What World Health Day means to employers

Employers have a pivotal role to play in helping meet World Health Organisation (WHO) goals to ensure access to essential, quality health services for all, regardless of geographical location or financial standing.


Traditionally, issues around cost, access - and to a certain extent relevance - have ensured that employer funded healthcare for all employees wasn’t possible. However, digital solutions have changed this, allowing for low cost, scalable and personalised health and wellbeing that drives self-care.


Such support is much needed: at least half of the world’s people is currently unable to obtain essential health services, according to WHO figures. With direct access to large sections of society, employers are well placed to help.


And at a time when the world’s population is getting older and healthcare needs more complex - due to declining capacity and the likelihood of having multiple chronic disease - a concerted effort by country leaders, healthcare providers, plus public and private organisations, to break down barriers to access, could be invaluable at all levels: individual; corporate; country; and global.


Global healthcare trends


Worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975, according to the latest WHO figures. In 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults, 18 years or older, were overweight. Of these, over 650 million were obese.

  • The WHO also reports we’re all moving less, increasing the risk of all-cause mortality. Globally, 23% of adults aged 18+ years were insufficiently active (men 20% and women 27%).
  • The Willis Towers Watson 2018 Global Medical Trends Survey revealed that cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory conditions are expected to represent the top three issues globally over the next five years.
  • In Europe, stress contributes to half of all working days lost yet only about 30% of organisations have procedures in place for dealing with such risks, according to the EU Survey of Enterprises on New & Emerging Risks.


Impact on multinational employers


Eric Butler, Director of Global Health & Wellbeing at Generali Employee Benefits, said in a recent webinar entitled Corporate Wellness in Difficult Places: “Non-communicable diseases – those things that are connected with lifestyle issues – weren’t the kind of things that our grandparents were worried about. But NCDs are now responsible for around 70% of all deaths globally. 38% of those deaths are people aged 30 – 69 years old. 80% of those ‘premature’ deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.


“Multinational corporations are now getting involved.”


That majority of those companies are implementing wellness programmes with a view to better engaging employees, according to a poll amongst the webinar’s HR attendees: 65% responding to this effect, followed by productivity and altruistic reasons. Bottom of the list was ‘reducing claims / premiums’ at only 9%.


Eric comments: “It’s good that most HR leaders are focused on achieving the first three [engagement, productivity, altruism] but in order to get CFO approval, they also need to get to grips with the fourth [reducing costs].”


Cost of medical care


The cost to provide medical and healthcare plans to staff continues to outpace inflation in most major economies but has stabilised to an increase of around 10%, according to Mercer Marsh Benefits.


The employee benefits consultancy concludes that employers need to play a leading role in the future of the healthcare market.


As a way of counteracting healthcare costs, it challenges employers to consider the opportunity of improving employee engagement with health benefits using modern digital communications platforms and tools.


Choice & flexibility key


Such platforms and tools help ensure engagement by allowing for personalisation, choice and flexibility: all aspects that employees are crying out for. Willis Towers Watson’s latest Global Benefits Attitudes survey found that those employees with choice and flexibility were twice as likely to feel their benefit programme met their needs.


Equally, a move away from a one-size-fits-all approach would also help meet the WHO’s universal healthcare goals, shifting from health systems designed around diseases and institutions to health systems designed around and for people.


High tech + low touch + low cost


Martin Blinder, Founder and CEO of Tictrac, also speaking at GEB’s recent webinar, says that today’s technology is inclusive of everyone and is helping people to take greater control of their own health. This, in turn, he says will help tackle some of the biggest global healthcare issues of our time.


“Traditionally, these kind of services were reserved for high margin markets but today’s tech is low cost, fully automated – and therefore low touch – plus accessible to a mass audience.


“It engages people, building a day to day dialogue to help build a high level of self-awareness.


“What’s more it can be targeted to help groups most at risk – for example, helping prevent and / or control diabetes for those with a body mass index of over 30. Plus it can be configured to local market needs.”


Using data to target needs


In order to identify local and global population needs, employers must combine the healthcare analytics they get from their own business – from wellbeing Pulse surveys and absence data to medical reporting and claims statistics - with evidence from local country and healthcare system sources.


Global networks providers can also help provide the framework needed to help companies get to grips with health and wellness trends by:

  • Overcoming a sectoral approach
  • Providing systematic solutions to complex challenges
  • Identifying and collecting data. This includes detailed medical reporting to help companies identify and mitigate health cost drivers and improve wellness
  • Providing central, global oversight and local insight to deliver corrective actions
  • Tailoring relevant solutions to drive employee engagement
  • Improving communications and engagement at both a local and a global level