Survey: Employee wellness still seems ripe for digital health

By Brian Dolan

iHealth Blood PressureA recent survey of almost 800 large and mid-size employers in the US, representing more than 7 million employees, found that a majority offer incentives to employees for agreeing to take health risk questionnaires (HRQ), biometrics screenings, or similar health-related programs. The survey, conducted by global HR firm Aon Hewitt, found that 83 percent of employers offer such incentives.

Within that group, 79 percent incentivize employees via rewards, while just 5 percent use negative consequences to encourage participation. About 16 percent use both. The survey found that 64 percent use monetary incentives between $50 and $500, and about 18 percent offer incentives of more than $500.

A different study, conducted by Aon Hewitt survey conducted and the National Business Group on Health and The Futures Company, found that of those workers who participated in a HRQ and received some kind of suggested next step for leading a healthier life about 86 percent took some kind of action. About 65 percent said it led to at least one lifestyle improvement.

About half of the employers who offer incentives said they led to improved health behaviors, increased employee engagement, and better employee morale.

Aon Hewitt noted that linking incentives to results and actions instead of just rewarding employees for participating in a wellness program is a new trend. That trend plays well with the rise of quantified self devices and apps that make it easier to track progress.

For the group of employers that offer incentives, 56 percent require employees to actively participate in health programs, comply with medications or participate in activities like health coaching. About 24 percent of employers who offer incentives encourage employees to get their BMI, blood pressure, blood sugar, or cholesterol into acceptable ranges. A majority of employers plan to go down that road in the next two to three years. About 22 percent of employers said they are interested in leveraging games to improve their existing programs.

While a number of health startups are targeting employers with platforms that aim to encourage healthier behaviors among employees -- typically by leveraging competitions and games -- over the years at least one investor has discouraged health startups from focusing on employers.

“Many startup founders still believe that large corporations can be a great customer or channel for health and wellness products. The idea is that this will help keep employees healthy and reduce absenteeism and insurance premiums. Well, I still haven’t heard which specific organization at IBM, United Airlines, or P&G has budget to buy this stuff and I find it hard to believe the ROI will be quantifiable.” Skip Fleshman, a Managing Partner at Asset Management Ventures, wrote about a year ago. “If you want to build a real company, then solve a real medical problem and start, from day one, with a plan that works alongside the payers, providers, and physicians.”