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The rise of digital health services and how these are changing the approach to health insurance

Tuesday August 17, 2021

In recent years we’ve seen an increase in digital health services and the Covid-19 pandemic has only accelerated this trend. As well as benefits to help staff maintain their health, like OnDemand GP and employee assistance programmes (EAPs), many employers now offer preventative wellbeing measures that place emphasis on exercise, sleep, healthy food and stress reduction, which can have a significant impact on preventing underlying conditions.

However, wellbeing services should always be a complement to, not a replacement for, insurance provision. Employees still need to have insurance as a safety net to cover treatment. The question is: how can employers blend digital health services with insurance provision to get the most value from their benefits budget?

Employee-paid health insurance plans

Some companies face a dilemma: they want to keep workers safe and productive, but a limited benefits budget means they are unable to provide cover for ill-health. For these employers, the best solution may be to partner with an insurer that can provide workers with easy access to cost-effective, individual policies. Employees also value the chance to safeguard themselves from the impact of ill-health on their earnings.

OnDemand GP

We all know that finding the time to speak to a doctor can be difficult, with extended waiting times and unhelpful surgery opening hours. Giving staff access to on-demand GP appointments means that staff can speak to a medical professional via telephone or video consultation, 24 hours a day, and often within a few hours of their request.

As well as providing reassurance on minor problems, online GP appointments can help employees manage their long-term health conditions, preventing extended sickness leave. And it’s available for employees’ families too, which can be helpful for reducing the amount of time parents have to take off to care for a sick child.

Employee Assistance Programmes

Employees may be suffering from conditions which are not obvious from the outside, but have a severe impact on daily life and can be difficult to discuss in a work context. Mental health conditions are especially hard to identify, and fear of stigma or lack of understanding may prevent sufferers from seeking help.

Vitality’s Britain’s Healthiest Workplace (2018) study revealed that mental health problems are a significant driver of productivity loss, costing British businesses the equivalent of £38 billon a year. It’s in employers’ interests to prevent mental health problems from developing or improve the management of an existing condition.

You can help by providing flexible support; for example an EAP helpline. Employees can access the EAP confidentially, via their own device, in the privacy of their home – or indeed anywhere they feel comfortable. EAPs offer advice on a huge range of complex issues, from mental health to debt advice to addiction.

Resource library

There’s so much health advice out there – and often contradictory – that it can be useful for employees to have everything in one place, coming from a trusted source. A dedicated resource library is a great place to host information which will help people manage their health – and ideally can be accessed 24/7 online via smartphone.

Fitness technology

In recent years we’ve seen a surge of interest in wearable fitness technology, which can help people stay motivated and improve their health by tracking activity, exercise, food, weight and sleep.

Being able to set your own targets and track progress towards a goal is an important part of taking accountability for our own health. Employers can help by giving their staff access to these products through discounts or a technology benefit scheme.

Even before the pandemic, workers needed support to help protect their health. In the current climate, employers should think about their current provision and if it can be optimised to support a resilient and productive workforce.

The author is Liam McGrath, chief operations officer at Personal Group.

Article published on REBA on 17th August 2021

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