From shopping to hailing a ride, with the click of a button or a swipe of a screen, technology has revolutionised our everyday lives. But can it change the way we address the global issue of declining health?
- Daily steps counted – check.
- Glucose levels – check.
- Personal trainer follow-up – check.
- Stress-busting tips – check.
More and more people around the world are suffering from chronic illnesses related to unhealthy lifestyles. These include diabetes and heart diseases. And the decreasing health of populations is having a big impact: not just on individuals’ quality of life but on health premiums and overall productivity.
Stephanie Pronk, senior vice president and leader of US Health Transformation Team at Aon, says: “There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to health and wellbeing. Both an individual and an employer should look across a variety of issues – emotional, financial, physical and social – to create holistic approaches to improve one’s overall wellbeing.”
As these programs continue to grow in popularity, what carries even more potential, she notes, is technology’s ability to bring these elements of health together to provide a more complete profile of an individual’s wellbeing.
The global health crisis could be answered with technology – specifically, with mobile health (mHealth) solutions, which cover everything from fitness trackers to biometric sensors. The market has developed significantly over the past few years and is expected to grow even further, to be worth more than $150 billion by 2025.
Technology can play a significant role in improving health outcomes. At the same time, the information generated from these personal devices also carries another benefit: line of sight into health-related data for both an individual and their organisation.
According to Aon’s 2019 Global Medical Trend Rates Report, global average medical costs are rising at an annual rate of 7.8 percent. In many countries, this is much higher, even exceeding the local inflation rate by double-digit percentage points. Among the medical conditions increasing the costs are cardiovascular disease, cancer, high blood pressure and diabetes – most of which are manageable through changes in personal health behaviour.
These factors have highlighted the importance of holistic wellbeing to employers. Organisations now need to address the emotional, financial and social factors – in addition to the physical ones – that can affect an employee’s overall health.
Applying technology to health and wellbeing
While wellbeing programs once focused solely on physical health, there is now an awareness that broader issues such as mental illness, financial stress and poor social wellbeing also play a part in a person’s health. There’s also a recognition that each individual’s needs are unique, so programs must be shaped accordingly. Thinking more inclusively about health could play a significant part in delivering more personalised health care and bettering the outcomes – and the usage of mHealth technology could be the start.
Some examples of mHealth tech:
Personalising health: Wearable devices and mHealth Apps
Wearable devices and health apps will give people greater insight into their health and the tangible improvements that changes in behaviour can have on their wellbeing. Meanwhile, data collected through these devices and apps can allow health care professionals to track individuals’ and their progress toward becoming healthier.
Improving health outcomes: Smart reminders and digital pillboxes
Digital platforms can provide employees with health reminders and wellness tips or track outbreaks of diseases, such as colds or flu. Digital pillboxes can help patients track medications, ensure they’re taken as prescribed and transmit that data to caregivers.
Increasing access: Telehealth
The use of digital communications to acquire health services remotely will allow individuals to better access and manage their care.
Decision-making through predictive analytics
Analysing an individual’s health data can help determine which patients are most at risk of chronic conditions and which could benefit from enhanced treatments. This can then be used to shape personalised wellbeing programs and help improve individuals’ satisfaction with the guidance they’re getting.
In EMEA, wellbeing is a priority – but there’s a data gap
Aon’s 2018 EMEA Health Survey found that the region’s employers clearly understand the impact employee wellbeing can have on their businesses. Of the employers surveyed, 95 percent see the correlation between health and employee performance.
“Health and wellbeing are high on the agenda for many employers right now in the EMEA region,” says Matthew Lawrence, chief broking officer of Health and Benefits, EMEA at Aon. “Employers increasingly recognise their role in trying to educate and improve individuals’ often poor lifestyle behaviours.”
The EMEA Health Survey did reveal some significant disconnects: Despite recognising the importance of employees’ wellbeing, only 40 percent of employers surveyed reported having a defined health strategy. And very few are taking advantage of data to shape their health strategies.
“Only 22 percent of employers use data to inform their strategy,” Lawrence says. “More employers need to develop a data-driven culture in health and wellbeing. This approach to health strategy can pay dividends in terms of supporting the case for investment, implementing targeted initiatives and measuring outcomes.”
Holistic health and wellbeing: Benefits beyond cost containment
“Whether connected to workforce productivity or employee engagement initiatives, wellbeing – when done well – can extend much deeper into an organisation than cost containment alone,” says Jim Winkler, global chief innovation officer of Health Solutions at Aon. When part of a broader health strategy, employers can decrease the specific health risk factors of their workforce and see productivity gains, improved employee attraction, retention and engagement or even boosted employer brand and reputation.
“Addressing health holistically and using various technologies to do so can pay off with more satisfied and engaged employees,” says Pronk. “And that’s good for the health of the business.”