Around the world the concept of “Innovation Imperative” is shaping how companies use new technology while maintaining connections to their customer experiences. The way we purchase and consume groceries, movies, automobiles, travel and more are being personalized and changed every day. Innovations in healthcare are progressing just as fast, with the focus moving from physical health to the idea of wellbeing. Health care consumers now have access to online portals that track health biometrics, reward users for healthy behaviors and offer a multitude of new online and offline tools to help them engage in their health. Included in many of these innovations, but still lacking behind their physical counterparts are programs designed to aid in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.
Unfortunately, mental health issues come tied to outdated stigmas that often hinder the willingness of those affected to seek help. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. have some mental illness, indicating there are millions of individuals and families trying to deal with mental health issues and often suffering the consequences of ignoring the need for treatment. The impact on companies is significant: Lost productivity, lower engagement and increased absenteeism to name a few.
As noted in the first quarter 2017 issue of Benefits Quarterly, Bruce Sherman, M.D. and I (Lori Block) have identified five strategies and innovations that companies are using to address the business and personal impact of employee behavioral health.
Wellbeing as a Foundational Framework: As noted above, recent years have seen improvements in wellness programs, with employers taking a more holistic approach to individual health. What once dealt primarily with physical health has expanded to include behavioral, financial, social, and career-related support. Yet, despite the array of offerings, programs to support behavioral health have been largely underused.
Innovation in Conceptual and Delivery Models: In part because of growing recognition and understanding of the health and productivity costs that behavioral health issues contribute to, and the increased integration of medical care with behavioral health, we now have tactics that vendors can use to deliver improvements in psychological capital.
Technology Advancements: As technology become more and more an extension of our lives, an array of new behavioral health offerings have emerged to help people engage wherever they may be. Telehealth applications that replace in-person visits, smartphone applications that range from stress management to self-guided therapy and the use of data analytics to predict behavioral health issues have all emerged thanks to technology. This area continues to grow and will require employers to review outcomes and identify those tools that generate meaningful value.
Enhancing Engagement: New innovations in behavioral health care like smartphone apps, or long time benefits like Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) can’t benefit employees who are afraid to acknowledge a personal or family mental health condition, or are concerned that accessing employer-sponsored mental health resources will have negative consequences at work. To effectively address the mental wellbeing of their workforce, business leaders must create a safe and supportive environment for their employees. With the support of their employers, tactics like personalized messaging or even participation in online peer-based communities can help employees take that crucial step toward engaging in the improvement of their mental health.
Quantifying Business Value: While cost containment remains a top priority for companies, recent analyses suggest that behavioral health programs should be an area of focus to fully address costs: By favorably impacting employee engagement and retention, customer satisfaction and workforce absenteeism, such programs can help to mitigate costs. Ultimately, developing a structured approach to quantifying the business value of the offerings will provide a measure of program effectiveness and justifications for continued use.
The rapid growth of innovative behavioral health services should provide employers with a level of confidence that they can tailor a program best suited to their priorities, organizational culture and cost limitations.