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Corporate health care and wellness trends – 2020 and beyond

Predictions for upcoming health care trends within the corporate world — from technology adoption to building company trust to improve well-being.

Health and wellness in the corporate world are constantly evolving — from what your employee health insurance covers to the technologies involved. Simon Miller, Senior Director of Customer Proposition at Aetna International, discusses the trends we can expect to see emerging and growing in corporate health care and corporate wellness.

According to Simon, there has been an evolution of the health insurer’s role within the corporate wellness space. “Ten to 15 years ago, the UK health insurance industry was focused on paying bills when people got sick and supporting them in those moments of need. However, insurers weren’t doing as much as we could to prevent those health risks or help people understand preventative actions to reduce the impact or to intervene early. We certainly weren’t seeing the interconnection such as the impact of physical health on mental health, the impact of sleep on diet (in a medical sense, we refer to this as ‘comorbidities’). We didn’t consider how all these things could affect your susceptibility to disease, immune systems, your ability to recover.”

But this is changing.

This article explores the following trends:

  • A holistic approach
  • Mental health
  • A rise in technology
  • Technology adoption in the workplace
  • Flexible working hours
  • Technology and human interaction.

A holistic approach

As insurers take a more holistic approach, it is also influencing how organisations view the insurance cover they provide employees. What was once implemented as a core basic, employee cover is becoming more extensive as companies start to recognise its true benefits.

“We’re having totally different conversations with clients now,” says Simon. “Previously, the focus was solely on the expenditure. Of course, that’s still incredibly important, but we’re now speaking to clients who are just as focused on utilisation, ensuring people have access to support and resources. They want to make the most of their investment. Workforces are moving from what was historically perhaps a slightly ‘tick-the-box’ duty of care role, to recognising the link between better employee happiness and well-being, and engagement and outcomes. The conversation is still centred around return-on-investment, but this is a much more mature conversation that recognises what that actually encompasses.”

“In the US, for example, Aetna International has worked with companies like Sleepio who have clinically-validated sleep therapy programmes. We’ve been able to prescribe this as part of our benefits, whereas traditionally, insurance benefits might only look to cover traditional treatments in physical locations and medications,” Simon adds.

This shift in priorities has promoted the new holistic approach, which understands the importance of well-being and recognises the impact it has on productivity and company culture.

Simon highlights that this trend is prominent “particularly younger audiences — workforces who may be lucky enough to not yet suffer from major, long-term chronic conditions, but are dealing with everyday ailments, such as stress and future risk prevention. Younger people really want to support that. We’re seeing organisations shifting their focus from end solutions for people in need, to investing much more in terms of up-front awareness, education and resilience building — especially for mental health.”

And how can these programmes be measured? “There are some hard metrics — productivity, absenteeism, attraction and retention — but also some of those softer metrics around employee happiness, satisfaction and energy.”

Mental health

“There is a heightened awareness of the impact of mental health,” says Simon.

According to a recent Deloitte report released in January 2020, 15% of people in a UK workplace have symptoms of an existing mental health condition. “However, we must ask: does that number correlate with the number of people who are using the services that are available to them, or only the health claims data available?”

Simon notes that although there is more openness, there is potentially still stigma - especially in a work environment. “Why is there a disconnect there? Are people concerned about confidentiality when using those resources, are they worried about the stigma, or are they worried about the impact on maybe keeping a job or getting a promotion if they disclose this information?”

A rise in technology

Technology continues to impact health care delivery.

“We’re seeing a democratisation of access to health care resources through some of the digital technology and enablement that’s out there now,” says Simon. “We can bring cost-effective access to first step, high-quality health care for individuals on their terms — when and how they want. I’m referring here to things like apps, wearables and at-home health care devices.”

“Wearables have the capability to provide more personalised support, both in and out of the workplace, if we can overcome concerns around data security and privacy,” he adds. In order to offer personalisation, these technologies require access to data, which people can often feel apprehensive about. Simon notes: “As trust builds, we’ll see employees potentially become happier to share their data, which will create access to personalised and curated resources.”

Adoption in the workplace

While the range of health factors being addressed is expanding, adoption of technology is actually becoming more difficult, despite the fact it’s being developed to support these needs.

“Despite health tech and digital health innovation, workplace adoption is nowhere near the rates we’d all like, and drop-off rates are also very high,” says Simon. “Part of the challenge is the vast range of solutions suited to so many different needs which makes it difficult for employers to select the right solutions for the majority.”

Simon explains that, to combat this, we’re likely to see aggregated solutions come together in a sort of ‘ecosystem’. Whether it’s a human, bot or app, services will guide individuals to a personal health care pathway and prescribe solutions based on specific goals and holistic health care needs. With consent, the solutions will also take advantage of leveraging your data. Simon also predicts that this support “will start prescribing self-help and at-home solutions — things like digital therapeutics, which could reduce dependency on addictive medications.”

These solutions — for example telehealth environments like Aetna International’s vHealth — are trying to bring the digital and physical together into one solution.

vHealth is not Aetna International’s only example of a digital pathway. “Aetna launched its pilot with Apple in the US through Aetna Attain. It combined an engagement platform through the Apple Watch and [consensual] data tracking from their pharmacy and health care records, to provide personalised nudges. For example, we can see that you’ve missed a prescription or vaccination, and get you back on track.”

Flexible working hours

Technology also has its downsides and workplaces will have to learn to adapt. For example, tech can play a role in both physical and mental health issues, such as affecting sleeping patterns and anxiety. Simon explains that many employees struggle to switch off after working hours. Whether the employer is encouraging staff to continue to work once they get home or employees find themselves continuing to check their emails, this can often have detrimental effects on finding a healthy work-life balance.

“If employees are going to be expected to work outside of traditional hours, employers should become more flexible within the core hours. This can help people achieve their well-being goals, such as going to the gym. There are some really interesting examples of companies providing unlimited leave to their employees on the basis that they believe their workforce have bought into their sense of purpose and want to achieve those goals together. Employees will take leave as and when they need it, on their terms, for their own well-being and support, but are unlikely to abuse that. That’s a really interesting stage of maturity: when a company has that trust and an alignment of employee values and business values,” says Simon.

Technology and human interaction

Technology’s role within human interaction can be especially damaging for younger generations, Simon reveals: “As people rely more and more on technology for short conversations, we are also seeing a lot of young people having a dependency on artificial conversations through social media. This issue is highlighted as one of the key threats to health and well-being.” According to Simon, ensuring employees maintain relationships at work could be more beneficial than we might think. “We can’t deny that human relationships are at the core of well-being — it’s not necessarily the volume, but the depth of those relationships. Meaningful relationships are becoming increasingly absent, both in and out of the workplace.”

Whether it’s taking the time to have a break and a chat over a cup of coffee, or spending time with colleagues outside of work, building relationships can really improve your well-being. Even making sure your professional interactions are a friendly as possible, can help.

As corporate health care continues to evolve, the insurance policies adopted by organisations will continue to change, encompassing a wider variety of benefits to meet more needs. Technology will always be adapting, and so as the holistic approach expands even further, more personalised digital solutions will be brought to market, catering to wellness and mental health, as well as traditional health care needs.

For more insights from Simon Miller, Senior Director, Customer Proposition, on corporate wellness, listen to our Fit For Duty podcast episode below.

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