Employers increase use of digital tech and wellness programs

More than 80 percent of today’s employers are planning to increase their spending on health and wellness programs, according to a new study from Optum.

The findings come in sharp contrast to those Optum discovered 10 years ago when its similar survey found that only 34 percent of employees planned health and wellness budget increases.

Optum’s Tenth Annual Wellness in the Workplace Study also shows that the majority of employers plan to use digital technologies to engage their employees in those health and wellness programs.

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Optum’s study, which surveyed 544 U.S. employers, found that since 2016, the proportion of employers using health-related mobile apps rose by 46 percent. Nearly 75 percent of respondents reported that the use of apps helped increase employee participation in wellness programs.

The number of employers using fitness or activity devices increased as well, by nearly 40 percent since 2016—with 71 percent of employers reporting successful engagement by their employees, the study found.

“Employers’ interest in well-designed, comprehensive health and wellness programs that use the latest digital tech has dramatically increased over the last decade,” says Seth Serxner, chief health officer at Optum. “We’ve also seen an evolution in the reasons for offering health and well-being programs with employers saying these initiatives are just as important in attracting and retaining employees as addressing healthcare costs.”

Employers said that workplace well-being programs are more important to employee benefits mixes than ever before, with 77 percent saying they are important in 2018, up from 33 percent saying so in 2009.

Some 80 percent of the employers surveyed by Optum said the use of wellness programs to contain healthcare costs has stayed steady for them during the past 10 years. However, 79 percent said they are using wellness programs to prevent absenteeism. Others said they are using the programs to attract and retain talent (78 percent), and improve and maintain employee morale (76 percent).

The study also revealed that mental and behavioral health is top-of-mind for many employers, with 84 percent of them interested in addressing substance use disorders. Nearly 90 percent of the employers surveyed said they are planning to address stigma surrounding mental health.

In addition to behavioral health, 84 percent of employers said they plan to increase investments in women’s health services.

The study also found that telemedicine was one of the fastest-growing health programs adopted by employers, with the proportion of employers reporting its usage increasing 171 percent since 2014.

Download the study here.

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