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One Place 2021: 3 Takeaways from Health & Benefits Experts

On March 2 and 3, nearly 1500 benefits and health care professionals gathered virtually for One Place 2021. Employers, health plans, brokers, voluntary benefits providers, Benefitfocus associates and industry experts came together for two days of networking, collaboration and inspiration. And while the live conference has concluded, an event is much more than a moment in time. The information shared, ideas sparked and connections made impact us long after the event. Here, we’d like to share some of the takeaways that we are still thinking about:

How COVID-19 Accelerated Changes in Health Care Delivery and Consumer Expectations

During How 2020 Shaped the Future of Health Care, Senior Vice President of Wal-Mart Health Marcus Osborne shared three key areas he sees COVID accelerating change: 

“In many ways, the impacts are going to be ones in which COVID didn't change anything. It acted more as an accelerant, and there was already a change happening, but it moved it faster…[One area is] the movement of diagnostic and testing and lab out of the care environment and enabling much greater direct-to-consumer engagement with those solutions."

“[Secondly, COVID has] accelerated the movement of health care and care delivery into an omni-channel experience, into this increasing expectation that the best way to serve consumers is not to only give them one channel for engagement…but instead bringing better and more physical access points for care, better leveraging telehealth, leveraging digital health (and by digital health, I mean AI-driven solutions), leveraging care in the home, leveraging other opportunities for care in the community…What COVID has done is increase this desire amongst consumers to say, ‘I want an omni-channel experience, where I can have access to all those channels and be served in the way that I want to be served.’"

“[Lastly], there were some changes made around nurse practitioner oversight during COVID and the allowances for police or even pharmacists to deliver certain clinical services…[There is] movement to recognize that we have demand and supply imbalances, that we don't have enough primary care physicians, and physicians in general, to meet the health demands of Americans, and that we're going to have to rely on these other professionals to help fill the gap…The greater role for those nontraditional professionals in the delivery of care is going to become a bigger thing.”1

Recognizing and Addressing Inequities

In addition to accelerating health care change, COVID-19 highlighted racial, ethnic and gender disparities across the country. In both How 2020 Shaped the Future of Health Care and The Future of Work, panelists emphasized the role employers play in either exacerbating or addressing those inequities.

Dr. Esther Choo, Associate Professor, Oregon Health & Science University, shared an illustrative example:

“I think benefit managers can also be aware, uniquely sometimes, of ways in which the kind of structural inequities we talk about all the time are actually playing out through communication about things like benefits. I had a friend who shared a story about how the health system where he worked wanted to make sure that vaccine allocation was happening across job titles in their health system, as they were giving a lot of the essential workers who didn't have patient-facing roles access. So they were thinking about the environmental services staff, the food service workers, and what they discovered was that a big chunk of the environmental service workers, largely people of color, didn't have an employer-based email, which is how they were actually distributing information about vaccine clinics."

“Basically, the divide there was so huge over a simple thing. And it was only after they had created this whole strategy about communicating through email that they realized that there was a big gap. And so, I think just being aware of these ways that are kind of invisible, systematic ways of excluding groups of people, particularly people of color, is kind of everybody's business.”2

During The Future of Work, author and analyst Farai Chideya shared a recommendation for how employers address issues of diversity, inclusion and belonging:

“The real solution is to treat diversity work like work. All these committees pop up that are unpaid, and they're generally pretty useless. If you really are serious about engaging your employees as partners in diversity work, pay them. Set up a committee that is competitive, ask people to apply, have a clearly-defined mission, have a clearly-defined outcome, give them a budget to accomplish some of what they choose to do.”3

Tackling Challenges Through Resiliency

As employers and their employees, health plans and their members, tackled challenges and changes, many had to shift how they did business and how they interacted with customers and with each other practically overnight. And key to their success was a resilient workforce. In Resilience in the Workplace, Nora McInerny and Adam Grant shared insights on why and how employers should build resilience.

“As much as we want resilient companies, you can't have a resilient company without resilient employees, and you can’t have resilient employees if they don't feel like it is a safe place for them to struggle, for them to try things and not have them work out, for them to ask for help,” shared Nora.4

Adam expanded, “A lot of people see resilience as a as a fixed capacity or as a trait…but wherever you start, I think of resilience like a muscle…And so I would really think about how do we build this muscle? How do we exercise it? And I think Nora hit on the starting point for me, which is building psychological safety in a team. Psychological safety is the freedom to take risks without fearing that you're going to be penalized and punished in some way. And that means I can be vulnerable about whatever my struggles or challenges are. It means I can ask for help. It means I can raise problems or concerns."

“We know that when organizations create that psychological safety, there are a number of benefits. One is people make fewer mistakes. We have data from hospitals, for example, showing that when people lack psychological safety, they hide their errors, and then medical errors are more likely to get repeated because nobody knows they happen. And that means we can't figure out how to prevent them. Whereas when psychological safety is present, people can admit their mistakes freely, and then we can all learn from them and do better moving forward. We know in tech companies that when people have psychological safety, they're more likely to bring both problems and solutions to the table. That means more ideas and more innovation happens."

“I think the big question is how do we build that psychological safety? And I think this is one place where it has to start from the top. We need leaders and managers to model this kind of openness and vulnerability. I found in some recent research that what most leaders do is they say, ‘All right, you know what? Any issues you have, any criticism you want to share, any struggles you have, my door is open. Please let me know.’ And that turns out to have an effect for about a week, and then the benefit fades."

“What leaders and managers have to do to build psychological safety is go the extra step and show that they can actually take it, and one of the ways you can do that is by actually criticizing yourself out loud or pointing out the problems in your own leadership or your own management. In one of our experiments, we have leaders and managers just share their performance reviews from their own supervisors and say, ‘Here are the things that I'm trying to work on. Here are my shortcomings as I see them. I would love all of you to hold me accountable for making progress in these areas.’ We found that when leaders and managers open the door that way, the psychological safety took a little longer to build. People didn't always know what to do with that conversation at first, but then it lasted for at least a year. Because I'm saying, look, I am human. I am a work in progress. And that made it easier for their employees to speak up. It also made it a two-way street.”5

Join One Place On Demand

While there were many valuable sessions offered during our One Place conference, the highlights above feature expert perspectives and advice shared during three general sessions: How 2020 Shaped the Future of Health Care, The Future of Work and Resilience in the Workplace. If you’d like to take a look at the full agenda, you can do so here. These highlights are just a sample of the actionable information shared. If you’re interested in learning more from our experts, you can still register to join the on-demand experience, where you can access all conference sessions at your convenience.

1. How 2020 Shaped the Future of Health Care. Benefitfocus One Place 2021.

2. How 2020 Shaped the Future of Health Care. Benefitfocus One Place 2021.

3. The Future of Work. Benefitfocus One Place 2021.

4. Resilience in the Workplace. Benefitfocus One Place 2021.

5. Resilience in the Workplace. Benefitfocus One Place 2021.