Entering the era of not just personalized, but precision-based health and wellness, and other 2019 trends

Most employers have already started to recognize the value of shifting from traditional health and wellness benefit programs that rely solely on external motivators (like cash incentives for participation) toward programs that are focused on the individual, using more personalized engagement to modify fundamental behaviors and create long-lasting change.

Personalized wellness plans are not enough though, and precision-based wellness is quickly going to become more highly sought after.

In 2019 we’ll see wellness programs that take individuals’ data, and then present care, coaching and health and wellness recommendations that precisely addresses their set of conditions – including their lifestyle habits.

While personalized recommendations typically deliver a canned set of content that fits a broad solution to a specific health symptom, it is important to understand the individual and their specific motivations, with solutions that are particular to their lifestyle in small, manageable steps. This is the promise of precision-based wellness.

For someone looking to reduce their weight but is just starting out with an exercise regimen, for instance, this could mean asking them to start with a 10-minute walk around the block, instead of asking them to instantly commit to a 30-minute cardio workout. Or, it could mean nudging them toward making subtle but healthier nutrition decisions, like making a cauliflower crust pizza instead of ordering delivery. The key difference is meeting the individual on their terms and accommodating their lifestyle.

There must be an integrated approach to employee wellness to truly make a lasting impact that will improve individual health, especially as chronic disease management becomes a larger healthcare issue. Not only will this benefit the employee, but the employer will also feel the positive impact from precision-based wellness programs.

A recent Gallagher survey underlined the increasing desire for chronic disease management programs. Thirty-eight percent of surveyed organizations said that they offer disease management programs that can help employees with chronic conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes. That is a 9-point increase from 2017 survey results, with 17 percent adding that they plan to add such programs by 2020.

“Higher wages can be easily matched or exceeded by competitors,” report authors explained. “That’s why future trends will focus on better outcomes from efforts to recruit, retain and engage employees by creating stronger attachment points that address their physical, emotional, career and financial wellbeing.”

The rise of telemedicine and virtual care

Utilizing telemedicine services and working with providers, trainers, and even wellness coaches through virtual services can also benefit employees. The Gallagher survey found that such services are increasing in popularity. Over half of surveyed companies – 55 percent – said that they offer telemedicine services, a 19-point increase from 2017. Another 14 percent said that they will likely adopt telemedicine services by 2020.

Virtual care programs have the potential to be truly instrumental in helping employees take a more active role in their personal health.

While most virtual care services right now focus on acute care, in 2019, we can expect to see the adoption of virtual care programs that focus on chronic conditions. Employers are increasingly shifting towards direct contracts with healthcare providers (cutting out the middlemen) and in doing so, they’re looking for more progressive providers that bring digital care to the table – everything from integration with wearables and delivering mobile-friendly content, to video communication.

“Virtual care” will also encompass more than just consultations with physicians. We’ll see this category expand to include more holistic and ongoing lifestyle coaching across nutrition, exercise, sleep and stress management. Lifestyle coaching can help support precision-based wellness by making it about the individual, their unique habits and needs.

Helping employees “in the middle”

The future of precision-based wellness will also depend on helping employees who are not yet suffering from chronic conditions, but might eventually reach that point.

Metabolic syndrome (MetS) is one of the largest healthcare cost drivers for employers. MetS is a combination of risk factors, such as elevated waist circumference, elevated high blood pressure and high triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol and impaired fasting glucose. Any of these risk factors could potentially increase the likelihood of costly chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Many of these individuals likely do not even know they are suffering from these conditions, let alone are on the path to potentially requiring more expensive care.

One in three Americans have prediabetes and 90 percent are unaware of it, according to a report from WillisTowersWatson.

“Where insurers and, by association, employers do not provide preventative care or a contribution to outpatient services, some money is being saved in the short term; however, more money will be spent in the longer term when the condition can no longer be prevented but will need to be managed,” report authors said.

Employers need to take the initiative and implement a targeted solution for this high-risk segment of their employee population. Opting for a solution that utilizes consistent engagement can drive real outcomes, which will reverse MetS and mitigate extreme healthcare costs.

Those costs are only expected to continue to rise. Pharmacy costs will become an increasingly significant part of medical expenses over the next five years, WillisTowersWatson determined. Two-thirds of insurers in the Americas predicted that there will be a moderate increase in pharmacy expenses in the next year.

Precision-based wellness has the power to transform both employees and employers in 2019 and beyond. Personalization is a good first step, but it still follows a one-size-fits-one group approach that is just not cost effective and will not truly benefit individuals who need more guidance in finding the best ways to commit to improving their personal health.

Focusing on behavior change will help employees make small and gradual adjustments that fit into their current lifestyles, keeping them motivated and leading to larger, permanent life changes.

About the author:
Mr. Brent Wilkinson joined Zillion as Chief Operating Officer in June of 2016 and has been Chief Executive Officer since January of 2018. Mr. Wilkinson has over 30 years of leadership experience growing and transforming organizations. He has achieved success from a variety of executive leadership positions including as Chief Executive Officer of Nexus Technology Group and Vice President of Strategic Business Development at Precise Software. Throughout his career, Mr. Wilkinson has architected several sustainable business solutions that delivered measurable customer value through an innovative blend of leading-edge technology delivery and simply effective business processes. Specific to health care, he has led award-winning implementations of strategic initiatives with client partners such as Cigna and NovaCare. He also has over five years’ experience in the long-term care industry. Mr. Wilkinson graduated cum laude from Harvard College with an AB in Economics and earned his Master of Business Administration from Harvard Business School.

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