Four Trends That Will Shape Health Benefits Technology in 2018

This article was originally published Dec. 12 on LinkedIn. You can see the original article here

2017 was a year consumed by a huge debate about the future of the healthcare system, specifically, the laws that govern insurance coverage. While Washington has not come close to resolving these issues, corporate America has had to move forward. As the insurer for about half of all Americans, large employers have to find their own solutions to keep employees healthy, keep costs down, and to simply get more out of their health care dollars.

A vast ecosystem of health and wellness solutions, many driven by technology, has emerged to respond to this need. Every year since 2014, investment in digital health has topped $4 billion annually. This past year, my former company, Jiff, merged with Castlight Health to bring a comprehensive health navigation solution to the large employers we serve. And we are seeing a proliferation of point solutions: from AI to help managing chronic conditions, to apps that help people sleep, and wearables that help measure activity and help improve physical fitness.

As we look to 2018, the enterprise health space will see even more change, regardless of what happens to any healthcare laws. And at the risk of being proven wrong, here are four trends to keep an eye on:

1) Vendor fatigue. While we’re still seeing the rise of new digital health solutions, employers are beginning to grow weary of the administrative hassle of offering an array of solutions to their employees — each one with different onboarding and management challenges. Next year, they will begin asking one of two questions: Why isn’t my health plan doing this for me? Or, if I’m spending valuable time putting together this complex benefits program, why do I need a health plan at all? This will increase pressure on health plans, which will either have to bring together these digital health point solutions on their own or partner with platforms that do so to integrate them within plan designs.

2) The solution for sitting. Last year, diabetes and hypertension management tools —  like Omada or Glooko —  were the point solutions that everyone felt they needed. Two years ago, it was maternity care solutions like Ovia that entered the spotlight and are continuing to take hold in the workforce. As we look to 2018, we are going to see a wave of new point solutions aimed at addressing our sedentary workforce. Musculoskeletal tools will gain momentum, with big investments, new customers, and, hopefully, proven results. Musculoskeletal disorders are a significant driver of employer healthcare costs, yet when employees get the right care such as physical therapy and behavioral support, they can avoid costly surgery or being prescribed addictive painkillers. One example of this trend is recently-funded Hinge Health, that designs scalable digital health programs for care and management of musculoskeletal disorders, such as chronic back and knee pain.

3) Accelerating consolidation. The first half of 2017 set a record, according to Rock Health, for dollars and deals invested in digital health. However, as employers begin to demand more of their health plans and benefits programs, and as there are more point solutions competing for the same dollars, we will begin to see clear winners emerge in digital health, and many of these point solution companies will disappear.

In 2018, consolidation will accelerate. As digital health apps, services, and solutions set themselves apart, there will be rising interest in and money aimed at scooping them up from big healthcare stakeholders hoping to harness the power of digital health to improve health and lower costs in the long run.

4) Intelligent personalized networks. 2018 will be the year when we realize there is no such thing as an educated healthcare consumer. No one can possibly navigate all the care options and cost permutations themselves. Transparency, in and of itself, is not the answer. Even among consumers who have the tools to search for cost and quality measures to support their healthcare decisions (a minority), many do not do so, and most default to their trusted doctor or one recommended by friends or family. The choices are simply too overwhelming.

In response to this realization, we are going to begin to see the rise of guided search — health care navigation through smart, personalized networks. The rise of personalization – or true consumerization as seen across most major industries – is about giving consumers targeted choices, not overwhelming them with options. This is similar to a dealership providing maintenance bundles for your car. The average consumer does not know how to choose the right car repair at the lowest cost, so the dealership provides a way to help you navigate those options.

All in all, 2018 will be a year in which employers will be able to offer their employees better health benefits, more cutting-edge solutions, and most importantly, a way to navigate them all so all this innovation can be harnessed to help people get the care they need, when they need it, and not break the bank.