Wellness has flatlined, but data is your lifeline

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The traditional approach to wellness is dead.

While physical programs like walking challenges and gym memberships will always be a cornerstone of an employee well-being strategy, they are not the end-all, be-all.

A survey by the National Business Group on Health and Fidelity Investments revealed that more than two-thirds of companies plan to expand their well-being initiatives over the next three to five years to include programs not specifically focused on physical health, demonstrating a significant industry shift toward total well-being.

Despite increased investments in total well-being programs, which includes physical, financial, emotional and social health, employee engagement is a primary concern among most organizations. A contributing factor is lack of knowledge and accessibility.

Only 16% of employees strongly agree that they know where to find all the health and well-being resources available to them, according to a report from Welltok. Additionally, 84% say their company offers one-size-fits-all programs, and 56% of employees have received irrelevant support. The good news is that more than 80% of employees in the survey would participate more if programs were personalized, which can be done thanks to advancements in machine learning and data.

The industry also needs to shift the sourcing and application of data to better understand and support individual needs of employees and dependents. Traditional data in the healthcare space has been limited to eligibility files and claims data, with some biometric data sprinkled in, which only provides a limited view of a person.

Factoring in consumer data, like the length of an employee’s commute, how many people live in their household or what they are buying online, paints a much more comprehensive picture of their needs and how they would likely engage. For example, 72% of workers with children in their household reported desire for financial support from their employer compared to 56% of workers with no children in the home, the Welltok report found. Combining this consumer data with traditional healthcare data tells a different story about the people employers are trying to connect with and help.

When I was responsible for employee well-being at a large regional healthcare system, 15% of the population on our benefit plan were unengaged and had never had a claim against their benefits. Therefore, we had no insights into their potential health risks and how we could better engage them in their overall health. We worked with an external partner to leverage consumer data to understand the impact of social determinants of health.

Based on machine learning and predictive models, we learned that the majority of these unengaged employees were pre-diabetic or had cardiovascular risk factors. With these additional insights and more, we could build a concentrated strategy for these specific individuals. The plan included what, how and when to communicate with them and what other programs would trigger participation since they weren’t engaging with the benefit plan.

We also overlaid consumer data with available claims and biometric screening data to look at who is at risk of diabetes or the prevalence of pre-diabetic risk factors. The analysis revealed who would be most receptive to a pre-diabetic program offered to them, insights our partner used to target outreach. The results were significant — of the employees who joined the program, 95% of them completed it. Furthermore, participants lost an average 5.2% of their weight over the course of the program. It really worked to get the people who were at the right stage of readiness to engage and take action.

Utilizing applied analytics and machine learning to reach individuals with personalized, timely, relevant and actionable information can make a significant impact on the degree to which well-being programs are understood and utilized. Evidence also shows that taking a more personalized approach to employee well-being programs benefits the bottom line, by limiting presenteeism and reducing medical costs. Afterall, employees need a total well-being program that supports their health and improves daily living.

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