Emory Report

June 28, 1999

 Volume 51, No. 34

Human Resources uses focus groups to measure service

In order to get an honest and rich assessment of the benefits and services it provides, Human Resources recently conducted a series of focus groups with both active and retired Emory faculty and staff.

"We have gotten very sparse but positive results from written surveys, and folks seem reluctant to talk in large meetings," said HR Vice President Alice Miller. "Small groups tend to be more conducive to honest discussion, and the participants reinforced this in their comments."

HR contracted with Aon Consulting to run the groups. Aon prepared and sent a letter to more than 300 Emory employees and retirees, and the firm also conducted each of the 55 groups itself. To make the participants more comfortable and willing to be honest in their responses, no HR staff sat in on the meetings, said Pat Douglass, assistant vice president for HR.

Among the positive conclusions from the groups was a general satisfaction in the breadth of Emory health care coverage and the range of specialists available. Most participants appreciated the option of being able to go out of the network for an additional cost, but nearly 60 percent said they use network doctors exclusively.

Seventy-one percent said the prescription drug program was generous and convenient, but Douglass said some participants expressed concern about not being to get more than a 30-day supply of medication.

Chief among criticisms, Douglass added, was correct and prompt payment of insurance claims. Other complaints focused on gaining access to physicians at Emory Clinic, and some employees with families felt their premiums were too high. But overall, 69 percent of participants agreed with the statement "I am satisfied with the quality of health care I receive from my providers."

In fact, most of the problems reported were those over which Human Resources has no direct control. "It helped us in looking at our vendors," Douglass said. "We could say 'These are the concerns of our employees--they want access to physicians quickly, claims paid promptly. They want a member-services group that understands our plan and can give them correct information.' So we took the feedback from the focus groups to our vendors, where it was appropriate, and told them that this is the kind of flexibility we need."

Douglass said HR will probably hold regular focus groups to gauge employee satisfaction with the Emory benefits package. In fact, a group of 30 of the approximately 150 HR reps across campus gathered for a recent focus group on policy dissemination. Human Resources must update its policy and procedures manual once or twice a year, and Employee Relations Manager Bonita Swain said often by the time the revision is published, it's time to revise again.

"We drafted a list of their concerns," Swain said. "For example, they'd like [to see] the policies and procedures on the web. We've got to talk about that, whether the entire manual needs to be on the web or just part of it. So now I'll feed back to the participants what came of the meeting: 'This is what you said, this is what I've proposed, and this is what I think is doable.'"

--Michael Terrazas

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