Optum taps meQuilibrium for employee stress management program

By Heather Mack
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UnitedHealth Group subsidiary Optum has partnered with Boston-based meQuilibrium to integrate the stress management company’s digital coaching platform into Optum’s new Enhanced Employee Assistance Program (EAP) service, and to offer it as a standalone service as well.

Through the partnership, both companies seek to offer a cost-effective, scalable method for employers to address behavioral health issues in the workplace. Rather than waiting for an employee to access their EAP when they are in crisis, meQuilibrium works to identify employees who may need additional support before they turn to an EAP. Employees start with meQuilibrium’s proprietary, 10-minute assessment -- either on their smartphone or computer -- that aims to get at the root cause of stress.

“This isn’t your father’s EAP,” Kevin Howat, meQuilibrium’s senior vice president of healthcare and channel markets at meQuilibrium told MobiHealthNews. “This partnership really grew out of Optum’s realization that the EAP model, as it has been in place for over 20 years, is outdated. What providers need to do is take advantage of technology and address the fact that most of the people using these EAPs are millenials.”

While the modern workforce has evolved to embrace technology, the mindset around mental health – and asking for help – is still stigmatized, Howat said, so meQuilibrium and Optum worked to package the offering in a way that builds up employee’s confidence around managing their work-life balance and stress levels.

“The platform is offered as a co-branded website that works as easy, positive computerized cognitive behavioral therapy, and each person can use it in a way that works best for them to build up their resilience rather than wait for a crisis because of stress," Howat said. 

Users provide basic health information as well as indications about their mental being – such as whether they would change their work-home situation, if they see the purpose in their daily work, or if they enjoy the challenges of their daily life. A personalized “stress profile” is then created for the user that ranks their strengths and vulnerabilities across 24 clinically-validated stress factors such as sleep, nutrition, motivation and time management. The result is a numeric “resilience score” that is designed to guide employees through the next steps to take to manage stress and personal confidence, such as healthy eating, mindfulness, or journaling.

The partnership allows employers to offer a personalized but scalable guide for their employees (who are not at risk of crisis) as a covered benefit, while also identifying those who may need more clinical support. These employees will receive an anonymous “self serve” option that will guide them through the process of seeking more services discreetly, encouraging more utilization of the EAP benefit. 

With the rise of employee wellness companies in the market, Howat said meQuilibrium is different in that it can be applied broadly or very specifically. For example, the company was tapped to help Comcast address absenteeism and to guide Hewlitt-Packard employees through a company restructuring. 

"What we really try to do – instead of bringing mindfulness to allow ideas in or wellness to maintain a certain state – is put action into those concepts through building resilence and adaptation skills," said Howat. "We're trying to address the gap between physical health and behavioral health, which don't traditionally meet."