The Easiest Way to Ruin a Company's Digital Health Program

Jack Murtha
APRIL 20, 2018
employer digital health, digital health benefits, employee assistance programs, digital health corporate, digital health solutions

From telemedicine to online therapeutics, digital health has made its way into the American workplace. But a new survey suggests that employers aren’t properly leveraging this powerful set of tools to improve the health of their staffers.

The big problem, according to the survey, is the disconnect between the employees’ goals and their employers’ digital health offerings. The most common digital health benefits provided by companies—employee assistance programs, smoking cessation initiatives, and health-risk assessments—are “rarely” leading priorities of employees, according to Castlight Health, the health benefits platform provider that performed the survey, State of Digital Health: 2018 Annual Report, the first of its kind.

What’s more, the programs that companies are undertaking are not providing the greatest health or financial returns, the authors said.

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“Employers have access to an explosion of new digital health solutions, but most of them continue to offer the same solutions they always have, even though they are not delivering better health or cost-savings,” noted Castlight’s senior vice president of growth, Pierce Graham-Jones. “To realize the full promise of digital health innovation, employers need to identify solutions that hit the sweet spot, driving engagement, increasing employee satisfaction, all while delivering a strong business case.”

Late last year, Castlight probed leaders from roughly 350 companies and more than 1000 employees, all based in the US, for the survey. Its questions focused on 23 digital health solution categories and engagement, satisfaction, and the return on investment, according to the company.

More than 80% of employers had instituted employee assistance programs, 77% had smoking-cessation efforts, and 72% had made health-risk assessments available.

The top employee goal was to lose weight (45%), followed by saving money for retirement, sleeping better, reducing stress, and improving nutrition. But only 60% of companies offered weight-loss digital health solutions. Financial wellness, meanwhile, was available at 62% of companies; sleep improvement at just 27% (the lowest percentage of all categories); stress and resilience training at 54%; and nutritional tools at 56%.

People who want digital health tools to help them shed a few pounds and get a better night’s sleep are roughly 6 times more likely to access such technologies on their own than through an employer. In total, employees are roughly 2 times more likely to get involved with digital health directly than through their jobs, according to the survey.

Part of the problem is that businesses are investing in legacy programs because of familiarity, not effectiveness. What’s more, the survey found, many executives and managers know that they’re not getting the bang for their buck. Their investments don’t align with their goals, according to the report.

“For example, the solution employers expected to make the biggest impact on employee satisfaction, financial wellness, did not fall in the top 5 most implemented solutions,” the authors said.

Castlight recommended that companies “prioritize solutions that have a strong business case, drive employee happiness, and sustain high engagement.” After all, although digital health sounds cutting-edge, it’s meaningless if not designed to do something cutting-edge.

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