Employers should encourage shared decision-making – which involves patients in health care decisions – as a way to reduce medical costs and improve health outcomes among employees, argues a recent brief from the National Business Coalition on Health (NBCH). Patients who have a better understanding of and are more involved in health care decisions are less likely to use unnecessary health resources. Unnecessary or inappropriate health care is a significant contributor to rising costs.

The brief lists three basic steps employers can take to encourage shared decision-making:

  1. Engage and educate your employee and dependent population.
  2. Hold your health plan accountable, by requesting resources for employees on treatment options and by partnering with the plan to provide incentives that encourage employees to use decision aids.
  3. Join your local business health care coalition.

The authors drew data from eValue8, a resource from the NCBH that tracks health plan performance.  According to eValue8™ data in 2011, “plans do provide support (for shared decision-making) yet customization, cost information, and physician support can be improved.”

The data showed:

  • Ninety-six percent of employer-sponsored health plans offer member access to treatment choice support products including information on decision factors, treatment descriptions, risks, and benefits.
  • Just 39 percent allow member demographic customization and 83 percent offer information tailored to the progression of each member’s condition.
  • Health plans offer some cost tools, but only 41 percent provide cost calculators based on the plan fee schedule, 80 percent on paid charges in the local market, and 75 percent linked to specific member benefit coverage to reflect out-of-pocket costs.
  • Almost every health plan properly identifies members who may benefit from treatment support decision tools.
  • Fifty-one percent of the plans provide physicians with services to assist patients in treatment support decisions and just 41 percent offer point-of-service physician support.
  • Nearly all health plans make specialty physician information available to primary care doctors, with 66 percent prominently placed on the physician portal.

This action brief is just one in a series that looks into the role of purchasers and purchaser-led coalitions as change agents to health care and health improvements.

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Kip Piper is a Medicaid, Medicare, and health reform consultant, speaker, and author.  For more, visit KipPiper.com.  Follow on Twitter at @KipPiper and connect with Kip on LinkedIn.