Insights

How Employers are Driving Employee and Population Health Improvements

Laurel Pickering, MPH
June 12, 2018

For much of my career, I have worked with large employers throughout the country to improve the health and well-being of their employees–the public. I’ve also been actively engaged in policy discussions that impact the efforts to accomplish this goal. Large employers have a considerable stake in keeping employees healthy and containing healthcare costs. As we know, if employees as a population are well, productivity is high and business is good. If employees are not well, both they and the employer are burdened with increased absenteeism, decreased productivity, and higher healthcare costs.

It is no surprise that employers believe they can and should play a role in improving the health status not only of their employees, but also of the communities in which they and their employees live and work. Employers work daily to positively impact population health at the local, state, and national levels. And they’ve done this for decades.

The Employer’s Role in the Digital Age

To impact employee and population health in the digital age, however, requires more than instituting wellness programs, negotiating and providing health insurance coverage, and participating in state or national policy discussions. It requires innovation!

Employers are observing how technology and digital solutions are permeating the daily lives of their employees – how they communicate with others, how they access information and how they track and engage in what’s important to them. Employers also see how healthcare startups, digital health therapeutics and related entities are urging the healthcare sector along to encourage adoption and use of technology to meet individuals where they are. Employers imagine a world where individuals can use mobile technologies to improve their health just as easily, enjoyably, and intuitively as they use their mobile devices to order food, check account balances, play games and even buy a car.

Employers Are Taking Risks

As I’ve traveled around the country meeting with representatives from  leading employers I hear that they are continuing to grapple with rising healthcare costs, however, now more than ever before, employers are showing a willingness to take risks. Employers are starting to serve as early adopters to make digital health solutions available to their employees as tools to support improvements in health. By being among the first clients to adopt a digital health solution, they have the opportunity to help shape a product and tailor it to their needs.

And the data is clear: there are mobile apps on the market that demonstrate not only excellent outcomes for users but also cost savings to all whose wallets are impacted. I’m very proud to say that the product I work with, Welldoc’s BlueStar, for type 2 diabetes is one of them. It’s a FDA-cleared mobile medical app with clinical evidence to support its effectiveness and cost-savings

Going Beyond Outcomes and Cost Savings

But here’s a critical question. How far do excellent outcomes and cost savings take employers and society-at-large that are experiencing ever-escalating healthcare costs? The answer: only as far as the technologies and the employer is able to effectively and continuously engage their employees.

Optimal programs and digital health solutions must demonstrate positive clinical and cost-effective outcomes, as noted, but they can only be successful if employees are willing, able and excited to use them. In other words, the return on investment (ROI) for an employer isn’t simply fewer missed days of work, more employees joining the weekly walking club, or lower healthcare costs. That’s not enough today. The ROI must also speak to the overall satisfaction of the employee experience.

The role that employers can play in bringing digital solutions to market is significant, and may be a critical step in a new and much-needed “healthcare comes to you” model for improving employee and population health.