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It’s 2019: Where’s my jetpack? (and my Electronic Medical Record)

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Did you zoom to work today powered by your personal jet pack? No? That’s really a shame, isn’t it? But before we get too bummed out by the fact that it’s 2019 and we still don’t have jet packs, let’s take a look at how far we have come thanks to technological advances.

Remember Pong, one of the early computer games? Today we’re playing physical virtual reality games with technologies like Oculus.

Remember, too, what a big deal it was when drive-through banking came to be? Wow: no more having to go inside a bank! Seems pretty quaint now that we can transact everything with a smartphone – anywhere.

And office machines: mimeograph, teletype, DictaPhone®, fax machines – all expensive and fixed in place at the worksite. Now, today, we can all work any time, collaborating with remote colleagues anywhere, even submitting our expenses via our mobile devices.

Which industry has been least affected by tech? Guess.

Remember annual enrollment and paper forms? Today, it’s all online and even in the palm of our hands. Just as decision support tools and 401(k) account can be accessed electronically … even printed benefits enrollment material has gone high-tech, with augmented reality features embedded within.

So of course, going to the doctor, or even scheduling a doctor’s appointment, today is so much better than it used to be. Right? (Okay, scratch that.) Remarkably, a growing number of us – for better or worse – don’t have a primary care doctor. But that doesn’t mean we’re all going to the ER. Telehealth and other modes of care are on the rise. Still, it’s a fact that the health care industry—particularly from a “customer service” point of view – is a laggard when it comes to adopting technology for the benefit of consumers. In fact, according to one perspective piece, the healthcare industry heads the list of industries least impacted by technology, beating out such “leading-edge” industries as buying and building a house, transportation, government services, and the judicial system.

It’s a problem across the healthcare industry landscape. With employers being the primary payer of medical bills in the US, and increasingly in other parts of the world, that means the industry’s slow adoption of tech is a problem for employers.

So looking at the issue through the employer’s lens, let’s ask, what’s ailing us?

Topping the list, according to Buck’s latest global wellbeing survey, is stress. Worldwide it’s a huge issue. Most recently – as in just a few weeks ago – Gallup reported that Americans are among the most stressed people in the world. From an employer’s perspective, what may be the most worrisome is the age group most stressed in the US. It’s those between the ages of 30 and 49, followed closely by those between the ages of 15 and 29.

Another troubling point revealed by our survey is that employers across the US, Canada, Europe and Asia all consider access to healthcare a significant concern. Seriously? Again, it’s 2019. Shouldn’t we have had Star Trek-style tricorders by now?

Okay, so maybe George Jetson’s jetpacks only exist in virtual reality today. (We wouldn’t count water jetpacks as matching up – though they are pretty fun.) But there’s promise ahead. From the employer’s perspective, there are things that are working, including supporting employees in getting their biometric screenings done, providing employee assistance services, and flexible working polices. Many even promote adopting individual consumer level technologies, such as fitness trackers and the like. All tactics that respondents to our survey said are delivering positive outcomes.

(An intriguing approach to benefits enrollment involves making “paper” come to life. Employees point their phone at a postcard to get videos and interactive content.  It’s an ideal way to meet people where they are – people who prefer print get basic info, while those who want everything in their digital hand get an immersive experience.)

Let’s jump to the scariest term in HR – Artificial Intelligence.

Artificial intelligence scares up the prospect of replacing all humans with bots. With “humans” smack dab at the front of Human Resources, there’s a fundamental belief that AI should be for the benefit of employees. Smartphones can use software called Text to Speech to convert written human language to a voice. NLP – natural language processing – is perhaps one of the best examples in HR that can help, with personalized search and even the capacity to perform basic transactions. In the office, virtual or real, chat bots are the new norm even for healthcare: we now have the ability to ask questions and get tailored answers in the benefits world.

The hands-free nature of voice bots like Alexa means that doctors can ask for a complete healthcare report of a patient to be sent to their mobile device. Nurses can request a patient discharge or immediate help from others assistants. Patients, especially those immobile, can control room conditions and request help with just their voice.

It won’t be long before we can expect the following conversation.

Q: Alexa, what’s the balance in my HSA Account?

A: You have $1,213 in your HSA Account.

Q: Can I use my HSA to buy Band-Aids?

A: Yes, bandages are an allowable HSA expense.  Would you like me to price some Band-Aids for you?

Q: Yes, please price a box of 100 Flexible Fabric Band-Aids for me.

A: I found a pack of 100 Flexible Fabric Band-Aids for $8.60. As a Prime customer, shipping is free for you.  Should I purchase them?

Q: Yes

A: A box of 100 Flexible Fabric Band-Aids has been purchased and $8.60 has been deducted from your HSA Account.  You should receive them within the hour by drone.

With all of this technology available, what is available and working in the workplace?

Going back to our survey, most employers see predictive analytics as the most effective means to help us get to a workplace of wellbeing. There is rapid growth in flexible work policies (to help with stress, among other things) and wearable sensors; in the demand for easy access to on-site immunizations, fitness centers, and clinics; and in the use of employee assistance programs.

Today, we rely heavily on portals and decision support tools to guide our participants; in a few years, we expect these two areas to continue to expand – backed by predictive analytics and machine learning.

In the end, the most important concept is EX: the Employee Experience. EX is what HR will be measured on and will determine whether we’ve done our job. As HR and benefit specialists, we have the opportunity to positively impact the health, wealth and careers of the millions of people we serve.  Whether we are successful will depend on how we apply these technologies to the everyday benefits experience of our customers – our employees and their families.

And maybe someday, the daily commute will no longer be a grind as we all zip to our offices, meetings or local coffee shop via our hydrogen-powered jetpacks!

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