(From Employee Benefit News)

HR builds a new online community

By Clelland Green

It was the paper trail and endless time that company employees spent floating aimlessly on hold that drove Diane Murphy to the Internet. As the benefits administrator for Chyron Corporation, a leading video graphics firm based in Melville, New York, Murphy was frustrated by complaints from workers who, in attempting to file health insurance claims or simply ask questions, were mired in forms and shunted off to the holding queue.
But the critical issue was turnaround time.

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"It was just too long," Murphy says. "We had employees waiting weeks and weeks to be paid for claims and that was unacceptable. We knew we had to do something so we started shopping and it came down to deciding between a traditional provider and one that gave us access via the Internet. We wanted our employees to have access right away--we wanted them to have more control. So we took our benefits program online.

"It’s one of the smartest moves we’ve made in the HR area," she adds. "Online access has made the entire benefits claim process more efficient.  And as the administrator, it’s made me more productive. I can spend the time I need to on other HR issues and be confident that our employees’ needs in the benefits area are being met."

Clarion call
If anyone doubts the inherent power of the Internet and its potential impact on human resources, Murphy’s experience at Chyron is a clarion call. By taking the company online, she has given the company’s employees control over their health benefits, and over their valuable time. As an administrator, she has fulfilled her mandate to work more effectively. And she has done that by harnessing the technology that is rapidly recasting the future of human resources.

Internet resources available to HR professionals are virtually endless. Whether it’s benefits administration, recruitment and retention, or even corporate wellness, there are tools that abound in cyberspace which answer virtually every challenge, even as they reveal opportunities previously uncontemplated.
It is, quite literally, an unlimited universe for those who are willing to peer into the future of HR. And for those who do, that time will be richly rewarded with increased productivity, smarter decision-making and, ultimately, the creation of a stronger sense of community within the company that has a direct and lasting impact on profitability.

An emerging community
On a larger, more dramatic scale, it is the need to belong that will transform the HR community in cyberspace. At its root, the Internet is a Wide Area Network (WAN) that allows databases to talk to each other, encouraging disparate communities to join in the free and open exchange of information.

Who will have membership in this community? Virtually every segment of the human resource marketplace: Employees, physicians and other health care providers, the medical management community, employers and the insurance community.

When HR is fully resident in cyberspace, each party will have a role to play in weaving a seamless continuum of care -- a frictionless environment where data is shared across the Ne,t reducing response time, the delivery of care, and ultimately improving the quality of that care, even as costs are reduced through the efficiency of online transactions.

That’s the theory, anyway. And it works. At Chyron, Murphy has streamlined her employee benefits program by taking it online, but she is not alone.
JoAnn Marano administrates employee benefits for the Philadelphia Phillies Baseball organization and went online three years ago. Although the team’s players have insurance through the National League, the Phillies’ front office staff, its trainers and its cadre of scouts depend on the team for health benefits. Given, for example, the average scout’s travel schedule -- they are on the road more than 200 days a year -- online access is critical, she says.

"We’re so scattered," she explains. "We have people everywhere -- Puerto Rico, you name it. They have to be able to get the help they need no matter where they are.

"And I use the Web everyday," she adds. "I add and delete employees, manage claims, review reports -- all online. We have 150 people on the plan who use the Internet right now, and they tell me it’s organized and very easy to use."

Powerful partnerships
Benefits administration is just a small part of the equation, though. The very core of the Internet’s strength for human resources is its ability to empower and to forge partnerships that generate positive outcomes.

The ever-growing number of health-related Web sites is making it possible in many cases to diagnose, track and treat illness and, in the process, give patients a key role in managing their treatment. The Internet provides an impressive set of tools to support that role.

Statistics, for example, show that nationally, a significant number of diabetics are not following doctor-prescribed treatment plans or carefully monitoring insulin or glucose levels. But a New Jersey-based company, Protocol Driven Healthcare Inc. (PDHI), has developed a Web site for diabetics on which patients, physicians and even insurance carriers can consult and collaborate on treatment.

The site offers a wealth of information on the latest treatment protocols, as well as the ability for patients to chart and track their treatment. Patients can get questions answered online and report any sudden changes to care givers. Health care personnel can react immediately if those changes indicate an urgent medical development.

The medical advantages are obvious. What may not be immediately apparent is the chain reaction this level of participation often sets in motion. It is well documented that when compliance with treatment plans increases, rates of absenteeism drop, hospital stays are reduced and insurance claims decline. What the Internet allows, then, is for this scenario to unfold quickly.

PDHI has nine specific health channels under the umbrella site MyHealthyLife .com. The site is an excellent example of the "seamless continuum of care" that the Internet allows.

"It’s not the only site, of course. There are a number of impressive sites like MyHealthyLife.com. DoHealth.com, a site devoted to wellness, and Virtualmedicalgroup.com, a site that features "e-visits," are just a few that are laying the foundation of a strong health care community -- and a critical resource for the human resource executives. And chances are excellent that the benefits will be apparent very soon. We’ve already seen what is happening in the health care community.

With continuing technological advancements, the efficiencies the HR community will achieve over the next five years will be nothing short of astounding.
At Chyron and in the Phillies organization, we’ve already seen the substantial advantages that derive from participation in an Internet "community."

In HR departments everywhere, the changes will be equally compelling. The Internet will give employees unprecedented access to and control of their benefits packages. For HR administrators, the "paperwork" associated with employee benefits will all but disappear as claims administration is housed and handled at a Web site at the heart of an online community.

But the Internet’s greatest gift to human resource professionals may lie in the ability to make fast, informed and accurate decisions -- decisions certain to impact profitability over time. Given access to data that the Internet provides, it will be possible -- and increasingly critical -- that HR executives be able to review that data in real time in order to control escalating costs.

And from the perspective of human resources, that may be the Internet’s finest hour. E.B.N.

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