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ATLANTA-What a difference a year can make.
At last year's Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc. conference in Toronto, only a handful of exhibitors introduced risk and benefit managers to new online employee benefit and workers compensation offerings.
And those offerings were limited to exhibitors' individual World Wide Web home pages, not actual Internet-based applications.
While many of the exhibitors marketing to benefit managers at this year's RIMS conference in Atlanta have built or are building World Wide Web sites for marketing purposes, several vendors have gone a step further and are offering new online applications for their clients.
Among the companies demonstrating new online wares for benefit managers was AIG Healthcare Management Services Inc.
In conjunction with OCI, a Cheyenne, Wyo.-based health care information technology company, AIG HMS unveiled its new integrated disability management system for clients using Internet technology.
The OPTIS System is designed to provide risk and benefit managers "a sense for the costs and risks in their employee population," said Michael A. Turner, vp-business development for OCI in Woodstock, Ill.
The system enables benefit managers to build a custom integrated data base by which they can obtain instant access to employee medical and disability information across all benefit programs, including group health, workers compensation and long and short-term disability.
With access to all the information, benefit managers then can analyze and generate reports online.
Benefit managers can access the system, for example, and evaluate the distribution of health benefit costs by employee populations. The system further allows benefit managers to evaluate characteristics and demographics of certain populations, which in turn provides them useful trend data.
"We have as an industry managed claims and medical payments to death," Mr. Turner said. "We have squeezed all we're going to squeeze out of managed care and case management."
Those are really medical-oriented approaches to saving group health care costs, he said. "We believe you need to
take a person-centered approach and focus on the employee, not the benefit plan."
And the "sexy" thing about this, is benefit managers can do this analysis via the Internet, Mr. Turner said. The Internet "is a great way to distribute information, and we can do it securely," he said. "It sure beats sending over reams of paper."
The OPTIS system includes such firewalls as individual passwords and encryption to guard against information getting into the wrong hands.
AIG HMS began marketing its integrated information system in January.
"We've had a lot of interest here at the convention," added Beverly Cottle, director of marketing for AIG HMS in Atlanta.
Another exhibitor hoping to gain benefit managers' attention for its new online product is Boston-based Mosby Consumer Health.
The health care systems company is seeking employers and health care providers that would be interested in participating as beta testing sites for its new Mosby's Health Odyssey Online system.
The new Internet-based system consists of a vast content library that houses raw electronic health and medical information and a variety of Web-based applications, explained Dale Ann Matthews, director of sales and electronic licensing for Mosby Consumer Health in Salt Lake City.
The online system is targeting benefit managers, managed care companies, insurers and other health care providers that need to distribute health care information to employees, patients or members, for example, Ms. Matthews said.
The open architecture of Mosby's system allows benefit managers, for example, to draw from the database and create custom-designed applications, such as corporate health news-letters.
"We have over 5,000 pages of medical information for consumers," she said.
The content currently consists of Mosby's consumer medical encyclopedia, its guide to self-care and its health and wellness articles.
One of the applications on Mosby's system is health risk appraisals and personalized lifestyle recommendations. Employees, for example, can complete a multiple-choice form about their lifestyle and immediately receive an on-screen appraisal of his or her health. Eventually, the system will allow employees to receive periodic lifestyle recommendations.
Employees have the choice to have their information kept confidential or have it sent to their employer, which provides benefit managers with useful trend data.
Downers Grove, Ill.-based HealthCare Compare Corp. was also demonstrating a new online application.
The managed care company is marketing a new directory of providers via the Internet for benefit managers needing quick and easy access to a list of providers or hospitals in HealthCare Compare's nationwide network.
The Internet-based service does not contain any downloading features, said Tim Mooney, assistant vp-national accounts. Its intent is to reduce time and effort as well as to go a step further in obtaining a paperless environment, he said.