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This Startup Aims to be the Slack of Healthcare HealthJoy's communication platform uses artificial intelligence and chatbot technology to hold down healthcare costs.

By Marsha Hunt Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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In the not too distant past, employees could access fully-insured health plans that had deep coverage. Employees' eyes glazed over during enrollment meetings before they returned to their desks to stuff their benefit booklets into a drawer. Immediately forgetting about benefits design wasn't an issue because they weren't on the hook for medical expenses. Employees only paid attention to benefits during an emergency. Oh, how times have changed.

Employees today are on the hook for potentially huge medical expenses as more and more companies move to high-deductible health plans (HDHP). Premium increases of 58 percent in the last 10 years have forced this trend. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2016, over 29 percent of all company medical plans had high deductibles. The result: employee frustration with their benefits. Companies are looking for solutions that encourage employees to change behavior to reduce medical expenses and increase employee satisfaction.

One company using advanced technologies to solve this problem is HealthJoy, a Chicago-based startup that just announced a funding round with Chicago Ventures & Social Capital. I spoke with HealthJoy CEO Justin Holland about how HealthJoy tackles healthcare costs with their communication platform that uses artificial intelligence and chatbot technology.

Related: Year-End Healthcare Strategies for Small-Business Owners

It seems that employer healthcare costs have been growing at a rate that's way above inflation for decades. Why is this happening and how can artificial intelligence and chatbots address this problem?

Healthcare is a complicated subject but the main problem is simple: claims. The number and size of claims drives healthcare costs. For years health insurance was given to employees and used like a company credit card at a restaurant without any prices. Employees did whatever their doctor recommended without any concern for price. Healthcare by its nature is the opposite of transparent on pricing, which leads to more, larger claims. This one-two combo plays a large part in escalating employer healthcare prices. This is a simplistic approach but fairly accurate.

HealthJoy tackles this problem by engaging employees through our mobile app that's powered by JOY, our virtual healthcare assistant. She helps employees make better healthcare decisions and the app becomes an employee's hub for everything healthcare and employee benefits related.

The app connects a wide variety of services including online doctors, healthcare concierges, prescription savings, medical bill review and much more. Employees just chat with JOY for anything they need. The app integrates with a company's existing health plan so implementation is simple.

Related: Jump Into the Hot Health-Care Sector With These 10 Businesses

I noticed in your funding announcement that Social Capital is one of your backers. They also funded Slack, another communication platform that's the fastest growing business app of all time. How is your healthcare communication platform different from something like Slack?

We believe that healthcare is best delivered with a conversation. Healthcare is complex and almost scary to people who don't know how the game is played, which is most people in the U.S. Employees need guidance from the very start of the process. They need help figuring out which questions to ask and what information to provide to our team. They need consistent education and reminders around their benefits, the services they have access to in HealthJoy, and explanations for every recommendation we make. It takes that extra step to help change the behavior of blindly following the recommendation of your doctor, who has no idea that the MRI he refers patients to is $2,000 more expensive than one of equal quality just down the road.

This conversation, which both engages members and explains all of the resources to them, was the missing link we identified in a lot of the "tools" offered by other companies. You aren't going to change years of behavior by giving someone a new tool. Just because you give someone a chainsaw doesn't mean they know how to chop down a redwood. Our members don't have to do any work or remember anything except that they should use HealthJoy for any benefits need or question. We equip our concierge team with the necessary tools. They're the experts, and they do all the heavy lifting for our members.

By making the chat interface the center of our app and using virtual assistant technology, we are able to deliver every available service in one place at utilization rates that are 10-15 times greater than traditional providers. We simplify every benefit each employee has, in-no-small-part because we can hold their hand through chat. Benefits are in one app instead of five to 10 different phone numbers that are hidden in a benefits package. Employees don't even have to remember when or why to use each one because we can tell them.

Take online doctor visits as an example. Telemedicine has been around for over 10 years with a proven return on investment. Online doctor visits save employers money by redirecting care to a lower cost service, like using telemedicine instead of going to the emergency room. The issue in the past was that employees had forgotten about the benefit by the time they really needed to use it. We get around this by engaging with an employee throughout the year and being at the center of all their employee benefits interactions. That's the reason why our engagement beats every single stand alone service offering in the market.

Regarding Slack, I would say we are similar in that we put the user at the center of our universe and focus on making communication for them as easy as possible. We've been refining our product since 2014 and have focused on education, feedback and customer happiness.

Related: The Healthcare Industry Needs to Change in Order to Serve All Individuals

HealthJoy seems the best-in-class health benefits platform. How does it compare in cost to other solutions?

Our service might not be the cheapest but we are by far the lowest in cost on a per interaction basis. I've held strategy sessions with employers offering a telemedicine-only plan to their more than 50,000 members. After six months of the program they had fewer than 30 consults. Let's say they're paying only $.50 pepm. That's a total cost of $150,000. Divide that by 30 and you get $5,000 paid per consult. Now that's expensive.

Most of the older solutions are call-center based with IVR technology and haven't changed much for a few years. We've spent almost three years building out our technology platform to make a competitive, scalable solution. JOY, our virtual assistant, can handle nearly 80 percent of employee interactions. She is also proactive and able to reach out to employees as often as needed at almost no cost -- a few pennies of server time. This technology allows us to service more frequently with less overhead than other solutions at a lower cost. We are also adding more services every day to expand our offering.

There are other companies I would say come close to our offering but mostly focus on the enterprise and come at a much higher monthly cost per employee -- plus a substantial setup fee. HealthJoy costs almost the same as two premium cups of coffee every month for your employee without any setup fees. We've had clients that have received a return on investment of more than seven times within their first month with us, so it's a program that pays for itself very quickly. It also saves time for both employees and their HR departments. Companies have been giving us amazing feedback since we launched into the employer space. It's technology like chatbots and AI that's allowed us to make this offering to everyone from small businesses with 50 employees to enterprises with 50,000.

Marsha Hunt

Growth Marketing Expert

Marsha Hunt is a Growth Marketing Expert business advisor and speaker with specialism in international marketing.

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