Finding the digital health sweet spot

This article was originally published April 19 on LinkedIn. You can see the original article, here

We’ve heard it all before. Healthcare is too expensive, too complex, and not delivering enough value. In response, we are seeing some huge shifts in the industry —  from the mergers of industry giants, to some of the nation’s largest employers joining forces with the goal of bringing down costs, to a growing wave of digital health innovation with the potential to give people more control over their health, improve outcomes, and lower costs. But none of it feels like it is happening fast enough.

As a digital health veteran, this is particularly frustrating. We know that the consumer digital health market is flourishing, with thousands of apps in the app store and more than $5 billioninvested in 2017 alone. We also hear from employers every day that they are trying to incorporate these solutions into their benefits programs to offer employees more choices that address their individual health needs. So, what’s the disconnect?

To help figure this out, we launched a research initiative with Employee Benefit News. We surveyed more than 340 employers from mid- to enterprise-sized companies and more than 1,000 employees from large companies about how they use digital health tools, their satisfaction with them, and the value they are seeing, and we compared the results.

Employees are engaging in digital health technologies with 98 percent of individuals surveyed reporting they used a digital health technology to meet a health goal. In addition, employers reported significant investment in tools for employees. The average employer offers 14 health benefits solutions, through their health plan and from third-party vendors.

The main finding of our research was there is a significant mismatch between the tools employers are offering and those that employees want to use to meet their top health goals.

Many employers are sticking with more mature digital health benefits which means they are maintaining the status quo, offering mostly the same solutions they always have, even though they fall short of expectations for improving employee health or satisfaction. For example, 82 percent of employers offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) when they themselves admit that it does not offer much of a business case at all. And, only 1 percent of employees rank using an EAP or similar program as a top health goal.

Employees reported that losing weight and sleeping better are two of their top health goals, and they are almost six times more likely to access and use digital health tools to address these needs directly, rather than through their employer. For employers, weight and sleep were not even in the top 10 reported digital health interventions offered to employees.

Another ubiquitous example is step and fitness trackers, which we all know have become quite popular. Our survey reported 40 percent of employees using one of these to walk more or track their steps, but only 10 percent of those using the technology are accessing it through an employer.

While what employers offer and what employees want are not the same let’s not be too quick to blame employers. They are rightly uneasy with some digital health innovations, particularly those that don’t have a proven record of delivering engagement or value. Many of these new and innovative digital health tools, are just becoming mature enough in their offering, security and reporting to work with major employers. New solutions also require new procurement, management, and reporting challenges. These are major barriers to adoptions versus direct to consumer applications.

Employers need to find the sweet spot in digital health benefits — those benefits that match employee health goals, have a strong business case, and truly deliver better health. In order to do so, employers must use data insights to track and measure employee engagement, health outcomes, and cost savings across their health benefits offerings.

Access to tools is not the problem. On the Castlight platform alone we offer dozens of best-in-class digital health solutions that can make a difference in the employer healthcare space. The next step is taking advantage of this big opportunity by using data to better align employer investment in digital health solutions with employees’ needs and goals and the programs that deliver results in health and cost measures. The tools that can land in that sweet spot will transform health care for employees and change millions of lives.