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The field of workplace-based employee support has evidenced clear evolution over the past 50 years—from occupational alcoholism to a “broad brush” focus on psycho/social issues, and gatekeeper of mental health benefits to the integration of work/life, wellness, and organizational health.  However, none of the evolution has occurred with such speed as the industry has experienced and role technology has played in the past 12 months, made necessary by the covid pandemic and related adjustments. 

As related in Ed Cohen’s Global Business News Talkshow last month on Achieving Wellness in the Workplace Today, the evolution of workplace wellness in the past year is an inflection point for the industry reflected in various ways: 

Increased Behavioral Health Needs – The Employee Assistance Practitioners Association has moved to weekly videoconference meetings on EAP activity and challenges of its members who report ranges of 20% to over 100% increases in their program activity.  The Kaiser Family Foundation reports a 400% increase between 2019 and 2020 in adults relating symptoms of anxiety and depression. And, the October 2020 survey of 130 countries by the World Health Organization documented disruption in mental health services in 93% of respondents at the same time needs are increasing.

Telehealth – Healthcare investment leader TripleTree published The New Era of Virtual Health in April 2021 on the growth of digital health delivery over the past year.  Highlighted in that report is that visits on Teladoc’s platform increased by over 200% in Q2 2020 compared to Q1 2019 and that Doctor on Demand more than doubled its covered lives served in 2020.  Specific to behavioral health, TripleTree did a great job summarizing the reality most providers have experienced—that direct delivery of care has shifted almost entirely to virtual delivery and that the impact has been “profound”.  Relaxing of regulations governing health plan reimbursement of telehealth has further fueled the phenomenal growth of newer virtual firms, Lyra Health (estimated to be valued at $2B) and Headspace (serving over 2M subscribers), SilverCloud Health, Ginger, Modern Health, and similar examples of behavioral health techno leaps.

Mergers & Acquisitions – Notable activity in the US includes Centene’s $2.2B acquisition of Magellan Health, Cigna’s Evernorth health services division acquiring telehealth specialist, MDLive, the merger or Doctor on Demand and Grand Rounds, and the new round of funding for happify Health.  And M&A activity outside the states is equally active, with Telus Health’s acquisition of EQ Care, CloudMD’s acquisition of Aspiria,  and Carebook’s acquisition of InfoTech—all in Canada—as well as HealthHero’s purchase of UK-based Validium and more recently France-based Qare, and Morneau Shepell’s purchase of Australia-based SMG Health and re-branding to previous acquisition, LifeWorks.

The term “digital front door” captures a lot of the evolution that has taken place over the last year and denotes the enhanced entry point or pathway to service delivery.  As popular and practical as the shift to telehealth delivery has been, the big potential for the field is leveraging AI and other technology.  A smarter digital front door will make the right care even more interesting and accessible, and engage more individuals at an earlier point.  For example a brief questionnaire on sleep can provide immediate feedback to an individual user, and engage them faster and link them sooner with a specialist to turn around a possible sleep disorder before it becomes an entrenched pattern.  Like occupational alcoholism programs leveraged the workplace and AA to extend help to addicts in the 1970s, 50 years later we can further leverage digital technology with traditional care for a new workplace and workforce and better “meet the client where they’re at.” 

There are numerous venues where these techno leaps can be further explored, in addition to the Global Business News broadcasts referenced above.  The One Mind at Work global forum has been a great conference for leading edge developments, and next month’s Employee Assistance European Forum’s 19th annual conference will feature many of these issues too. As the dinosaur relics of past evolution evidence, we are encouraged to recognize change and adapt, if not lead the advances in our field and continue to move forward.

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