Digital Coaching Platforms Being Integrated Into Healthcare Plans

By Amanda Eisenberg

This post originally appeared on Employee Benefits News

One benefit offering typically paired with wellness programs is transitioning into the mainstream.

More companies are integrating health coaching plans, which incorporate positive psychology and technology to change user behaviors, into their healthcare plans, experts say.

Despite a 9.1% decrease in companies offering health coaching plans — 74.1% of 498 companies offered them in 2014, compared to 65% in 2015 — the product isn’t going away, according to new research from the Private Exchange Research Council.

Rather, coaching plans “are more likely to be included in health plans,” says Alan Cohen, co-founder of and chief strategy officer at Liazon, a member of PERC.

Coaching plans, which can emphasize financial or physical health, are also becoming smarter. Emotional intelligence, or EI, training is built into some coaching, such as Boston-based platform meQuilibrium.

The program uses an algorithm to put together an employee’s personal stress assessment, and then produces a profile that exposes stress triggers and lifestyle habits. MeQuilibrium allows employees to start skill-building activities as a type of cognitive behavioral therapy to build resilience to stress.

The tool is “very good at helping us understand the thinking styles, the sources of stress, the way you behave under stress, and what your coping skills are and what they are not,” says Jan Bruce, meQuilibrium CEO and cofounder.

Four in 10 working adults (44%) report that their current job has an impact on their overall health, and only one in four (28%) report that this impact is positive, according to a recent poll conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Foundation and the Harvard Opinion Research Program.

“High stress creates turnover,” Bruce says. “Certain thoughts exacerbate [employees’] stress.”

The program, which is mobile- and desktop-accessible, prompts the user to generate a score by completing surveys on mind, body, surroundings and connection. Users can improve their score by learning new skills, such as completing a financial well-being series or simply going for a walk.

“The platform teaches you a concept, then wants you to practice it before reevaluating your progress,” says Alanna Fincke, the company’s VP of content.

The profile also determines an employee’s “stress personality” and gives the upsides and downsides to that method of handling stress. For example, one employee might be an adventurer — someone who is a strong advocate for their goals but might lack problem-solving skills. meQuilibrium can also track the effects of stressors such as family, finances, health, job, relationships or success.

“It’s more about helping people dial up their response to the pressures of their life,” Bruce says.

As one in five adults experience emotional health issues, developing coping mechanisms not only helps employees, but employers as well.

“Depression has a staggering impact on business productivity and healthcare spend,” says Jane Ruppert, vice president of health services at Interactive Health, an Illinois-based health management provider.

Emotional health issues are a barrier for employees to address their physical health as well, she says, which can lead to heightened medical spending.

“Employers are thinking about benefits not just as a cost-setter, but a way to optimize the top line,” Bruce says.