Technology for Improving Employee Health and Wellness Outcomes

Mobile engagement strategies for workforce health and wellness programs can deliver important and sustainable benefits to both employers and employees. Why is mobile so important? Today, smartphones are used by virtually everyone within the workforce, along with a growing number of tablets and laptops. That means a well-configured mobile app – potentially connected to a wearable device – can provide 24/7 engagement with employees on health and wellness issues. Reminders to go for a 20-minute daily walk, take a prescribed medication or make a follow-up visit with the doctor can be automated and delivered to employees on an as-needed personalized basis.

Just as healthcare organizations strive to bridge gaps in the care continuum, employers in all industries are searching for ways to "connect the dots" between their workplace-oriented offerings and the rest of their employees' lives.  There are very real benefits for employees who take part in an on-site fitness or relaxation program during the workday.  But what happens when those employees travel on assignments, work from home or simply take the week off?  All to frequently, those wellness activities fall of the individual's radar screen, so to speak, and potential health benefits are lost. 

That's one of the reasons why a mobile engagement strategy is critical for employers, particularly those who are self-insured. 

Deploying wearable devices, mobile apps and a platform that can access and integrate patient electronic health records (EHRs) from multiple provider networks creates an infrastructure that promotes employee engagement and advances employer wellness goals.

But to succeed, a mobile engagement strategy must have a clear objective, and support from the top down. On an operational level, managers must be trained to drive engagement at the employee level.  The organization will also need to invest in a robust technology platform capable of collecting, analyzing and integrating employee data. Finally, the mobile strategy must create meaningful benefits that reward employees for their health-promoting activities.

A difficult challenge

Promoting employee wellness has long been a difficult challenge for employers striving to keep their employees healthy, happy and productive. Employers have tried many different approaches in an effort to incentivize and keep employees engaged in workplace-related activities that promote their personal fitness and well-being.

One often-used strategy is to conduct annual health assessments and offer nominal incentives for participating in that screening and evaluation program. Usually, that engages employees for a brief period, followed by a return to the status quo of low involvement until the next incentive-based assessment. This traditional program does little to promote healthier lifestyles and a more productive workforce because it is an annual event. The saying, "Out of sight, out of mind," certainly applies to any wellness program that is episodic in nature.  Employees simply forget about the initiative until the next assessment event.

Fortunately, advances in mobile technology now provide a multitude of ways for employers to engage their employees on an ongoing basis. Innovative ways of using mobile and wearable device technology allow employers to motivate, incentive and promote a healthier workplace.

Self-insured employers are increasingly focused on this engagement issue because healthier employees will reduce their healthcare costs. Employee engagement in their health becomes crucial for self-insured employers. Although this has been an issue for self-insured employers over the years, recent technological advantages have proved extremely beneficial.

For instance, Cisco has introduced employee engagement within the organization by using a online platform called RedBrickHealth. Employees can login to the platform to check their wellness status and their incentives, which take the form of reduction in premium payments. Employees are also provided with wearable devices to track their health throughout the year – a strategy that appears to be working well in promoting ongoing engagement with the technology giant's wellness program.

Collecting and analyzing health-related data

Along with helping employers engage workers in their wellness programs, mobile and wearable devices allow for personal health data to be collected and analyzed for a multitude of purposes.  For instance, employers would assess whether an employee with diabetes is managing his glucose levels or whether an employee with asthma is complying with a physician's treatment plan.

A review of the aggregate data can also help organizations fine-tune their wellness programs, such as increasing incentives for underutilized components. For example, employees who wear a pedometer and walk at least one mile every day might be given one type of incentive, while those who walk two or three miles a day might receive a larger benefit.  And those rewards don't have to be financial. An award for that accomplishment or an article in the company newsletter can be highly motivating for many employees.

Once health-related data has been collected an analyzed, it can also be forwarded to providers to help them deliver better care to employees who are also patients.  In addition, the data can be sent to payors with resulting financial benefits to both employees and employers. For instance, engaged employees who meet certain criteria might be rewarded with a reduction in their insurance premiums, co-pays or deductibles.

Many payors now incentivize employers when they engage their workers and take a more active role in health and wellness programs.  Those incentives can be substantial in regard to managing employees with serious chronic conditions such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes or asthma. Payors understand that if a wellness program can reduce emergency room visits and in-patient admissions, they are far ahead of the game in financial terms.  A challenge or opportunity presents itself if platforms and solutions successfully integrate employee collected data with third party administrators.  While nuances exist associated with the security and matching of patient data within a protected or personally identifiable use case, individuals

Since the largest hurdle to overcome with this workforce population is self management, a mobile engagement strategy can be a win-win-win solution for employees, employers and payors.  In this way, a collaborative approach can improve health outcomes, while demonstrating a reduction in the cost of care.

Employee Engagment mHealth Matrix

 

 

 

Keywords: 
mHealth, Self Insured, Employee Wellness