The strategy behind WellteQ’s mental health partnerships
Over the last few months WellteQ have orchestrated two new partners – Medibio and Lysn. But why and what does this mean for the user and our clients? Is it a ‘me too’ capability or is it something different in the industry?
These are questions worth answering and to do so I want to share insight into the thinking behind our strategy. Our partnerships are the basis for what we will be building towards in the years ahead. Through introducing our improved system of personalised health management, we will provide what has historically been an unrealised value from EAP and corporate wellness programs.
In essence, the partners extend value to a WellteQ user in two ways;
- Objective mental health screening
- 1:1 tele-psychology consultations.
Independently these are very powerful capabilities, and when added to our digital health platform, introduce a long overdue innovation to bring proactive risk-based interventions to health coaching.
Who Really Needs It?
Meet 46-year-old Dave. A father of two pre-teenage children who has been a loyal mid-level manager for the last twelve years at the same company. He’s guilty of some middle-aged spread (who isn’t?), he drinks but has three alcohol-free days per week, and his new year’s resolution of running around the block three times a week died over winter, again. Dave is also more stressed at work this year, in fact over the last few years found he’s not sleeping as well as he used to. School fees are not getting cheaper and neither are family holidays, Dave’s boss, unfortunately, has had to hold off the promotion again and his wife wants him to upgrade the bathroom.
- Is Dave stressed? Certainly.
- Does Dave have a mental illness? Unlikely, but unsure.
- Could Dave be helped with knowing a bit more about his mental health? Absolutely.
Dave’s story isn’t unique to just Dave. He could be 26 or 56 years old. Dave could be a Melissa or Tony, May or Tom. He could be any one of us. Dave could be you.
Like most of us in today’s hectic world, Dave’s problem is not singular and there are a few factors at play. No one problem is urgent enough to do anything about immediately, but collectively they build up and over a period of time, Dave moves past quick fixes and easy solves that require days and weeks, and moves into needing ongoing help and support that can last for months and years.
Health today is not just about a run around the block and saying ‘no’ to the second helping of dessert. Mental health challenges, and most notably, the lack of fundamental education or regular screening, are central to some of the fastest rises in medical costs, accidents and comorbidities. The prevalence of mental illness is sky-rocketing and we’re not sure how to get ahead of it.
“Mental health challenges, and most notably, the lack of fundamental education or regular screening, are central to some of the fastest rises in medical costs, accidents and comorbidities.”
The OECD cites “mental disorders account for one of the largest and fastest growing categories of the burden of disease worldwide.. with one in every two people experiencing a mental illness in their lifetime”. Statistics from workplace mental health studies are consistent with the global trends, and a recent study evaluating global case data over 3 years uncovered that combined, employee depression, stress and anxiety accounted for 82.6% of all emotional health cases.
The facts are clearly there, and when multi-billion dollar life insurers are trying to get ahead of the problem it’s time to take notice. Munich Re shares “Mental disorders have not only become the second most common cause of sick leave– they are now also the most common cause of early retirement due to illness” Historically, mental health disorders have been a relatively difficult set of illnesses to detect, assess and treat. The increasing burden is not just felt by healthcare budgets, and insurers and employers who are bearing the brunt of escalating costs look for new solutions on how to better deal with this global critical situation.
The Problem Is Growing, But What Resources Do Employers Have?
For decades employers have had access to a solution called Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). EAP stems from the 1930’s where it was originally introduced to assist people with the effects of too much drinking on the job. True story. It has, of course, evolved significantly to what it is today; a stand-alone service where employees have access to psychological counselling to help deal with both work and out-of-work demands. It’s a powerful solution for certain use cases, but as with any deep expertise, it has its limitations in broader usage.
In the current EAP model, the onus is on the individual to seek a counsellor of their own volition or wait for a critical incident response. There’s little to no individual risk profiling or personalised recommendations, leaving the individual to self-assess and evaluate what they might need and when they might need it. There is little proactivity and when a user does try to seek help, the experience is often difficult to navigate and time-consuming, utilisation rates are low and companies investing in EAP are increasingly unsatisfied.
For the HR department, organisational reporting is commonly static, retrospective and extremely light on valuable insights other than month-to-month utilization figures. Employee surveys frequently highlight difficulties in navigating EAP portals, confusion in asking permission when booking sessions and general reluctance to share confidential personal information.
Let’s revisit Dave’s case again.
Dave’s company offers EAP. He’s seen posters and heard that there’s a number he can call but not looked any further because he’s got more important work to do, and besides after quick self-evaluation, he’s not depressed, he’s just a bit overworked. Dave decides to soldier on until his next holiday in a few months. And so the pattern continues. Dave’s HR department keep EAP because it has been offered to staff since long before current management was there, and even though utilisation of EAP globally is between 2-4% on average, no one gets fired for buying IBM. Why rock the boat?
” The World Health Organisation recognises mental health as a major concern estimating depression and anxiety alone to cost the global economy over US $1 Trillion per year in lost productivity.”
But a shift is happening, and thankfully with rapid developments in technology, today’s capabilities are fast improving. Mental health is becoming a boardroom topic with consistent media coverage in many countries. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recognise mental health as a major concern, identifying the workplace as a ripe opportunity for mitigation. WHO established the Mental Health Action Plan (2013-2030) outlining relevant principles, objectives and implementation strategies to promote good mental health in the workplace. They calculate depression and anxiety alone to cost the global economy over US $1 Trillion per year in lost productivity. Let that sink in $1 Trillion, that’s about enough to buy Apple – the most valuable company on earth.
Encouragingly, attitudes towards mental wellness have turned a corner in the last few years with initiatives like Movember, Beyond Blue, RUOK and Mental Health Month. Generally, more people are open to talking and learning more about mental health, and with awareness comes support on a grander scale. In 2013, Canada established a national standard in workplace psychological wellbeing, led by Dr Joti Samra which in time will become an International Standard. Mental health, however, is not an annual event. With our busy lives absorbing new and different stresses we need something proactive, automated and convenient to stay on top of things.
The Rise Of Technology’s Role In Wellness
Technology is perpetually enhancing incumbent practices that were seen as the height of innovation at the time of their discovery. For example, Body Mass Index (BMI), invented as a best available weight indication of its time in the 1970s has now been superseded by better science and new technology to provide more accurate outcomes. EAP has a similar story, existing long before IoT, mobile living and digital interconnectedness. But just as body measurements have progressed from height and weight ratios to present-day bioimpedance and AI assessments, so too must workplace wellbeing programs advance in identification and support of employee mental health challenges.
Corporate wellness, like almost all other industries, is undergoing continued digital transformation. Until early 2000s our industry was almost exclusively offering wellness programs in-person – on-site fitness classes, face-to-face health assessments, lunchtime seminars, workplace massages; the list goes on.
“Early trends in the digital transformation of the wellness industry tended to overcorrect on-site solutions with purely digital solutions, which also weren’t as effective as a hybrid offering.”
The trend was to then overcorrect towards more pure digital solutions – online platforms offering questionnaires and mass sharing of health articles. While technology can certainly be more economical, dispersing information easily and scaling quickly, something was missing when it came to connecting with lowly engaged or high-risk individuals. We knew that the best results were usually derived from both personalised experiences and contact with other people, whether that be virtually or face-to-face. We’re now seeing that a hybrid approach gives the scale offered by technology combined with the outcomes offered by rapport and expert consultation.
Retrospectively, it’s not surprising a hybrid model is the best course of action. Technology is greatly superior to humans at many things, and for the wellness industry it’s the ability to calculate and automate:
- Speed: By analysing high volumes of health risk profiling data points, blood tests, surveys, granular wearable data etc, algorithms are able to screen people against a global databank and share recommendations personalised to each user. This processing takes a human exponentially longer than an algorithm.
- Follow up: All too often life gets in the way of following up on mental wellbeing. Immediately after receiving results from a health assessment the individual usually understands the importance of taking action, but often the urgency of today’s calendar quickly de-prioritises the next steps they should take. Machine-driven intelli-nudges ensures the individual is reminded until an action has been completed, whether that’s reading an article, setting a goal, or booking an appointment.
- Personalisation: The integration of face-to-face care with a skilled professional that closely matches the needs and personality of the individual ensures personalised care is given at the right time without a templated response, and is scheduled accordingly.
This hybrid approach offers a significantly stronger probability for successful intervention.
Why Are Corporate Wellness Programs So Important?
Wellness empowers people. Typically a workplace wellness program is for the persona that could and should do something about their health but never really get around to committing. If we’re honest with ourselves, this actually incorporates most of us. Wellness is often linked with incentives like rewards or prizes, gamification and challenges. It helps people overcome inertia and get back on the health bandwagon. Wellness programs are able to take serious, often confronting topics like diabetes or depression and make it digestible and more relatable.
Typically corporate wellness solutions around the globe see an average uptake of ~ 20-40% of employees within an organisation and help prevent some problems from happening, delay others from happening sooner and reduce the impact of those problems that do happen. Where corporate wellness solutions have come up short in some eyes is that they either don’t help those in a time of need like in consultation-based treatment, or its one-size-fits-all approach, which typically only work for the already healthy people within an organisation.
Livongo Case Study
Livongo is a chronic illness management company based in the US and have recently listed on the NASDAQ. In October 2019 they announced a contract in the US to provide their diabetes solution to 5 million eligible members covered by the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program under one health plan. Through a carefully planned strategic partnership with innovative telemedicine provider Teladoc, Livongo is able to offer telehealth services that give users access to behavioural health, dermatology care, minor acute care and counselling for substance abuse disorders all from their mobile phone. Livongo is a unicorn twice over whose expertise is amplified by partnering with complementary capabilities.
Wellteq’s strategy to extend functionality with expert partners is not dissimilar.
The Partnership Equation: 1+1=11
As an exercise physiologist, my peers and I have often been described as a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. Ingrained in our training is that while in general, we are valuable for many people, it’s imperative that we refer patients for specialist areas for optimum care. This concept has been central to our partnership strategy at WellteQ. We’ve identified mental health as an area that while we introduce some material value, we know that to really make a difference, we needed to partner with experts in the respective fields.
We’ve sought out and partnered with two very complementary companies that can help us better detect and support mental health risks in our users.
Medibio analyses responses to a combination of globally validated psychological questionnaires and correlates passively collected sleep patterns via Garmin and Fitbit wearables. The algorithm indicates risks within major pillars of mental health. The power in this is two-fold; past subjective responses are now able to be assessed objectively; data can now be passively collected for ongoing monitoring presenting opportunities to educate the user on when risk increases and decreases. Armed with these invaluable insights, intervention is automated to provide personalised support and round-the-clock care. That’s a lot more powerful than waiting for someone in an overwhelmed state to take action for themselves.
Lysn can match a person with a psychologist based on key need and personality traits. Offering face-to-face services and virtual consultation through telephone and video conferencing users can be paired with over 500 psychologists consulting in 11 languages in most countries around the world. Having a wide-reaching network ensures users have an enriched access to appointment times and locations that suit them rather than one that suits the physician. Virtual consultations allows the call to be taken whenever and wherever is most convenient, improving the likelihood of utilisation, and proving especially helpful for remote and mobile workforces.
WellteQ seamlessly glues it all together by offering personalised employee wellness via a smartphone. A connected health coach in your pocket integrates wearables, behaviour prompts, team and individual programs, social content, rewards and now objective mental health screening that refers to telepsychology for the complete end-to-end solution. Intelli-nudges and smart monitors ensure an individual can be alerted in real-time during peak periods of high-risk, and telepsychology enabled for smartphones allows consultation with a health professional at a time that’s convenient for you, me and Dave.
WellteQ are a digital wellness company with a specialist offering in employee mental health. For now, our immediate focus is to quickly deploy this fundamental wellbeing offering before we extend our coaching capabilities into nutrition, exercise and sleep.
We believe the majority of healthcare (or is ‘sickcare’ a more accurate term nowadays?) spend can be prevented, or at the very least reduced by improving lifestyle habits. We’re much more likely to achieve sustained healthy behaviour change if we first address our own mental wellbeing back to, or closer to an equilibrium.
It’s an exciting time for our industry, come and join us.
Written by Scott Montgomery, CEO and Founder of WellteQ