Digitization: Reducing costs, improving health

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The U.S. continues to experience increasing healthcare costs, rising nearly a trillion dollars from 1996 to 2015 according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. In addition, more than 900,000 people in the U.S. die prematurely from the five leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke and unintentional injuries each year.

Yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 20% to 40% of these could be prevented. The CDC also reported that productivity losses linked to absenteeism costs employers $225.8 billion annually, or $1,685 per employee.

More than ever, employer clients are turning to technology to help support their employees’ well-being and prevent ill health before it happens, reducing absenteeism and insurance premiums, while promoting a culture of wellness.

Fitness tracking becomes mainstream
One area where we’ve seen considerable advancements in recent years is fitness tracking. John Hancock, one of the largest insurance providers in North America, announced last year it will no longer offer policies that do not include digital fitness tracking. Some workplaces are offering fitness trackers to help their employees live a healthier lifestyle. This in turn will give employers more data from which to target future health initiatives that help encourage proactive lifestyle changes.

While fitness tracking may appear controversial to some, employees benefit from reduced premiums and are encouraged to be more mindful of their well-being, while insurers end up covering a healthier group of people.

New technologies bring deeper insights
Looking into the near future, there’s major potential for employers to use technology, including virtual reality and augmented reality as drivers for healthier, happier employees. There’s now a range of applications using technology that analyzes lifestyle data to help provide a real indication of how a person’s diet and exercise regime will impact their physicality.

When combined with artificial intelligence, employers could have the ability to use data gained through fitness tracking (number of steps, weight, etc.) to look at potential chances of health-related issues down the road. This insight could drive employees to reflect on better lifestyle habits and consider those that are having a negative impact on their health. Meanwhile, employers will get a better idea of the predicted cost of employee healthcare, sick leave and the measure of ROI in relation to benefits spend.

All of the above solutions demand that employees share a large amount of personal, potentially sensitive data with their employers. As a result, concerns about trusting employers with that data are inevitable. Employees need to be sure any information collected about their health will not impact their relationship with their employer. If a predisposition for heart disease in an employee is revealed, that individual will want assurance that employers won’t give preference to another employee when considering a big promotion over the anticipation of a possible illness. To counter this risk, it’s likely that employees will want a contractual agreement with their employer before handing over this information.

The digitization of healthcare provides employees with advanced preventative healthcare initiatives as part of their benefits offerings. Analysis of the data already available has the potential to expose macro trends, encouraging individuals to uphold better self-care. From comparing absenteeism levels to the number of employees taking preventative measures for their health, clients will be able to correlate better health with better self-care for improved benefits offerings for their workforce from understanding behaviors that are correlated with employees who take less sick time.

As healthcare costs continue to rise, digitization provides an efficient way of delivering targeted and preventative well-being support for employees. By creating a more health-aware workforce, we can reduce health issues and create a happier, healthier environment for both employers and employees alike.

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