Pittsburgh (2550)

Thursday, 30 January 2014 20:38

7 tips to drive innovation at your company

Written by

The lifeblood of business growth is innovation — but knowing this is the easy part. It’s a whole other ballgame to actually drive innovation within your organization on a consistent basis.

Your company could suffer if you’re the only one who comes up with the next big idea. Smart leaders build organizations that think for themselves with the right people and channels to spark ideas.

In order to move your organization to the next level, here’s some tips from Pittsburgh business leaders who drew on their teams’ full potential to find new ways to enhance processes, procedures and products.


1. Use internal and external channels

Nicholas DeIuliis, president, Consol Energy Inc.Nicholas DeIuliis, president of Consol Energy Inc., looks inside and outside his industry to bring the best innovation to the forefront of the company’s operations.

Consol Energy Inc. is a more than $6 billion, publicly-owned producer of coal and natural gas and one of the leading diversified energy companies in the U.S. DeIuliis and Consol have been focused on new technologies, new energies and, above all else, staying one of the leading producers in its region.

“There are two broad groups I look to over time for help and insight,” DeIuliis says. “One is the management team that we work with and around. They’re the best and brightest in the industry. Getting that comfort level and that trust level with the exchange of ideas and thoughts as time goes on is the lifeblood of any successful organization.”

The other group DeIuliis looks at is almost the mirror image of his leadership team. He looks toward entities and individuals with insights and experiences outside the industries Consol works within.

“It’s amazing how many already established processes, technologies and concepts are out there in entirely different industries that are being viewed as innovations and ground-breakers with the coal, natural gas and fossil fuel industry that we operate in,” he says.

“Every time we tend to look outside our box and outside our industries, we always come away with an injection of innovation that keeps us going.”

 

2. Focus your R&D

Bill Byham, chairman and CEO, Development Dimensions International Inc.Bill Byham, chairman and CEO of Development Dimensions International Inc., places so much energy into the company’s research and development the problem isn’t a lack of good ideas, but more ideas than he knows what to do with.

So, the DDI management team works to narrow the options for the company, which is a leader in talent management, leadership development, hiring and talent acquisition.

“We have a series of meetings to cut them out and usually it’s not hard to get it down to eight,” Byham says. “But then to get it down to two or three new projects is tougher. R&D to us is brand new, game-changing products or a big change in what we’re doing.”

He looks at R&D as a 50/50 balance between customer suggestions and being able to develop products out in front of clients before they know they want it.

“We do a lot of customer surveys. We’re out with our customers a lot and they’ll say, ‘We want a training program on this.’” Byham says. “However, I think it was Steve Jobs who said, ‘If you only give your customers what they ask for, you’ll always be behind.’

“What I’ve always noticed is you have to be out in front of the customer because sometimes it takes us several years to develop these things.”

In addition, the R&D process isn’t just about finding the next new product, but also devoting effort to keeping well-performing, existing products up-to-date.

“The more products you have, the more it costs you to keep the old products good,” Byham says. “The ratio for us is around 60 to 70 percent old products and 30 to 40 percent new. You have to look at the sales of the old product. If you’re still going up with the old product, you will want to keep investing in it.”


3. Place a well-informed bet

Christine Robins, CEO, BodyMedia Inc.Early in BodyMedia Inc.’s growth, the company struggled with a lack of focus, waiting for the market to tell it where the best place was. CEO Christine Robins, however, says that with an early-to-market technology, you have to create the need — and place a bet.

“If you’re running a company, you’re making decisions every day that have risk,” Robins says. “But if you’re running a smaller company, you’ve got to place a bet and it’s got to be a focused and well-informed bet. Then you have to go with it and be willing to listen to the reactions of people and figure out how to be a continual learner.

“You have to get a product or service built that satisfies your hypothesis of the market and who you’re going after, build your messaging and get it to market to get real feedback. You can iterate in an office and give your opinions until you’re blue in the face, but if you don’t put it out in the real world and it doesn’t sell, it doesn’t matter what you think.”

But it wasn’t just a clear focus for the product that launched BodyMedia into growth mode. Once the company turned to the consumer market, it had to turn its attention toward making the product more functional and attractive in terms of design. This ultimately increased sales volumes and led to San Francisco-based Jawbone acquiring the company in 2013.


4. Watch marketplace trends

Flemming Bjøernslev, president and CEO, Lanxess Corp.Flemming Bjøernslev, president and CEO of Lanxess Corp., has found that the company’s production and product base is extremely quick with regard to innovation, technology and the right ideas to make new products that will propel the company.

He couldn’t decide where to focus the company moving forward, however, without listening to what was happening globally.

“First, you have to listen to your customers,” he says. “Secondly, make sure that you assess the entire value chain. You want to make sure that you reach out and listen to the customers of your customers. You want to make sure that you’re integrated in the right manner in order to cost-effectively and profit-effectively cater your products to the market.

“You have to make sure that you read the signs of your time, meaning the trends in the marketplace. You have to live in a global world. Today, it would be very risky to only focus on the U.S. or North American markets.”


5. Get the right talent

Fred Potthoff, co-founder and co-owner, Kroff Inc.Fred Potthoff, co-founder and co-owner of Kroff Inc. attributes the company’s success — more than 80 employees in eight different businesses under the Kroff name with annual revenue of more than $50 million — to finding the right talent.

In fact, each of the leading water and wastewater treatment and recycling services company’s businesses started with ideas from sales associates.

“Aside from the original company, my partner and I didn’t come up with any of the other ideas,” Potthoff says. “It was people in our organization coming to us, and us listening to them and running with that idea.”

When Potthoff interviews candidates, he is interested in trying to spark that kind of enthusiasm and interest in the company.

“It doesn’t mean that everybody who comes here is going to run their own company, but it’s part of our culture,” he says. “People who fit in well here think that way and look for opportunities.”

And one way to encourage those true difference makers is to do a good job of listening to ideas.

“It’s one thing to give lip service to somebody, but if somebody comes to you with a good, creative idea, you can’t summarily dismiss it because maybe you tried it before or it seems a little harebrained,” Potthoff says. “You have to be willing to listen and trust the people, and if you think it’s a great idea, be willing to move and invest in it. When you do that, the culture responds to it.”


6. Leverage the region’s strengths

Charles Bunch, chairman and CEO, PPG Industries Inc.Charles Bunch, chairman and CEO of PPG Industries Inc., says the founders of Pittsburgh Plate Glass were attracted to the Pittsburgh region because of the coal supply needed as an energy source, the sand and mineral resources, and the river transportation system that were critical for the manufacturing and sales of those first plate glass products.

Today, the region has different strengths to offer.

The Pittsburgh region has some of the best educational institutions and hospital systems in the country, and as a result, research and development is more than $3 billion of the local economy, Bunch says.

“This is clearly a home for innovation here in the Pittsburgh region,” he says. “Big business provides technology, innovation and support to many of these smaller businesses, leading to a healthier overall ecology for growth. And now we’re creating that environment here in our region.”

Organizations like the Allegheny Conference, which are dedicated to improving economic growth, are in a unique position to build on these strengths for the betterment of the region.

Bunch says they can help employers by marketing the region globally and supporting existing business with venture capital funds to support the success of entrepreneurs and startup companies.


7. Break assumptions

Michele Fabrizi, president and CEO, MARC USAMARC USA, a full-service advertising firm, has a history of doing things differently and bringing innovation to the industry. Behind Michele Fabrizi, president and CEO, the company even created an off-the-wall word to describe its unique capabilities.

“We’re using breakthrough research techniques and new technologies to drive innovation every day,” Fabrizi says.

“At MARC we say what we do is a word we made up because there is no word for what we do. It’s called ‘wezog’ and it’s how we think. It’s what we expect from our people. It’s a critical component of our long-term client relationships. It means doing things the way they haven’t been done before — thinking outside the box.”

The firm builds successful brands and drives sales through its creativity, insights and technology.

“It’s really about not doing things the way they’ve been done before, being highly collaborative with clients and finding ideas to break assumptions and challenge conventions,” Fabrizi says. “This is the kind of thinking that really helps brands strive in good times and in bad times.”

It’s a moment of panic for drivers: You suddenly notice the warning light on your fuel gauge, but you don’t know when it came on or how close you are to the nearest gas station.

Now, imagine you drive a compressed or liquefied natural gas-powered vehicle. The Pittsburgh region, for example, has only five natural gas fueling stations. That scarcity is a barrier to more people adopting cleaner, more fuel-efficient natural gas vehicles that could also reduce dependence on foreign oil.

Three professors at Robert Morris University have developed a mathematical model that determines the optimal locations for natural gas fueling stations in Pittsburgh, based on existing traffic flow and traffic density. The paper, authored by Tony Kerzmann, assistant professor of mechanical engineering; Gavin Buxton, associate professor of physics; and Jonathan Preisser, assistant professor of mathematics, predicts the optimal locations for up to 128 fueling stations in Pittsburgh. The paper is being published in the journal Sustainable Energy Technology and Assessments.


A step toward energy independence

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center, 14.8 million natural gas vehicles operate worldwide but only 112,000, including buses and trucks, operate in the United States.

Yet as the RMU professors note in their paper, while the U.S. imports 45 percent of its total petroleum consumption, the nation produces nearly 90 percent of the natural gas it consumes.

“A transportation sector dominated by natural gas vehicles would provide a huge step toward energy independence, but this is not the only advantage of natural gas vehicles,” the authors write. “Natural gas vehicles significantly lower carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, non-methane hydrocarbon, particulate matter and greenhouse gas emissions.”


Taking a look at the model

As a first pass, the authors considered the total vehicle miles traveled through each location as the numerical variable with which to optimize the distribution of natural gas fueling stations. The fueling stations are treated in the model as wandering around, trying to find the regions with the higher numerical variable.

The computer model finds the optimum locations for a large number of natural gas fueling stations simultaneously, while penalizing the overlapping of natural fueling station locations — fueling stations that are close enough to one another that potential customers will be divided, and use both.

However, the numerical variable used to optimize the distribution of natural gas fueling stations is at present too crude. The authors, therefore, are looking at the socioeconomic factors that might make a given location a sound investment for placing a natural gas fueling station.

“Say you are BP and you wanted to change some of your existing gas stations to supply natural gas. Our computer program could tell you where to distribute the natural gas stations that would make the most sense, that would increase the likelihood of customers switching over to natural gas vehicles,” Buxton says.


Socioeconomic factors

The typical customer of a natural gas-powered vehicle might prefer to see natural gas fueling stations near his or her neighborhood, where he or she is likely to be refueling his or her vehicle, than in areas of high vehicle traffic. Therefore, while vehicle miles traveled through a given location may be an important variable, it is not the only variable to consider.

The number of residents in a given neighborhood might influence the decision of where to place a natural gas fueling station, along with the average household income — with customers from more affluent neighborhoods being more likely to purchase a new vehicle.

Furthermore, the typical political persuasion within a neighborhood might also influence the customers’ likelihood to purchase a natural gas-powered vehicle. For example, might it be possible to consider the type of customers that are more likely to buy a more environmentally-friendly vehicle, or a vehicle that reduces our dependence on foreign fuel?

The presence of existing gasoline fueling stations that could be converted to also provide natural gas refueling capabilities would be another influencing factor. For example, currently no gas stations are located in downtown Pittsburgh, making the Golden Triangle an unlikely destination for natural gas fueling stations.

However, it’s important to remember that ultimately a robust network of natural gas fueling stations could ease the transition to even cleaner hydrogen fuels. The infrastructure that we invest in now to transition to natural gas-powered vehicles is the same infrastructure required to store and transport hydrogen for hydrogen-fueled vehicles.

 

Natural gas basics

Natural gas is an odorless, nontoxic, gaseous mixture of hydrocarbons — predominantly methane. Because of the gaseous nature of this fuel, when stored onboard a vehicle, it must be in either a compressed gaseous (CNG) or liquefied (LNG) state. Both CNG and LNG are clean burning, domestically produced, relatively low priced and widely available for fuel vehicles.

  There are three types of natural gas vehicles:

  • Dedicated vehicles are designed to run only on natural gas.
  • Bi-fuel vehicles have two separate fueling systems that enable them to run on either natural gas or gasoline.
  • Dual-fuel vehicles, traditionally limited to heavy-duty applications, have fuel systems that run on natural gas and use diesel fuel for ignition assistance

  Natural gas accounts for about a quarter of the energy used in the United States.

  About one-third goes to residential and commercial uses, such as heating and cooking; one-third to industrial uses; and one-third to electric power production.

  Only about one-tenth of 1 percent is used for transportation fuel.

Source: Alternative Fuels Data Center, part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Cities program


How to reach: Robert Morris University, Jonathan Potts, senior director, public relations, potts@rmu.edu or (412) 397-5291. For more information, visit www.rmu.edu.

As a CEO, I met with many strategic suppliers during performance review meetings, contract negotiation meetings and social events. During negotiation meetings, I had one simple question: What makes you unique and why should we buy from you — and not your competitors?

That was a destabilizing question for many salespeople. They were caught unprepared and could not articulate their true differentiation in a clear fashion.

I got some of the usual answers: “We have been around for 50 years.” “We have had a good relationship with your buyers for more than 10 years.” “Because we provide good value to your business.”

The reality is that many firms do not clearly know their true differentiation. Most of the times, they confuse “true” differentiators to win business, with “must-have” elements to stay in business or “nice-to-have” components to be in business.

Taking a tried and true idea

The concept of differentiation is not new. Edward Chamberlin originally proposed it in his 1933 Theory of Monopolistic Competition.

His definition is: “In economics and marketing, product differentiation (or simply differentiation) is the process of distinguishing a product or service from others, to make it more attractive to a particular target market. This involves differentiating it from competitors’ products as well as a firm’s own products.”

 

Understanding your differentiation

So, differentiation is often the name of the game to win in business, but it is fairly difficult to create, extract, measure and communicate it. In engagements with clients, I coach them through the following process:

  1. Understand your true differentiation internally. Hold brainstorming sessions with key employee groups within your organization to identify “nice-to-haves,” “must-haves” and “true” differentiators of your business model. Most often, you will identify only two to three true differentiators.

  2. Align all internal stakeholders around this understanding. Identify internal gaps in intended versus perceived differentiation among various employee groups. Create one understanding across the entire organization.

  3. Validate true differentiation with customers and prospects. Conduct an internal assessment on how customers perceive you as well as informal customer interviews about the elements of differentiation. You also can do a formal win/loss deal analysis with your prospects and existing accounts for the past year.

  4. Modulate internal perceptions of differentiation and adjust value communication. Peter Drucker said, “The customer rarely buys what the business thinks it is selling him.” Aligning internally intended differentiation with externally perceived differentiation is a must. What really matters is what customers perceive you do well for them, so your value communication plan has to reflect that.

  5. Train all commercial staff on the perceived dimensions of value and differentiation. Conduct specific training on your true differentiation so employees can believe in it fully. Have them memorize a value elevator speech that clearly states the most important dimensions of your differentiation. This will boost their value selling capabilities.

  6. Start over and never accept the status quo. Value and differentiation perceptions evolve with time. Conduct this process every year. Never get complacent about what you do well. Competitors are watching you.

 

If you claim to be differentiated versus your competitors, it is essential to understand the nature and degree of your differentiation. It is equally important that you communicate your differentiated customer value proposition to your salespeople. Then they will have a clear answer, the next time a CEO asks, “What makes you special?”

 

Stephan Liozu is the founder of Value Innoruption Advisors and specializes in disruptive approaches in innovation, pricing and value management. He earned his doctorate in management from Case Western Reserve University and can be reached at sliozu@case.edu. For more information, visit www.stephanliozu.com.

Twitter: @StephanLiozu
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/stephanliozu
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/stephanliozu

Effective communication is a vital aspect of the employer-employee relationship regardless of industry and geography, says Renay Gontis, communications coordinator at JRG Advisors.

“The opportunity for quality dialogue demonstrates to employees that they are valued by the company. Conversely, a lack of value placed on communication can make them feel underappreciated, fostering discontentment and low morale,” Gontis says.

Smart Business spoke with Gontis about how to utilize the many channels for communication to supply employees with timely and accurate company news and information.

What tools can be used to communicate?

In today’s technological environment, employers have a variety of communication tools. And the majority of these tools are free. Consider the options available and how to best interface these tools with your current communication style. Emails, videos, blogs, newsletters and bulletin boards can all streamline the process and make it easier to communicate more frequently and effectively. Of course, face-to-face communication should remain an integral part of the communication process.

When should you communicate with your employees?

A formalized communication campaign and schedule will vary by business and company structure.

Items such as holiday schedules, recurring meetings and office hours can be efficiently introduced annually and reinforced on a company intranet or bulletin board, for example.

Other news such as that which impacts the overall company structure, success and progress should be communicated immediately, and in person even if that requires a Web interface for remote office locations or off-site employees. For example, if your company is considering a merger or reorganization, employees should be notified. Nothing diminishes morale and loyalty more than when employees hear about significant changes secondhand.

Other updates such as company goals, financial initiatives and benefit changes should be communicated on a quarterly or annual basis. If you engage employees in workplace wellness, you should communicate information about initiatives and results on a monthly basis.

How can you best engage employees?

It is important to encourage and solicit two-way communication so employees feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and opinions with management. Sharing information with employees is essential; however, it is equally as important, if not more critical, to listen to their thoughts, concerns and ideas. This will bring additional value to the employees, while providing the employer with excellent feedback for future changes and improvements.

Employees do best when they feel engaged, informed and acknowledged, and are working for a company that cares about their individual needs. Quality and ongoing communication using a variety of tools and methods will improve employee morale and productivity.

Should employee demographics be considered?

Absolutely, consider demographics. A younger workforce will typically be more receptive to modern communication strategies such as blogs, social media tools, company intranets and other electronic communications. An older demographic may still prefer face-to-face and printed communication tools.

It is important to understand your employee comfort levels in regards to technology. Employers may consider surveying their employees to determine what forms of communication they prefer and what types of information they would prefer the company share with them on a regular basis. An employee survey will provide the insight needed to tailor a communication campaign, schedule and methods of delivery that will resonate with the workforce.

Ask your advisor today to identify communication options and how they can help you implement them for your employees. Consistent communication is a critical component for success.

Renay Gontis is a communications coordinator at JRG Advisors. Reach her at (412) 456-7000 or renay.gontis@jrgadvisors.net.

Insights Employee Benefits is brought to you by JRG Advisors

Thursday, 30 January 2014 17:10

How telemedicine and telehealth are increasing access

Written by

When it comes to telemedicine and telehealth, the future is most definitely now. Advances in technology have spurred advances in telemedicine and carry with it the potential to increase access to care, improve quality and reduce costs.
“Telehealth solutions have the capacity to improve the quality of care, improve access to care and reduce the cost of delivering care,” says Dr. Stephen Perkins, vice president of Medical Affairs for UPMC Health Plan. “It has the potential to reduce costs for both physicians and patients.”   

Smart Business spoke with Perkins about telemedicine and telehealth and their potential to improve care and reduce costs.

What is the difference between telehealth and telemedicine?

Telehealth is a general term describing the delivery of health-related services and information by the use of telecommunication technology. It can include phone calls between physicians, videoconferencing or even robotic technology.

Telemedicine has a narrower definition: The specific use of medical information that is exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications for the health and education of a patient or a health care provider for the purpose of improving patient care. It includes consultative, diagnostic and treatment services.

Historically, hospitals and health systems in rural areas have been most closely connected with telemedicine, as travel times and a lack of specialty physicians has made telemedicine more attractive. However, the entire health care industry, urban and rural, national and even international, could benefit from its widespread use.

What are the most significant benefits from telehealth and telemedicine?

Certainly, the top benefit would be increased access both for patients and physicians.

Persons who live in remote areas have not always had access to the latest medical advances. With telemedicine, there is the capacity for specialists to evaluate a patient’s condition from afar. Homebound patients could have their conditions monitored and reduce the number of trips they need to make to a physician’s office.

With telemonitoring technology, a physician can oversee the progress of a patient and help the patient avoid problems. Telehealth technology breaks down many barriers to access to care.

What technologies are used in telehealth?

Many different technologies can be used. Among them are: videoconferencing, the Internet, store-and-forward imaging, streaming media, terrestrial communications and wireless communications.

What are some examples of telehealth?

Telehealth can mean e-visits, whereby patients do not have to come into their physician’s office for a routine problem, but correspond via Internet and may even get a prescription for their condition, if needed. This way, routine matters do not tie up a physician’s time, and patients do not need to miss work or arrange for day care in order to get medical advice for minor matters.

In some instances when someone has a chronic condition requiring consistent monitoring, or they are homebound with a stroke, a telestroke program allows them to be seen by a specialist.   

Are there barriers to telehealth becoming more widespread?

Telemedicine implementation can be expensive and time consuming, which may make it difficult for health system executives to see the value, especially since not all patients will use the services.

In addition, with telehealth’s ability to transcend state boundaries, there may be issues regarding licensing and certification. Policies regarding telehealth licensing vary greatly between states.

How will this impact health care costs?

While the initial cost of the technology may be high, the overall impact should be to reduce costs. If monitoring a condition becomes easier because of telehealth access to patients, that should improve preventive care and reduce the number of emergencies, which will help to hold down costs. If telehealth advances can bring specialist care to places where it has never been before, that, too, should mean more effective treatments and, ultimately, lower costs.

Dr. Stephen Perkins is a vice president of Medical Affairs at UPMC Health Plan. Reach him at (412) 454-7682 or perkinss@upmc.edu.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan

Thursday, 02 January 2014 23:52

Weighing in on health care reform: Pittsburgh

Written by

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, often called the Affordable Care Act represents some of the most far-reaching government overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system since 1965 when Medicare and Medicaid came into being. It will be phased in over time, but a number of changes have been delayed and won’t be in effect until 2015.

The act focuses on increasing the rate of health insurance coverage for American and reducing health care costs. Here’s what some area businesses have on their minds about health care reform as the time nears for the full impact of the ACA: 

James H. Druschel
vice president, finance and CFO
Veka Inc. 

How is your company preparing for changes associated with health care reform? 

We have been making several strategic changes we think will best position us for the major changes coming our way. We’ve unbundled dental and vision from medical, we are moving away from temporary workers and we are educating our employees about the Affordable Care Act and what the company and our employees need to do to keep us on track. 

Have you studied or instituted wellness programs to contain health care costs for your employees?

 We have a very robust wellness program that has generated great results over the last five years.  It has kept our medical claims flat and our catastrophic medical claims well below the national average. We also continuously look for ways to tweak or add to the program to keep it fresh and exciting for the participants. We offer ‘free health care’ (no payroll deductions) if an employee and their spouse fully participate in our wellness program. 

Due to health care reform what other things are you doing specifically to contain health care costs for your employees? 

Our employees have a strong awareness of what they need to personally do to help keep our health care costs in check. We continuously partner with our medical and wellness vendors to help educate our employees about ways to help contain costs through generic drugs, independent labs and urgent care centers. We offer health related seminars and lunch-n-learn sessions to our employees and spouses. 

Do you foresee having employees pay a larger share of company-offered health care coverage? 

We are currently doing everything we can to continue to offer free medical insurance to our participants who fully participate in our wellness program, but there is some concern that with the additional taxes/fees and plan design requirements due to health care reform that eventually this will be unsustainable. We offer a very rich plan, but we foresee that we will be forced to make cuts to our offering in order to comply with the Affordable Care Act.

Dave Michelson
President and CEO
National Interstate

How is your company preparing for changes associated with health care reform? 

National Interstate typically reviews all our benefit programs on an annual basis. The enactment of health care reform has not materially changed that process; it has simply added another layer of compliance-related items that we must be mindful of.  Our primary goal of providing benefit programs to meet the needs of our employees and their families remains unchanged. 

Have to studied or instituted wellness programs to contain health care costs for your employees? 

Over the last several years, National Interstate has implemented a variety of wellness programs primarily in response to our employees including initiatives such as an onsite flu shot clinic, monthly newsletter, health fairs including screenings and wellness vendors, as well as lunch and learn speakers. There is no question employees have greater access to information and resources promoting healthy lifestyles than ever before. For an employer, it can often be difficult to quantify the results of individual employees reaching their health goal. It may simply mean that employee was able to attend a son or daughter’s soccer game. Those kinds of results are important in addition to focusing on healthcare cost containment. 

What other things are you doing specifically to contain health care costs for your employees? 

We believe educating employees about the plan they participate in is a key factor in containing health care costs. Most medical plans have discounts and incentives already built into the plan design, yet many times employees don’t fully utilize these features. We work in conjunction with our health care provider to disseminate information to employees so they can make informed health care decisions. 

Do you foresee having employees pay a larger share of company-offered health care coverage?

It is impossible to predict what the future holds in terms of health care costs. What we do know is if our employees collectively work as a team, we have the best chance of minimizing health care costs for our organization. While we make health care choices as individuals, the impact of those choices from a rate perspective is felt amongst the group participating in the plan.

Anthony McBride
Principal, human resources
Edward Jones

How is your company preparing for changes associated with health care reform? 

We have been making changes to eligibility and benefit levels as required by the regulations since the passage of the Affordable Care Act. We have made required modifications to our group medical plan to ensure that it meets the guidelines for 2014. We will continue to closely monitoring the regulations so that we are prepared to meet future requirements of the law.

Have you studied or instituted wellness programs to contain health care costs for your employees? 

We have had a wellness program in place for several years, and anticipate it will help contain cost increases in the future by motivating our plan members to be aware of and gradually improve their health over time.

Due to health care reform what other things are you doing specifically to contain health care costs for your employees? 

By 2009, we had moved to a consumer-driven health plan model. Our plan includes some pharmacy and medical treatment programs that help direct members to lower cost, higher quality sources of care. Soon we’ll introduce online cost/quality transparency tools to help raise awareness of the disparate cost spread that can exist even within an approved provider network. 

Do you foresee having employees pay a larger share of company-offered health care coverage? 

While we do not plan to shift a greater proportion of the cost to associates in 2014, the overall costs for health care continue to rise. In this regard, we have added a surcharge to cover spouses who have their own employer-based coverage available. We cannot speculate on what may happen in the future because the health care landscape is undergoing so much fluctuation.

 

The advantages of an electronic health record (EHR) for individuals are readily apparent to many physicians. According to the most recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control, 75 percent of physicians who have adopted EHR say the technology has led to better care.

But, for any number of reasons, that message has not quite gotten through to the general population. Privacy and security concerns are the major reasons cited by the public for its unease, and the main factors keeping many people from embracing the concept, even as the nation becomes more “digitized” in other areas.

“The general public doesn’t know much about electronic health records, and so there is some unease about the concept,” says Dr. Stephen Perkins, vice president of Medical Affairs for UPMC Health Plan. “It will take an educational effort to get more people to see what the positive impact of EHRs can be.”

Smart Business spoke with Perkins about the advantages of EHRs and the impact it can have on health care.

What are electronic health records?

EHRs are an electronic record of information that reflects all of the health care that was delivered to a specific patient in various locales over the years. The information can include patient demographics, progress notes, medications, vital signs, medical history, immunizations, laboratory data and radiology reports. Ideally, an EHR gives a physician a streamlined look at a patient’s complete health record and should make the delivery of health care more efficient and effective.

Why is there resistance to EHRs?

In a Harris Interactive survey taken in 2012, only about one quarter of the respondents said they wanted their records to be transferred from paper to an electronic version, and 85 percent of respondents expressed some kind of concern about EHRs. The survey also revealed that only 40 percent of people think that EHRs would help doctors deliver better, more efficient care, which is actually a slight decrease from previous years.

The reasons for the resistance include a fear of records being stolen by computer hackers, the potential for misuse of the personal information stored, and even the fact that physicians might not be able to access a patient’s record during a power or computer outage.

Even some physicians see a downside to EHRs. In a recent study by the American Medical Association, some physicians complained that EHRs increase their data entry responsibilities and requires them to perform added, time-consuming tasks.

What are the advantages of EHRs?

With EHRs, the chance of medical errors should be reduced because the accuracy and clarity of medical records is improved. When a vast amount of patient information is available in one place, it also should reduce test duplication, in turn reducing treatment delays and helping patients be better informed to make better decisions.

Other advantages of EHRs range from conservation of storage space to the fact that EHRs make patient information accessible from remote sites to many people at the same time. EHRs can make communication between health care providers easier and better, and the information is less likely to be lost or destroyed.

Are there any disadvantages to EHRs?

Disadvantages would include the initial expense, the unwillingness of employees to adapt to the new technology and the need for additional maintenance. The cost of starting an EHR system can be excessive, especially during a time when health care organizations are extremely concerned about higher prices. But it also can be argued that EHRs will ultimately reduce costs and improve quality by helping providers and patients be better informed, by eliminating costly and unnecessary duplicate tests and by helping to better coordinate care.

How can resistance be overcome?

Basically, patients need to be educated to the fact that EHRs will not replace their personal physician. EHRs just help their physician do a better job. Nothing can replace the critical thinking ability of a physician. What a well-designed EHR system can do is collect and disseminate information and assist in decision-making.

Dr. Stephen Perkins is a vice president of Medical Affairs at UPMC Health Plan. Reach him at (412) 454-7682 or perkinss@upmc.edu.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan

Relocation can be a challenge, but careful planning can be the difference between a move that’s difficult and one that’s smooth.

“When managing an office move, a move consultant’s objective is to minimize disruption in the workplace and quickly return the office to a normal workflow,” says Patricia Meyers, marketing manager at SMC Consulting, LLC.

 “No two moves are exactly the same. However, there are basic activities that need to take place to ensure an effortless transition,” she says.

Smart Business spoke with Meyers about how to effectively manage a move from one office to another.

What does a move management consultant do?

Whether you are moving an entire office, co-locating a cross-functional group or just reorganizing an office, a move management consultant can provide the appropriate plan and execution. An effective move management consultant will streamline the move process to ensure a successful relocation with minimal organizational disruptions, relieving the burden of coordination and implementation of the move while saving the customer time and money.

Move consultants simply enjoy the challenge of putting puzzles together. A move, like a puzzle, requires a process in order to execute the plan. You look at the whole picture — or in the case of a move, the old and new floor plans — then look at each small piece to find out where and how each needs placed to complete the picture.

What unique services can a move management consultant provide?

Experienced move consultants prioritize and manage a move by creating detailed plans and timelines for each of its phases, then communicate that plan to the customer and all associated vendors. Coordination, communication and scheduling all pre- and post-move activities will ensure a successful move.

Move management consultants might also be known as change managers. Change is not always viewed in a positive manner. Making the transition from an old, secure office space to a new, unfamiliar one is sometimes difficult and stressful for employees. The move management consultants will communicate on a regular basis to keep everyone informed as to progress and expectations. Employees who feel they are informed tend to embrace change, making the move less agonizing.

What do companies need to plan for when relocating?

There are many components to consider when relocating. Expect to have a solid and well thought-out plan of attack, and a move consultant who can execute that plan. Coordination and planning of movers, furniture, computers, phones, employee communication, office supplies and even the vending is critical to success.

As companies decide how they’ll execute a move, they should also consider:

  • Consultant’s time vs. employees’ time — Put the move in the consultant’s hands leaving time for your employees to handle the day-to-day business.
  • Experience — Productive processes and no loss of time.
  • Programming — Collaborating with all involved to assemble the puzzle.
  • Strategic planning — Making sure all parts fit together and knowing how to execute.
  • Execution — Implementing the strategic plan and managing every detail to ensure a successful move.
  • Attention to detail — Taking inventory of existing equipment, disposing of old and unused equipment, satisfying lease close out requirements.

A move consultant will help your company achieve cost savings by providing you with one point of contact who can reduce risk, time, cost and employee downtime. Ultimately, you want your employees to leave their old office on Friday and enter their new office on Monday ready to begin work with minimal disruption.

Patricia Meyers is a marketing manager at SMC Consulting, LLC. Reach her at (724) 728-8625 or pat@smcconsulting.net.

Insights Facilities is brought to you by SMC Consulting, LLC

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) made sweeping changes to the insurance industry landscape.

“Business owners and HR professionals will need to be in compliance with the rules and regulations set forth by PPACA. And, individuals will have increased questions about the health insurance marketplaces, individual mandate and underwriting,” says Michael Galardini, sales executive at JRG Advisors, the management arm of ChamberChoice. “As a result, employee benefits professionals will be asked to help guide both businesses and individuals through the changing marketplace.”

Smart Business spoke with Galardini about employee benefits trends small and large employers can expect to see in 2014.

What changes will small employers face?

Small employers, categorized as any employer with fewer than 50 full-time employees, will see a drastic change in 2014 in the way health insurance rates are developed for each group. Before PPACA, insurance companies could develop rates based on gender, industry, group size, health status and medical history. Post PPACA, small group rates are no longer rated, and small group insurers will only be able to vary premiums by family size, geography, tobacco use and age.

With the changes in underwriting, there also will be changes to the plan designs being offered to small employers. The establishment of Health Insurance Marketplaces and their product offerings has created a change in product design. The plan designs being offered are 90 percent, 80 percent, 70 percent and 60 percent coinsurance plans, which share the financial responsibility with the employees. These plans create larger out-of-pocket costs that most individuals are not accustomed to paying. Particularly in Western Pennsylvania, the population as a whole is most familiar with rich plan designs with no coinsurance, low deductibles and copays.

Explaining these product differences with a one-on-one approach is important to help each individual understand how his or her plan works. The business owner and/or HR professional as well as an outside advisor need to engage each employee to ensure everyone properly understands the available solutions.

What can large employers expect to see?

Large employers or those with 50 or more full-time employees also will notice significant changes in the future.

Beginning in 2015, large employers will be required to offer coverage to employees working 30 hours or more a week. There also are requirements to the type of plan that must be offered to these individuals as well as a contribution limit. The plan design must be at least a 60 percent coinsurance plan, and the employee’s contribution cannot be more than 9.5 percent of his or her household income. There are two fines an employer could receive:

  • Penalty A: Employers that do not offer coverage to full-time employees (working 30 hours or more a week) will be subject to a penalty equal to $2,000 per full-time employee minus the first 30.
  • Penalty B: Employers that offer coverage that is not of minimum value or not affordable (or both) will be subject to a penalty equal to $3,000 for every employee who receives subsidized coverage through the marketplace.

Large employers should be talking to their advisor in 2014 to determine if they will meet these guidelines.

Are there any other upcoming changes?

Lastly, and probably most significantly, is the individual mandate. Individuals are required by March 31, 2014, to have a qualified health insurance plan or pay a fine. The fine for 2014 is the greater of $95 or 1 percent of income. Individuals can purchase insurance through the marketplace or directly from an insurance company. The marketplace could offer a subsidy based on an individual’s income to help pay for premiums.

A qualified advisor will be well versed on the products available to individuals and business owners. The changes due to PPACA provide more options to purchase health insurance products, but the marketplace for health insurance is ever changing. Business owners and HR professionals need to be aware of when these changes occur and how they can impact their business.

Michael Galardini is a sales executive at JRG Advisors, the management arm of ChamberChoice. Reach him at (412) 456-7235 or michael.galardini@jrgadvisors.net.

Insights Employee Benefits is brought to you by ChamberChoice