The market has seen an explosion of wellbeing apps and service providers over recent years. Private medical insurance (PMI) providers could develop the role of aggregator and delivery vehicle for a range of quality apps and services, suggested delegates at last month’s Future of the Corporate Healthcare Sector roundtable held by Corporate Adviser in association with Aviva.
A problem for wellbeing is that quantity might be trumping quality at the moment. In the now saturated wellbeing market, determining what works and what doesn’t, how to ensure inclusion, diversity and data protection whilst also meeting the strategic needs of employers, is somewhat of a challenge, agreed all attendees at the event.
But, at the same time, something needs to give. The prevention agenda cannot be realised without a much more integrated approach to health and wellbeing, agreed delegates.
Tactical vs strategic
It is now well documented that the benefits to business of investing in wellbeing come in the shape of improved recruitment and retention, and happier, more engaged employees. This, in turn, helps mitigate risks and associated costs.
It all makes sense in theory. The reality for employers is that achieving a culture of wellbeing when faced with tight budgets and competing priorities is no mean feat.
Because of this “there are those that just want to tick a box,” said Aon principal Rachel Western. “Employers first need a wellbeing strategy that meets their needs. And it needs to be driven internally so that wellbeing apps and services are seen as work focused, not just freebies attached to a benefit. Employers need to take on this responsibility. It can’t be left to the insurer.”
The drive to take this more strategic approach to employee wellbeing is slowly gathering pace however as the tangible benefits to business are realised.
But while employers may understand the raison d’etre for preventative healthcare, the vast array of services and specialist operators makes it very complicated, said Mercer partner Chris Bailey.
“There’s a need for integration across some of these specialist [wellbeing] services. PMI providers can step in here. There’s a place for a trusted insurer to become an aggregator of multiple apps: bringing together the technology and acting as a delivery vehicle.”
Although experts at the roundtable agreed that integration made sense, they highlighted various potential hurdles.
Aviva UK Health PMI sales director Nick Reynolds said that information security represented a concern. “Where there’s biometric data involved, it needs to be protected. Whoever you partner with, you need to ensure the customer is protected.”
Reynolds explained that insurer protections are afforded to customers in the shape of in-house data protection charters, plus external mechanisms such as GDPR and the Disability Discrimination Act.
Whether the same would apply to all health and wellbeing apps and services is debatable, he added.
The wheat from the chaff
Also, considering the current proliferation of apps, determining which have longevity could be difficult, said Willis Towers Watson, director, health and benefits GB, Mike Blake. So too could integrating a wide enough variety of services to ensure needs-based design and delivery.
He added: “That said, the employer is in the prefect position to communicate healthcare messages to employees. GPs and the NHS are not in as good a position to talk about prevention as they tend to only have that contact with people once they’re already sick.
“No-one has cracked what the best wellbeing programme looks like yet.”
Western agreed that the employer is well positioned to deliver wellbeing inputs but added that the problem lies in designing an integrated programme: what’s good for one won’t necessarily be good for another. And shoe-horning isn’t the way forward, she said.
“We need to keep wellbeing away from the provision of services. It should be about identifying needs first and then designing a programme to suit.”
Another potential problem highlighted by Western was that if insurers act as aggregators, any service issues stemmingfrom any one particular wellbeing provider could affect the overall programme. This brings cost and hassle factors to employers and employees.
“If the overall service goes down and costs go up, employers end up having to switch provider with a whole new set of apps for employees to download,” she said.
Delegates added that in order for a wellbeing programme to be truly effective, the services obviously need to be used and valued by a large cross-section of the workforce. At present, they only tend to appeal to a certain cohort.
“Getting people to engage with wellbeing services is difficult and it’s mainly amongst those who are already healthy,” commented Western.
Bailey concurred, adding that social inclusion and shared purpose aspects – corporate social responsibility as it used to be known – are important in encouraging more people to engage in wellbeing programmes.
He said that these aspects should be integrated too – not just apps.
“A programme that encourages these aspects and helps nudge people along is valuable,” he said. “For example, evidence shows that charitable donations help drive steps more than a coffee or a discount voucher. A good behavioural change programme encourages people to tap in for various reasons. It helps them find the desire to change.”
A question of quality
The quality of many health and wellbeing apps is also currently a moot point, according to Aviva Health & Protection associate medical director Subashini M.
“A personal bugbear is that there’s not a lot of evidence behind some of the apps out there. Not all give good clinical outcomes. It’s important to be selective.
“The lack of regulation is a concern.
Some health apps are getting to the point of being medical devices. They’re based on self-certification at the moment but this is changing. There’s also the question of how do you stop digital exclusion?
“There’s just not enough clinical evidence out there to say what’s good and what isn’t.”
Delegates concluded that although a focus on preventative healthcare is a must, most employers are still way behind the curve when it comes to taking the strategic approach required. Insurers acting as aggregators of wellbeing apps and services would be welcome in the future, but insurers, consultants and employers should also look to derive better value from the services that are already available.