Are your traditional health and wellbeing benefits not getting cut-through?
Are your traditional health and wellbeing benefits not getting cut-through? It may be time to trial digital services – a potential lifeline for struggling employees
The statistics around absenteeism in Australia are daunting. In 2016, absenteeism levels increased by 0.9 days to an average of 9.5 days per employee per annum, at an average cost of $3,608 to business. Absenteeism costs the Australian economy more than $33bn in wages and lost productivity every year.
Clearly, an HR team that can improve these statistics even marginally will enhance their organisation’s productivity levels – a fact reinforced by reputable research. An Australian study considered the combined effects of self-rated work performance and absenteeism – it found that the healthiest employees are almost three times more effective than the least healthy, with the healthiest employees working approximately 143 effective hours per month compared to 49 effective hours per month worked by the least healthy.*
With these statistics, it’s little wonder that more organisations today are placing the physical wellbeing of employees at the heart of their operations.
Looking beyond the tried and true
Gerard McCarthy, Head of People and Culture at Allianz Worldwide Partners, says HR professionals will typically look to the levers of health and wellbeing programs by offering health checks, flu vaccinations, seminars, massages, gym memberships, and so on.
“We all use these types of programs and they do have a place in a holistic program; however, do they provide a tangible and immediate result?” McCarthy asks.
The tried and true health interventions used by HR in the past are indeed coming under scrutiny. A fruit box is a nice idea, but does this help an employee who has a chronic health condition? Free or discounted gym memberships are always requested by active employees, but how does this help the physically unable? EAP programs are helpful but can cater to a particular need and generally have low levels of utilisation.
“Sometimes these initiatives are a little too far removed from the kind of assistance the employee actually needs, and don’t necessarily have a tangible impact on performance in the workplace,” McCarthy says.
In addition, these traditional means of supporting employees may not be enough to meet the needs of today’s workers, for whom flexibility is a priority. The need to tend to health, family and work concerns requires greater flexibility as the line between working life and personal life continues to blend. For example, today’s workforce has greater carer responsibilities stemming from having to look after younger or older family members. Time is a finite item, yet having to attend a medical consultation at 5pm means that someone has to look after the kids or care for elderly parents.
In response, employers are shifting their employee health benefits towards digital wellness programs, the most innovative of which will embrace the concept of telehealth.
The rise of digital health
Fed by the explosive uptake in mobile devices, telehealth is transforming how employers provide medical services to employees. Today some 73% of Australians say they want to interact with their health service via digital technologies.^ In fact, between 2011/12 and 2015/16 teleconsultations in Australia increased at a rate of 55% per annum (based on the Medicare Telehealth Quarterly Statistics Update, August 2016).
The concept of telehealth draws on the idea of being able to provide access to health and doctor services to people across geographic, social and cultural barriers. Perhaps most crucially in today’s time-poor world, employees do not need to leave the office to access high-quality medical help. Telehealth cuts down on unproductive time out of the office while giving people more control over their health, supported by the use of cutting-edge technologies.
One example is Allianz Worldwide Partners’ partnership with Doctors on Demand Pty Ltd (DoD). After introducing the digital health platform to some segments of their markets and realising the tangible benefits, it was a natural progression to incorporate the platform into their own staff health and wellbeing offering.
The simplicity and ease of use of the technology made it an appealing and easy-to-adopt offering for Allianz Worldwide Partners. To access the platform, an employee browses the application, clicks ‘redeem a benefit’, and enters their staff number. They can then search for accredited Australian doctors by availability, time zone and other criteria, such as gender and languages spoken.
The employee books the appointment and receives details of the video link. The doctor and employee both log in at the agreed time. The doctor and employee can have an appointment immediately (if the doctor is available), or for middle-of-the-night appointments a customer can connect with a doctor within minutes – much quicker than the in-home GP services on offer today.
Once the appointment is completed, any prescriptions, medical certificates or referrals will be finalised via email or express posted to the employee’s home. Alternatively, prescriptions can be sent to the patient’s nearest pharmacy. All paperwork remains accessible in the employee’s account and the privacy of employees is safeguarded at all times. Medical consultations and records are confidential between the doctor and patient.
Allianz Worldwide Partners invested in the digital health technology platform, Doctors on Demand, who they are now a major partner of, because they believe that the platform will complement any existing EAP – mainly because it offers something that traditional EAP programs don’t: the ability for immediate and real-time access to qualified physicians that can diagnose, prescribe and follow up on illness.
“Employees using DoD can engage in a consultation, receive an initial diagnosis, obtain a prescription and organise a further consult in real time. This is something that traditional EAP programs can often overlook,” says McCarthy.
McCarthy says the ROI business case for health and wellbeing initiatives is often tricky to articulate given that the benefits of such programs are difficult to link with bottom-line performance. For example, it is hard to demonstrate that an increased investment in flu vaccinations across a workforce has led to a quantifiable drop in absenteeism, therefore ensuring a stable level of productivity. Rather, it falls on the HR team to explain the logical connection between prevention of illness and a measurable level of attendance across the business.
“Given this, the business case becomes difficult to measure but logical in its stated aims,” says McCarthy. “Unfortunately, given the need to demonstrate financial ROI, health and wellness initiatives are always on the back foot.”
The true measurement of the ROI of the telehealth services can be seen in the ability of the product to be used as an alternative to an employee having to leave work to attend a doctor’s appointment.
Time lost due to travel to and from medical appointments is significantly reduced by allowing the employee to book a time that works for them through the DoD site and simply connect via their computer or smartphone at that time.
Given the service offers 24/7 access it is also possible for employees to arrange a consultation in real time outside of working hours, regardless of the time of day or night.
“In this light the business case becomes one of productivity, with assumptions made on the time saved, and therefore productivity gained, each time an employee elects to use the service for consultations that would otherwise require their attendance at a doctor’s surgery,” says McCarthy.
Of course, the benefits of providing such services to employees may also result in a level of goodwill and add to the organisation’s EVP.
“Put simply, just because you can’t quantify it doesn’t mean you won’t benefit from it,” McCarthy concludes.
^Tim Kelsey, Australian Digital Health Agency, Webcast, 14 Nov 16
Allianz Worldwide Partners is the world’s leading B2B2C specialist, with expertise in the automotive, digital health, international health, travel insurance and assistance industries, providing continuous protection and care to business partners’ customers and employees worldwide, 24/7.