Do you know how digital technology can help keep your workforce healthy? Richard D. Salmon from our wellness partner INTERVENT International1 looks at how multinationals can make the most of digital in our latest article. Take it away, Richard.
Digital health or eHealth is defined as the use of emerging communication and information technologies, especially the internet, to improve health and healthcare. mHealth is a subsegment of eHealth that involves the use of mobile computing and communication technologies to deliver health services and information. It’s no surprise this is a growing area as it’s been estimated that about 90% of the world’s population currently owns a smartphone.2
Unlike the initial digital divide that placed internet access and computer use beyond the reach of many disadvantaged populations, smartphones have been widely adopted across diverse demographic groups, especially currently underserved populations who may be most in need of healthcare interventions. In addition, 44% of US consumers now use digital tools to track some aspect of their health, and 33% own a wearable health or wellness device. Over 318,000 health apps are available on Apple’s App Store and Google Play, with approximately 5 million being downloaded by new users every day.3
And the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the uptake and acceptance of eHealth and mHealth meaning digital health technologies will likely play an even more prominent role in future delivery of healthcare in both resource-rich and resource-limited settings.
What makes up a digital telehealth programme?
While there are a few different ways to run a digital health campaign, regular telehealth interactions with a personal health coach, digital education modules and health tracking are proven to help individuals develop new habits and make long-lasting behaviour changes to better manage their own health.1
In our experience, using multiple different digital technologies can have the best results for technology-led behaviour change programmes. This can include some of the more traditional methods like telemedicine, videoconferencing, text messaging and smartphone apps, to things you might not have considered before, like game-based learning and integration of data from electronic medical records, blood pressure monitors, digital scales, glucometers, heart rate monitors, activity trackers and other wearable devices/sensors.1
Core components of evidence-based telehealth coaching programmes4
Current benefits of and barriers to telehealth innovations
Telehealth innovation is clearly an area that is growing in interest and popularity. What are the benefits and barriers and what does the future hold for this promising area of technology?
- Participants in the Accenture 2020 digital health consumer survey indicated that use of digital tools and services provided three main benefits:
- increased focus on wellness and prevention
- better understanding of personal health
- increased convenience of accessing care.5
In addition, individuals can change lifestyle habits, reduce their risk for chronic conditions and improve their overall wellbeing. Studies show that using online and mobile interventions can help people improve their diet, increase physical activity, lose weight, quit tobacco and reduce overuse of alcohol. Medication adherence also improved. And, these improvements in health behaviours were even observed in older adults.6 7
Digital tools that can be used at home can also make it easier for patients who struggle to access traditional treatment because of location or a lack of transportation.
In the same Accenture survey,3 participants said that concerns about privacy/data security and lack of trust in the effectiveness of digital services were some of the biggest barriers to using digital health solutions. They also said another potential barrier would be changing provider, as they preferred to stay with their current healthcare provider.
Future challenges and trends
In the future, identifying and implementing widely accepted, cost-effective and time-efficient telehealth innovations and interventions should be a top priority for multinational employers. But first, there are some challenges to overcome.
- Although mobile technologies are part of the mainstream and are starting to blend more seamlessly with standard healthcare, there are still distinct barriers that limit implementation, including affordability, usability, privacy and security issues. These concerns will need to be adequately addressed.6 Access to ongoing home-based support beyond the initial onsite healthcare interventions may increase.
- Digital technologies will likely work best when paired with evidence-based behavioural change strategies and when supported by direct interaction between participants and healthcare providers.
- Because clinicians may have limited capacity to assume additional responsibilities related to managing digital data, new ways are needed to integrate digital health technologies into daily clinical workflows.
- More research is needed on the long-term effectiveness of many digital health technologies and programmes. New approaches should not be widely implemented until they have been shown to be effective in clinical studies published in peer-reviewed journals.
What can employers do?
Your organisation can promote the use of digital health technology among its employees in numerous ways.
- Work with a digital healthcare provider like INTERVENT to plan and develop a culture that is conducive to a successful lifestyle management programme.
- Ensure top-down buy-in to new programmes.
- Emphasise to all employees that the organisation never has access to any individual personal health information or records and that no disciplinary action could result from providing this information.
- Encourage employees to ask their healthcare providers about the types of digital health resources that are available to them.
- Offer a telehealth coaching programme from an innovative provider to help keep employees happy and healthy.
- Design fun challenges and provide incentives for employees to try personal electronic devices.
- Share success stories from employees who have used a digital health intervention to make a positive lifestyle change.
Thanks Richard – it’s always interesting to hear more about this growing area of health and wellness. If you want to find out more about chronic disease management and telehealth programmes, view INTERVENT’s page on our website or contact your MAXIS GBN representative.8
1 INTERVENT International LLC incorporated and registered in United States of America whose registered office is at 340 Eisenhower Drive, Building 1400, Suite 17, Savannah, GA 31406, United States of America
2 Gordon NF, et al. Using digital health technology to promote cardiovascular disease risk reduction in secondary prevention. Lifestyle Medicine (Third Edition). Rippe JM, Ed. CRC Press (Boca Raton, FL), 2019
3 Kamil Szwaba, PGS soft https://www.pgs-soft.com/blog/mhealth-top-5-trends-for-2021-and-beyond/ (sourced July 2021)
4 Gordon NF. Preventing a Heart Attack and Stroke: Your Smartphone Can Help! NYU Langone Heart Health Lecture Series. April 28, 2021 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n7FdLyPP8m4
5 Kaveh Safavi & Brian Kalis, Accenture https://www.accenture.com/_acnmedia/PDF-130/Accenture-2020-Digital-Health-Consumer-Survey-US.pdf (sourced July 2021)
6 Gordon NF, et al. Clinical effectiveness of lifestyle health coaching: Case study of an evidence-based program. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. 2017;11:153–166
7 Schorr EN, et. al. Harnessing mobile health technology for secondary cardiovascular disease prevention in older adults. Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes. 2021 May;14(5):e000103
8 MAXIS GBN may receive fees, commissions and/or other remuneration from third parties in connection with the services we carry out for you.