It’s not every day we get to see a Bald Eagle soaring across the skies of metro Atlanta. Yet, last month, I had the special treat of seeing the national bird. While uncommon, the sighting wasn’t totally random.
Although a novice, I have recently become an avid birder. On this day I decided to take my lunch to a nearby park, but not just any park. I had conducted a little research on eBird and discovered that Morgan Falls Overlook Park in Sandy Springs was the #5 hotspot for birding in Fulton County. According to eBird, 171 bird species have been identified at the small park overlooking the Chattahoochee River.
I drove to the park, strapped on my binoculars, and grabbed my sack lunch. As I headed down the walkway toward the river, I could hear a couple of Killdeer repeatedly calling as they circled above the river. I wondered what else I might see.
Before I could break out my Publix sushi, I looked up and, with delight, saw a Bald Eagle. It soared high above the Chattahoochee, but not so high that I couldn’t easily identify it with my naked eye. The white head and equally white tail bookending its dark brown body were unmistakable against the clear blue sky. Still, I focused my binoculars on the majestic bird and marveled as it headed over the trees and out of sight. I had seen a Bald Eagle in the heart of the Brown Thrasher State. Thrilling!
There were two key things that helped make that moment happen. One, as I made my way through the park, I was keenly attentive to our feathered friends. I went looking for birds and found success that outdid my highest expectations. Second, my research had led me to a birding hotspot.
When it comes to driving down the soaring employer healthcare costs, two similar things are needed for success. First, we must care enough to look for solutions to the escalating costs of providing healthcare to our employees. Second, we must have the data that reveals the hotspots within our employee population.
Care Enough to Look for Solutions.
There were a lot people in the park the day I saw the Bald Eagle. A small family had gathered to take pictures of the happy parents-to-be, with the young mother proudly displaying the bare baby bump for the photographer. One man was fishing. Children were running, swinging, and screaming on the playground. Some were simply enjoying a walk on a beautiful fall day in Georgia. Several others were sitting at picnic tables, leisurely having lunch. And one small group had decided the park was the ideal place for an office meeting. All of these had an easy line of sight to the eagle up above, yet only one of us enjoyed the serendipitous moment.
The reason I saw the eagle is that I was looking for birds. I was attentive to the environment and poised to take whatever flew my way. That is also how we meet the challenge of reducing soaring employer healthcare costs. We are observant of what is happening within our employee population. We are looking for solutions with a determination not to stop until we find the right answers. We don’t accept the status quo. We don’t give up. We march forward with an expectancy to find answers. The triumphant birders and the most successful leaders in finding solutions to rising healthcare costs have one thing in common: they care enough to pay attention.
The Data Reveals the Hotspots.
Employers who are beating the trends on soaring healthcare costs have more than leaders who relentlessly look for solutions. These leaders also dissect the data to find the hotspots where focus is needed.
Data reveals. Data tells a story. Data can push employers to move beyond the anecdotal and towards proven, verifiable strategies. Data is critical to driving down healthcare costs.
For birders, the data in eBird can direct us to the hotspots—the geographical areas in our communities where we are most likely to see birds. This data tells us the time of year that particular species are migrating through our area. It tells us what type of birds we can expect to see along the coast, and which birds are more likely to be seen in the mountains or in an inner-city park.
When it comes to an employer’s healthcare spend, data can show us the hotspots in our employee population that need to be addressed. Like binoculars to a birder, data helps us focus on the details we need to see.
Sourcing Your Data
The data needed to effectively design an employer’s population health strategy can be obtained from several sources. Biometric screenings and annual wellness exams can provide helpful information, as can employee Health Risk Assessments. However, the greatest source for data will come from healthcare claims (including prescriptions). This data is like a spotlight on a key character in the theatre, leading us to focus on what is imperative to see and know now.
Data Drives Strategy
If the data indicates that 40% of our employees are using tobacco, then it is wise to include a focus on tobacco cessation. If the data shows that 60% of our claims are coming from Type 2 diabetics, then we need a focus on diabetic management, along with implementing tools and strategies to reverse and prevent the disease. If the data shows that more than half of our healthcare spend is coming from spouses, partners, and dependents of employees, then we will want to expand our wellness strategies beyond just the employee. If the data shows that employees at one location are consistently wasting your healthcare dollars by using the ER for non-emergency visits, then education on using a primary care physician and local clinics will be needed at that location.
Data can reveal emerging new risks; members who are endangering their health by skipping their meds; and what brand, generic, and specialty drugs are trending in the employee population. Data can tell us how many members are getting their annual physicals and mammograms. Data can also shed light on how we compare to other employers in our industry or region.
Employers who adopt wellness strategies while bypassing data will often miss the greatest opportunities to make a difference.
Going back to my lunch in the park, the Bald Eagle and I had something in common that day. We were both craving raw fish. I hope you and I share a commonality too — not necessarily for birding, but a passion to enhance the health of our employees while also reducing the employer’s healthcare spend. That’s our specialty at The Benefit Company and we stand ready to help you dissect the data and develop your long-term strategy. Contact us today.
Jack W. Bruce, SPHR, Director of Population Health & Wellbeing
- Population Health
- Employee Wellness & Wellbeing
- Human Resources
- (Member of Georgia Audubon)