groups that preceded Altarum’s national survey and hear first hand the urgent and sometimes emotional accounts of trying to get good health care today.

At the fresh start of a new year, it’s time to reset our goals for a sustainable health care landscape for all. Employers who offer health insurance can use this moment in history strategically, to leverage the spotlight for positive change. I’d be delighted to help you build the right strategy for your workforce.

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