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By Dr Peter Mills, Clinical Director at Cigna Europe

We don’t use healthcare just for the fun of it, we use it when we need to fix something and to feel better. For people who rarely need to visit their GP, it’s likely they don’t give healthcare much thought. But people who have needed emergency care or are being treated for a chronic condition will know how important it is to have easy access to quality care.  

Traditionally, we have had very little control over where, how and when we receive care. However, people are becoming more aware of just how important access to healthcare is and they are taking control of their Whole Health more than ever before. As a result, we are becoming more empowered to make decisions about our own care. At Cigna Europe, we believe this is exactly the way it should be. As a healthcare provider, we always put the needs of our customers – the patients – first. Digital healthcare innovations are improving access to healthcare, enabling patients to take control, giving them access to data and tools to make the right decisions about their care. 

Digital healthcare in practice 

Nothing can ever truly replace in-person, hands on care from a consultant or specialist, right? Not necessarily. Let’s take a look at what’s involved in managing the care of a chronically ill patient and see where digital healthcare can offer support.  

In Europe, more than one third of the population are living with a chronic condition and around 70 to 80 percent of health care budgets – an estimated 700 billion euros – per year are currently spent on chronic diseases. As a result of high case numbers, there’s a significant burden placed on healthcare systems, society and the economy. Many patients regularly have to attend outpatient appointments to manage and review their care. This can be time consuming, often meaning they need time off from work or have to juggle childcare around these appointments. These appointments can be stressful and are an added expense for personal finances. These face to face appointments are also costly for healthcare systems, especially when missed appointments can cost millions every year. These missed appointments can result in loss of productivity for the consultant, specialist or nurse. In the long run, this can also lead to increased hospitalisations and readmissions – all impacting costs.

So, where can digital healthcare step in and help to lighten the load? It begins with connecting patients and healthcare providers through mobile technology to improve healthcare outcomes, treatment efficiencies and increasing accessibility of existing or real-time data. Most importantly, digital healthcare has the ability to empower the patient through education so they can better manage their health themselves. Telemedicine is a great example. It makes healthcare services more accessible to patients, allowing them to minimise the frequency of their hospital visits – addressing the issue of time consuming appointments and their associated stress contributors whilst also reducing treatment costs by keeping people out of hospital when a virtual appointment can do the job just as well.

Telemedicine also allows for monitoring of patient behaviours, such as their physical activity, their nutrition and their adherence to medication – all critical factors when managing and reviewing care of a patient with a chronic condition.

Other virtual health tools, like health cloud technology can allow healthcare providers to create personalised care plans and comprehensive treatment and recovery pathways. With this, patient information is stored in a cloud that can be accessed by everyone involved in the patients’ healthcare. With this, the patients’ health data – information about upcoming surgery, medications and treatment plans can all be managed virtually. Their personalised care plan, complete with next steps and accompanying guidance, setting recovery and education goals can all be stored and accessed on the cloud. For a patient living with a chronic condition, they are able to manage their condition remotely – putting them firmly in the driver’s seat.

The secret is data

Yes, these virtual health tools are helping to transform the way patients receive care and how care is accessed. But none of this would be possible without the data to back it up. By safely and securely gathering data,  healthcare providers are able to understand patient health needs from the outset, setting clear goals of what needs to be achieved and to measure success. Data can come from anywhere – health records, fitness apps, wearable devices and mobile phones, subject to patient consent and confidentiality. This data can then be used for proactive and targeted care for the patient. Patients are then able to access their personal care plan, take control of their own Whole Health and self-monitor their condition – and this data can be accessed and reviewed by their healthcare provider. 

For healthcare providers, by leveraging the data of other patients with similar conditions, they are able to make better, faster diagnosis and treatment plans for patients in the future. Data can also help redesign better care pathways, improve patient care and help to utilise healthcare resources more efficiently.

Data is also an important component of the innovation processes. It can help create new predictive and innovative care solutions while making the patient experience more seamless, easier, and convenient. Through coordinated care, healthcare providers are able to share patient health information across a network of providers to ultimately achieve safer and more effective, holistic, and personalised care.

Driving change and delivering healthcare innovations

The healthcare industry is on the cusp of tremendous change. At Cigna Europe, we know that innovative health tools can make a difference when it comes to accessing care. As a health service provider and champion of Whole Health, innovation is central to us in terms of delivering quality, patient centred care.  

That’s why we’ve launched a Symptom Checker pilot, which helps members manage existing and new medical conditions. Developed in partnership with Infermedica, a leading specialist in developing AI tools for triage and preliminary medical diagnosis, the online tool lets members input their medical symptoms, uncovers the possible causes of their symptoms, and signposts them to the right care by suggesting next steps, including recommendations for a specialist or doctor. Members can also use it to gather information ahead of a consultation, helping to put more information in their hands. 

Our science-based voice detector stress tool Cigna StressWaves Test, is designed to reveal how stressed users are – in just 90 seconds. It is currently the only tool on the market that analyses stress through acoustic and semantic patterns and follows more than two decades of research. Created in partnership with Ellipsis Health, a medical technology developer and leader in AI health and vocal biomarkers, the ground-breaking technology listens to the pitch, tone, word choice, and pauses in the user’s speech to give a measured reading of their current stress level. 

Digital transformation is equipping healthcare providers not only to move to a proactive model of care, but to accelerate into a predictive model of care that provides preventive care and real-time health alerts. This is hugely important when it comes to connecting people with the best care, at the right time, and in the right place. After all, the real purpose of healthcare is to help people live better lives.

Supporting employee Whole Health through an internal culture transformation 

What are the key HR challenges you’re facing at the moment? Is it the ever changing workplace dynamic? Or is it the need to create flexible and hybrid working models? Perhaps its workplace stress and employee well-being – or maybe it’s all of the above? And chances are, these challenges are keeping you awake at night. Which is hardly surprising given these topics have taken centre stage recently during boardroom conversations and between managers and their team. 

If you’re asking yourself how best to manage all of the above, then you might be interested to learn that the solution lies nearer to home than you think. Let’s take a closer look…

Consider the support you’re offering your employees

Employees are looking for more support from their employers in every area of their Whole Health -from their mental health, to physical health, and everything in between. Cigna’s 360 Well-being Survey highlights the gap between what employees want and what their employer is actually providing. 

More awareness about mental health is urgently needed. Employers have an important role to play in preventing mental health issues together with building and sustaining employee resilience. Cigna’s research revealed 72% of people rank their mental health as the most important aspect of their Whole Health. So, it’s alarming to learn that 61% of people are stressed, with work related stress, financial worries and uncertainty for the future the leading causes. Addressing the mental health needs of employees now and in the future is essential. 40% of employees are looking for mental health support from their employer, yet only 24% of employers provide it.

There’s also a significant gap when it comes to flexibility in the workplace. Only 20% of people are keen to return to the office full-time, and the majority are happy to continue to work from home for at least part of the working week. Two thirds of Europeans would prefer some flexibility with their working arrangements yet only 37% of employers are actually offering it. Expectations have significantly changed and for employers looking to attract and retain top talent, allowing hybrid working is essential.

Taking all of this into account – are you currently providing the right support for your employees with an all-encompassing Whole Health offering?

Move towards a more strategic approach to employee Whole Health 

Employee well-being offerings need to be more than just a tick box exercise. They shouldn’t be geared towards getting unwell employees back to the workplace as soon as possible. Instead, they should be focused on empowering employees to take a holistic and preventative approach, and a proactive mindset when it comes to looking after their Whole Health. It’s not about getting employees back to physical wellness as soon as possible, it’s about creating healthy behaviours that can minimise the chance of physical or mental illnesses from occurring at all. 

To roll this out effectively in the workplace, it’s fundamental that there’s a fully connected approach to Whole Health that involves everyone, rallies all teams and involves all leaders and managers.  In other words, the workplace may need an internal culture transformation to truly be thriving, vibrant and healthy.

A culture transformation begins by taking a four-phased approach:

  • Listen to your organisation – It’s important to listen to your employees and understand how they are feeling. Are they happy and productive? If not, why not? By gaining insight into your organisation will help you identify key areas for action that will make a real difference to your people,
  • Identify what needs to change – Once you know what the key issues are, you can plan how you’re going to address them. You might identify some quick wins while others will take time – and that’s ok!
  • Communicate and commit – Share your internal transformation roadmap with all employees and commit to your objectives and wellness promises, updating them regularly on the progress.  
  • Measure the outcomes – Take time to pause and reflect on the transformation journey so far. Invest time in evaluating the success to date – have the objectives been met, or is further work needed?

Look forward to improved employee Whole Health in the long-term

The end goal of your culture transformation is to adopt a strategic Whole Health approach in the workplace – one that will become the backbone of the organisation and allow you to tackle the burning HR issues and challenges that you’re losing sleep over. 

The workplace transformation will address the gaps between employee needs and employer support by providing them with access to quality tools that focus on looking after the body and mind as well as support for all areas of life – from the home environment to personal finances and everything in between. This includes, but isn’t limited to, offering a robust health plan, access to virtual health solutions, mental health support, chronic condition management programmes and physiotherapy services.

In addition, you’ll have created a workplace culture that is safe, supportive and caring and one that builds a strong support network within the company which forms the foundation for building a positive workplace where people are engaged, thriving and productive.

Undertaking an internal culture transformation isn’t for the faint hearted – it is exciting and it is ambitious. It’ll take time and dedication but the outcome for the workplace and for the employees will be worth the effort. Get ready to turn the Whole Health concept into a reality.

For further information about Cigna Europe’s Whole Health mental health solution please visit Cigna Europe’s website.

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