Health Literacy. It’s an oft discussed topic and its one that we mention pretty much all the time. Health literacy has been linked directly with patients care outcomes, and, unsurprisingly, poor health literacy translates to poor treatment outcomes. With the mass shift in health plans towards high deductible plans, there’s a lot of pressure on the consumer to pay attention to what they’re doing. And key to this strategy is understanding how to be successful in a “consumerist” environment. Simply put, without understanding how to use the care system (and identify simple terms like deductible and copay), it becomes hard to get cost effective healthcare
What I’m curious about is the notion of ROI in healthcare. In a previous article, we discussed the idea that having a health program is often not subject to ROI. Why? Because you can’t quantify value. And you can’t put a number or a price on people’s health. So, what about when it comes to additional tools like literacy programs? Is it possible, or even logical, to apply an ROI to those programs? Under normal circumstances I would argue that an ROI can be applied to just about any business expense. But healthcare is not a normal expense. It doesn’t play by the same rules. The cost of a company’s health insurance pretty much changes at random (at least it feels that way), and because of that we don’t often hold it to the same standards as we would other expenses.
Now, let’s run with this idea. We don’t have to provide hard data to justify ROI, but we do have to see value out of our purchases. Otherwise why would we spend money on them? Perhaps if we take the example of “wellness” as a product to analyze. We know that you can’t put a number on someone going for a run each day, or eating more broccoli than last month. But can we expect to see value? Maybe. How about programs like telehealth? You know that the average cost of a telehealth appointment for one of your employees is exceptionally low. You can’t quantify the time they’d have had to take to go to the doctors and miss work, however. But I think that a reasonable person would conclude that it is a worthy expense. You save some money. You save some time. Everybody wins. No need for hard facts and figures.
Now, how about health literacy (back to our favorite topic)? Do you need to provide ROI for a health literacy program? Or does this fall into the “obviously beneficial but not quantifiable” camp? Like we mentioned before, health literacy is about attacking your current health costs by improving the quality of care. Let’s dig deeper into this example. If a health literacy program were to be effective, it would teach your employees to do things like shop around for cheaper prescriptions, or teach them to verify each diagnosis so that they don’t get the wrong treatment or surgery. It’s not something that you can necessarily put a hard figure on, because you can’t know how deep they would have gone down the rabbit hole of getting the wrong treatment.
What I can say is this: pursue programs that provide value to your firm. Find a program (like health literacy or telehealth etc.) that you believe in and think will make your employees care experience better. Unlike a lot of things, the best care (read “correct” care) you can get is also the cheapest, because you only have to do it once. Anything that brings you closer to getting the correct care should be deeply considered.