Wellness tools for population health need radical simplicity, experts say

The market is so flooded with competing products that many people have trouble even understanding what's available.
By Tom Sullivan
10:31 AM
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BOSTON – Corporate wellness programs today are challenged by technology. But it's because of an abundance of tools rather than a lack of options.

"It's a crowded ecosystem. Our clients have an average of 12 employee and wellbeing vendors in place," said Dr. Rajiv Kumar, chief medical officer and president of Virgin Pulse Institute. "The number one reason people aren't engaged is they don't even know the programs exist."

WHY IT MATTERS

Health systems and other companies looking to offer wellness programs to boost population health are struggling with vendor management fatigue, employees are hit with cognitive overload such that, as Kumar said, "it's a total mess."

Kumar and other panelists spoke at the Connected Health Conference here on Tuesday.

Making it even more complicated, there is not one single vendor that can do everything a company needs, added Elaine Beddome, senior vice president for global compensation, benefits and employee mobility at HP.

THE BIGGER TREND

Wellness programs are gaining in popularity and figuring into broader population health efforts as apps and wearables garner traction and prove their mettle.

HP, for its part, has seen some early success with its Power of Prevention Campaign that initially started with a focus on breast cancer and has since expanded to seven types of cancer.

"This is not a sprint, we are not going to spend money today and get ROI in the same year," Beddome said. "Our metrics are multi-year impacts. We measure risk, engagement, the number of screenings and what we find in terms of prevention."

Sixty percent of the participants said they would not have gotten a skin cancer test had the program not made it available on-site, and 15 percent of tests were sent off for biopsy.

"It's more than just fun challenges, it's about managing the population for health – how does HP think about that? It's got to start with data, health status of employees? Needs? Where should we invest to have greatest impact?"

THEIR TAKE: WELLNESS, POP HEALTH NEED TECH

It's been clear for some time now that pop health will ultimately be achievable using small number of products.

"It's important to use data analytics to bring insight and offer personalized proactive support," Beddome said.

Kumar added that employers looking to succeed in wellness and pop health programs frequently ask him how to aggregate data.

"We need a radical simplicity to bring all the data together on the back end," Kumar said. "And use the data to personalize and make the experience highly-relevant."

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Email the writer: tom.sullivan@himssmedia.com