Digital healthcare isn’t exactly new. For the past decade, employers have been trying to incorporate virtual physicians, therapists, coaches, and programs into their health benefits packages. But despite being an accessible and effective way for businesses to support employees and their families, uptake for many of the services has been inconsistent.
That all changed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As employees got used to navigating the world of virtual meetings and online services, interest in digital health products soared. Now, driven by convenience, willingness, and the ability to monitor overall well-being, the increasingly tech-native workforce is especially keen to embrace digital services across general, physical, and mental healthcare.
What is digital health?
Digital health is a broad term. Originally developed by hospitals to describe telemedicine and remote patient monitoring, it’s since spread to become a cornerstone of health services across the world. Covering everything from wearables to IoT devices, mobile apps, personalized medicine, telehealth, and even virtual reality, digital health uses technology to enhance and expand traditional healthcare. From booking appointments to supportive chatbots and fitness trackers, digital health is transforming the way we all access healthcare.
How digital health opens the door to mental health and well-being
Accessing traditional mental health and well-being services can be difficult. This is due largely to barriers such as long waiting lists, poor availability, complicated referral processes, and social stigma. Taking care of your mental health also hasn’t traditionally been considered as important as taking care of your physical health—people are regularly told to do annual screenings, exercise, and mind their nutrition, but the same can’t always be said for seeing a therapist, building mental resilience, and practicing mindfulness.
Digital, on-demand well-being platforms overcome these obstacles. Apps like Calm, for instance, are designed for people to use when and where they want—no stigma, no rigid timetables, no need to travel to and from appointments. And, they’re proactive instead of reactive. By encouraging regular use, they help employees build good habits and increase their resilience—which can help prevent more serious stress and anxiety issues.
Why include digital health in your benefits strategy?
Digital health and well-being platforms don’t just replace existing healthcare with technology—it complements traditional care, filling in some important gaps:
- Digital health makes healthcare more accessible
Digital health services can be used from anywhere in the world. This helps employers engage potentially marginalized, harder to reach employees (for example, rural workers who aren’t based out of an office or employees who work in other parts of the world).
- Digital health can give employees more autonomy
People are now used to having more ‘digital-first’ control over every aspect of their lives, from finances to shopping and entertainment. Healthcare is no different. Digital healthcare helps people manage their own health, allowing them to pick the most relevant solutions and benefits for their personal and family needs.
- Digital health can help increase self-awareness
One of the main problems with managing our health—especially mental health—is that it’s not always obvious when we need additional support. Being more aware of our mental and physical health and well-being helps us recognize when we need to seek help. Studies show that access to digital self-care options helps people play a more active role in monitoring their health.
- It builds healthy habits
The same study shows that being able to monitor our health sets us up for success and acts as a preventative measure.
How digital health changes the game for HR
Digital healthcare is here to stay—and is an important part of any employee benefits strategy (Mercer reported that 26% of employees are more likely to remain in a job that offers digital health tools).
Businesses that offer a wide range of resources—ranging from subsidized nutrition to exercise programs—are also more likely to have employees who feel supported and energized and are less likely to leave.
Of all the digital healthcare services out there, mental health and well-being services are one of the most highly valued by employees and businesses. A survey by the Business Group on Health, a non-profit healthcare organization in Washington D.C., found that 88% of companies plan to provide their employees with access to online mental health support and resources (such as videos, apps, webinars, and articles) in 2021. That’s up from 69% in 2020.
How to choose the right digital health benefits
Before you opt for any new digital health or well-being platform, you need to know that it supports your company’s overall benefits strategy, and have a clear sense of the goals the service will help you achieve.
Start by looking for the gaps in your existing benefits portfolio. Then research options to see which digital platforms suit your company’s specific needs. To find the right ones, ask these core questions:
- Is the platform evidence-based?
Is the solution grounded in real scientific evidence? Clinical advisor involvement is a good indicator of a rigorous, scientific approach.
- Will you get broad employee engagement?
The best digital health app in the world can only be effective if people use it. How broad and diverse is the content? Is there evidence of strong uptake and continued use? Is there a consumer version of the app? If so, look for popularity, reviews, and ratings.
- Can you track engagement and usage?
How easy is it to track ongoing engagement levels? Can you track the most popular features or content?
- Is it easy to roll out to all staff?
Look for a solution that’s easy to roll out throughout your organization, globally. Does the vendor offer support to help you launch and promote the offer?
Digital health solutions are here to stay as an important part of the employee benefits mix. The key is to find the platforms that fit your overall wellness strategy, and that reach the most people in an accessible way.
If you're thinking about new ways to enhance your approach to employee well-being, you might like this post: The Big Picture: Mental Fitness as Part of a Healthy Workplace Strategy.
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