Digital solutions to tackle wellbeing challenges in COVID-19 crisis and beyond
By Helene Westerlind
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted healthcare systems in ways that will change them forever, making digital services available to more people willing to use them and elevating the importance of corporate wellness as a way to keep employees healthy and productive.
While the long-term physical, mental, social and financial effects of the pandemic remain largely unknown, we have seen a clear negative impact on employee health, affecting both productivity and profitability. As noted in a BELRIM webinar on the topic, absenteeism due to COVID-19 reached as high as 36% in Belgium and 19% in the Netherlands. Presenteeism – working while sick - reached 30% in Belgium and 35% in the Netherlands1.
As I mentioned during the webinar, the cost to employers is high. Increased absenteeism resulting in temporary hires and overtime pay for existing employees adds up. Productivity is hampered if temporary workers are hard to locate and those that are hired often need training.
Apart from the physical effects of the virus, stress and challenges with healthcare services in general, mental health resources specifically are also causes of productivity losses. In addition, the ripple effects of the pandemic on health are wide-ranging such as missed preventative screening tests which could result in conditions going undiagnosed leading to detection at a more severe stage or increases in complications.
As people have stayed home during lockdowns and other social distancing restrictions, interest in digital health and wellness solutions has risen. Telehealth services are particularly useful in serving patients who are unable to leave home and remote patient monitoring has become more accepted as a way to manage chronic conditions. Digital services are being used to address mental, psychological and social wellbeing. Healthcare data is more thoroughly analyzed by artificial intelligence, complex software and algorithms to provide a personalized service.
I believe that employee wellness needs to be of highest priority, as there are clear links between wellbeing, employee engagement and financial success of the corporate organizations. Digital solutions are expected to grow substantially to meet health and wellbeing needs. To be effective, the solutions must provide:
- Impactful services with immediate access and availability on personal devices.
- Rewards and incentives through a value-shared model for healthy choices and actions.
- Connections with healthcare services such as telemedicine to offer expert and relevant best practice prevention advice.
LiveWell’s digital solutions were created with these specifics in mind. Available on mobile devices, they allow users to upload physical activity from wearable devices and provide advice on nutrition and healthy living. Healthy activity is rewarded and incentivized through means important to the customer. Specialized health services are also made available through the platform.
Since joining Zurich in 2003 in Stockholm, I’ve seen the company adapt to the shifting demands of customers. LiveWell is an example of how we are bringing to life our customer-focused strategy, aiming toward prevention and providing innovative services beyond traditional insurance protection. We encourage our customers to own their personal health journey and health data at any point in time, and the responsible use of data and technology make this possible.
Wellbeing solutions must meet employees at their point of health and not simply be available to the super-healthy and offer exercise and step programs. The programs need to be holistic, addressing the mental, physical, social and financial health of employees. All these areas influence the overall health of an individual and is the only way to have a real, sustainable impact.
The year ahead will bring its challenges and the current environment still creates uncertainty, but I remain optimistic. At LiveWell, our focus will be on identifying and continuously launching innovative solutions that will further encourage our customers to control, detect, prevent and manage their health.