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Ask Our Expert:
Emerging Approach to Managing Health Care

Jim WinklerTo answer your question on managing health care costs, we've asked our expert Jim Winkler, Aon Hewitt's Health Management Practice Leader. If you'd like to ask a question on managing your health care investments or any other pressing human resources challenges you might be facing, email us, and we'll share responses to selected questions on a regular basis.

Question: As VP of Benefits, I feel as if I've exhausted all of the "levers" for managing my company's health care costs. What can I do, beyond design and pricing changes, to further improve health benefits for my company and its employees?

Answer:  It's great that you're looking for new ways to improve and manage the health results of your company. Many employers have been successful in influencing the health care system. This traditional approach covers building the plan design and cost sharing, choosing vendor partners wisely, updating benchmarks, and monitoring progress. These tactics are still important, but opportunities exist for employers to drive greater results.

The emerging approach to managing health care recognizes that the "system" we have traditionally focused on is only part of the equation. At its core, health care happens as an interaction between a patient and provider, happening within the context of a "system" of vendors, designs, and financial triggers. By recognizing the patient-provider interaction, employers are able to deepen their management of the system, while expanding their influence over how patients and providers interact. At the core, successful employers will be those who strategically manage their program across all three components of health care: the patient, the system, and the provider.

To manage the patient component of health care involves assessing the program by identifying patient attitudes, motives, and barriers to change, including those based on racial, cultural, and gender influences. Solutions are then designed to effectively address patient attitudes and behaviors to drive change. Measuring and managing results involves monitoring the impact of the changes in the patient's behavior. To manage the provider component of health care involves assessing and understanding the differences in provider quality, with a specific focus on evidence-based medicine. Solutions require employers to drive adoption of a health care IT infrastructure that is necessary to effectively measure quality, outcomes, and compliance with evidence-based medical guidelines.

Applying a program management approach—assessing the program, designing solutions, and measuring/managing results—needs to happen across all three components of health care: the patient, the system, and the provider in order to change behaviors, produce healthier employees, address provider practices, and produce better health care results for your company.

About Our Expert

Jim Winkler is the Aon Hewitt Health Management Practice Leader. He has spent a decade consulting with clients on overall health care strategy, health plan management, program design and implementation, health care consumerism, and pricing. Jim has extensive experience in health and welfare vendor selection and negotiation. Jim earned a BA degree from the University of Notre Dame and an MBA from the University of Hartford.