The Corporate Wellness Blog

At The Economist - Harnessing M-Health

December 8 2016

From CEO Anna Gudmundson

Last week I had the privilege of speaking about m-health and demographics at The Economist’s Ageing Societies conference, which brought together over 180 global leaders and policymakers from business, finance and healthcare to debate the opportunities and challenges of longevity. It’s an increasingly important discussion as our society – and workforce – continues to age. According to WHO forecasts, the share of the global population aged over 60 will nearly double by 2050, from 12% to 22%.

As people live longer, it’s likely they’ll spend around 60 years in work, and this is the time and place that Fitbug is focusing on. We want to be setting the precedent to make sure people are supported throughout that time to lead healthier lives and that corporations have employee wellness at the core of their strategies. In order to reach people, we use mobile technology, data and wearables to engage the workforce in a personalised and scalable way.

In my view, supporting workplace wellness will also be critical in helping to relieve the growing pressure on our health services and medical resources. For example, by 2020, we expect that the NHS will experience a £30 billion funding shortage, but it is important to note that today, 88 per cent of healthcare claims costs can be attributed to lifestyle choices like diet, smoking and lack of exercise. A growing awareness among employers of the positive impact of supporting healthier lifestyles for their employees and the adoption and availability of relevant tools and technology, together with rising health care costs and lack of resources to deal with the growing demand, have been key in opening up opportunities for innovation.

The mobile health and digital health market is expected to grow to $7.1 billion in Europe by 2018. But for this to be successful, innovators and business leaders have a duty to ensure engagement, intuitive and easy to use technology, as well as the necessary support to give people control. On my panel, Mary Matthews, Chief Executive Officer at Memrica said that she believes that the major barrier to adoption isn’t technology but, rather, people’s willingness to engage. Technology, user-centric design and innovations together with an internal intrinsic motivation will ensure real results.

We were joined by Ali Parsa, CEO of Babylon, who had a very determined take on tech adoption as it relates to Babylon’s acquisition approach. Instead of focusing on the distant millions of users he wants to see, he looks instead at the first 2% extreme adopters who will become his advocates, who will persuade the next 15% who will then persuade the rest – citing the early days of iPhone and its initial uptake.

At Fitbug, we help corporates create a culture of wellbeing by supporting their employees toward healthier habits. Our holistic approach covers activity coaching, nutrition advice, sleep monitoring, and support for stress management in a flexible and device-neutral platform. We know that when employees are healthier, they are happier and more productive. Corporations also benefit from a reduction in absenteeism and health insurance related costs, as well as a more positive energy in the workplace.

Another panel session, insightfully moderated by Helen Joyce, International Editor for The Economist and event Chair, discussed “reshaping the workplace for healthy ageing”. For me, it was encouraging to hear that large corporates such as BT and Bupa are already implementing measures, policies and technologies that mean employees are better supported.

Paul Litchfield, Chief Medical Officer at BT Group explained how the company has developed its own framework focusing on health, relationships, security and purpose, on which a coherent wellness strategy can be built. The idea is to help people change and adopt behaviours that are good for them, and, ultimately, good for the business too - which is important so it doesn’t become a risk during harder times. This includes working with employees that you already have, across all ages and giving them access to the support they personally need to be healthy and perform at their best, which also helps the organisation understand its role.

Bupa’s Chief Wellbeing Officer, Fiona Adshead spoke about their support for empowering employees to take control of their personal wellbeing. By starting with what matters most to people, it becomes easier to help them find ways to be healthy within their own circumstances. Understanding the ‘art of the possible’ means that making improvements or adjustments such as flexible working, or providing more positive coffee or break out areas, can have a considerable impact on the overall energy and productivity of a corporate culture.

The discussions at the conference demonstrate that policymakers and leaders of the most forward-thinking corporations are starting to understand the need to play their part in employee health and wellbeing. But we still have a long way to go; most companies are yet to implement robust wellness strategies and digital health needs to be prioritised. Workers of all ages are in a position to benefit – people over the age of 50 are incredibly active online and are a key user group. They are also the demographic most likely to show immediate improvements in health and quality of life with a few lifestyle changes, so the opportunity to help people is massive.

As Mary strongly pointed out, the Baby Boomer generation is not a liability, but instead a source of experience – and I very much liked Ali’s reminder that the Persian word for old, is ‘wise’.

I look forward to hearing your insights and experiences.

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