Research from Willis Towers Watson has revealed that employees are eager to embrace new technologies to help manage their health and wellbeing.
Forward-thinking employers consequently have an opportunity to capitalise on this trend by adopting, offering, and utilising the latest digital-health tools. By doing so they can encourage employees to make smarter health-related decisions, promote workforce engagement and take a more strategic approach to health and wellbeing programmes with employee-generated data insights.
From wearables to telemedicine, we examine some the latest technology developments that are shaping the future of employee health and wellbeing.
1. Wearable technology
According to the Willis Towers Watson Global Benefits Attitudes Survey, 47 per cent of UK workers regard wearable devices that monitor fitness activity as important tools for managing their health and wellbeing.
Not only can wearables, such as Fitbits and Apple watches, enhance the personal life of individuals, they also offer significant potential for helping shape workplace health and wellbeing strategies by enabling the collection, analysis and sharing of user information.
Data insights such as heart rates, sleep patterns, fitness routines and other daily health-related behaviours can be useful in helping businesses identify areas of risk and empowering staff to take positive action.
This can not only help in the design of wellbeing programmes, it can enable a more proactive approach to absence management, tackling worrying trends before they become a problem. Furthermore, in the longer term such insights may also help in reducing claim and benefit costs.
2/ Mobile apps
While some health and fitness apps draw data from wearable technology, a wealth of standalone apps, designed to help employees take control of their physical and emotional health, continue to be developed.
As employees invariably carry their phones with them during the day, these apps can offer an effective way to make health and wellbeing part of their daily routines.
Many are aimed at managing general wellbeing, providing guidance to employees on vital activities or routines such as taking breaks, stretching or hydration. Others however are targeted at more specific health concerns, such as building emotional resilience or improving mental health with tools for stress management. These include everything from mindfulness sessions to time management advice.
An NHS accredited and approved apps library is available to help guide decisions on app recommendations and adoption.
3/ Digital health aggregators
The widespread and effective use of wearables and health apps in the workplace calls for systems that make it easier for employers to harness their true value and potential.
Software platforms are being developed that aggregate data from a variety of different wearables and health apps. These can enable employees to use their own wearables, compete with colleagues using different technologies and more easily participate in employer-led health initiatives.
Furthermore, they can help employers to collate employee health and fitness data to assess risks and more strategically implement health and wellbeing programmes. The future may see the emergence of personalised benefit programmes for individual employees.
4/ Online training
A growing trend towards online coaching around health and wellbeing offers employees the opportunity to access guidance and training wherever and whenever they have time, or are in the mood to do so.
Furthermore, advances in e-learning technology look set to improve levels of engagement by taking greater account of how employees best respond to the information they’re provided.
E-learning tools are becoming increasingly modular, interactive and tailored for the individual, helping make information more accessible. Online assessments help reaffirm employees’ understanding of a range of topics, covering everything from stress management to nutrition.
Virtual access for employees to GPs is becoming an increasingly common offering from medical insurers and cash plan providers.
The provision enables consultations to take place via webcam or video link from a computer, tablet, or smartphone. These can help overcome some of the hurdles associated with the traditional, face-to-face, family doctor appointments, including protracted waiting times and arranging leave of absence from the workplace.
Employee appointments with a virtual GP service can usually be arranged within a couple of hours and can help accelerate early intervention to address employee health issues. The services can include integrated health tracking apps, the electronic delivery of prescriptions and medication reminders.
‘Artificial Intelligence’ doctors are now being developed, capable of making diagnoses using data algorithms, and these also have the potential to find their way into the future workplace.