To improve personalization,employers should consider using more data sources to trackuser behavior, benefits claims, biometric results and activities,and investing in machine-learning. (Image: Shutterstock)

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Delivering personalized health care to consumers may be thefuture, but figuring out how to get there is still a challenge, anew national survey suggests.

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The study, Employer Perspectives of Personalization in DigitalHealth, conducted by Castlight Health and the National BusinessGroup on Health, looks at the results of nationwide survey ofbenefits leaders at large U.S. employers. The study explored how“personalization” is defined, perceived, andused when delivering health benefits.

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“Our survey found that employers widely recognize the power ofpersonalization, but most believe they are not tapping into itsfull potential,” said Maeve O'Meara, executive vice president ofproduct and customer experience at Castlight Health. “Industryadvances in machine learning and data liquidity have created newopportunities to tailor benefits to the individual employee andunlock additional value for employers.”

High expectations, low implementation

The survey, which polled company executives and HR leaders from58 large U.S. employers, found that a strong majority of employers(84 percent) believe personalization has “high” or “very high”potential to match employees with the right health benefits andresources to meet their needs. But the implementation lags farbehind—the survey found that 71 percent of respondents said theyare tapping into that potential “a little bit” or not at all.

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Most of the respondents say they are doing average at best intheir personalization efforts. Zero percent gave themselves an “A”grade in this area, 13 percent rated a “B”, and 51 percent saidthey would give themselves a “C” grade. The “D” and “F” grades (25percent and 11 percent) made up the rest of the responses.

What's being used, and what's up-and-coming

The most common way that employers use data to personalizehealth care is with eligibility files and claims data (86 percentand 67 percent, respectively) the study found. Less than half ofemployers said they use personalized data with health riskassessments and biometric screening (48 percent and 45 percent).Newer applications such as in-app questions, third party apps, andsearch data/history were at 31 percent, 22 percent, and 17percent.

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The survey also suggests that few employers have started usingmachine learning to automate their use of personalized data. “Only35 percent of employers surveyed can send personalizedcommunications to more than 5 user segments (e.g. gender, insurancecarrier, location), suggesting that they are primarily deliveringpersonalized content through manual segmentation,” the studysaid.

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Another area where there is much potential for improvement ispersonalized messaging—the vast majority of those surveyed do notused personalized messaging, the report said. “As employers offeran ever-increasing number of programs, it's important topersonalize messaging and program recommendations to avoid programfatigue and burdens,” the report said.

Recommendations for moving forward

The report suggested several areas where employers could makeprogress in personalizing health care benefits. The authorspromoted using more data sources to track user behavior, benefitsclaims, biometric results, and activities. Investing inmachine-learning to improve personalization is anotherrecommendation. “By recognizing patterns in data, and continuallylearning, machine learning derives and delivers recommendationswith minimal human intervention,” the study noted. “Health care,like many industries before it, is beginning to leverage thesecapabilities, enabling a movement away from manual segmentation andtowards much more granular personalization.”

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And as the above results suggest, more personalization incommunication would move the ball forward, the study said. “Withthe right data sources and segmentation, personalization can beapplied to any benefits program or vendor, to increase engagementby relevant populations. For example, nearly all employers surveyedoffer a telehealth solution, yet only 23 percent of employerspromote telehealth via personalized messaging,” the study said.With better-targeted messaging, employer can encourage moreutilization by employees, and better health outcomes, the studyconcluded.

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