Are Employees Ready for Digital Healthcare? Here’s What They Said When We Asked

US employers want to satisfy employees’ desire for quality, convenient and affordable healthcare – but that’s a tall order given they face the highest health care costs in the world. Many are hoping that new digital health technologies will be a game-changer. Our new survey found that nearly seven in ten US employers (68%) plan to invest more in digital health solutions over the next five years. The survey used a broad definition of digital health, ranging from apps to help find providers, to virtual healthcare, to smart pill bottles to aid medication compliance, to chat-bots for diagnosing simple medical issues, and more.

But what do employees think about digital health? Understanding the values, needs, desires and fears of employees when it comes to health care in general and digital health solutions in particular was the impetus for launching ‘Health on Demand’, a collaboration of Mercer Marsh Benefits, Mercer and Oliver Wyman. We surveyed more than 16,000 workers and 1,300 employers in 13 markets around the world, including seven mature markets and six growth markets, so that we could compare and contrast the separate views of workers and employers on the future of health. The results provide grounds for optimism: Nearly half of US workers (49%) said they are excited by the prospect of a digital transformation of healthcare. Importantly, 48% said they would have more confidence in a digital health solution if it were offered by their employer, and 26% even say they would be more likely to stay with an employer that offered digital health solutions.

The digital health solutions that employees want now

The survey found that while people have different comfort levels with digital health in general, they are open to solutions that squarely address their values and needs. Respondents were shown a list of 15 specific digital health solutions and asked how valuable each would be to them or their families (see Figure 1). The solution that the most workers said they would value, both globally and in the US, is an app that “helps find the right doctor or medical care when and where needed.” The desire for more convenient, personalized health care was a clear theme that emerged from the survey results. 

There were some interesting variations across markets. In the UK, the most popular solution was wearable technology to help self-manage chronic conditions. And in China, where 76% of workers say they are responsible for the healthcare of a family member (compared to an average of 53% across all 13 countries), the most popular digital health solution was “companion robots that help elderly relatives stay healthy at home”, the solution that ranked near last or last in each of the 12 other countries surveyed.

Workers were also asked how willing they would be to try each of the 15 solutions. Nearly all US workers (94%) were willing to try at least one. Across the growth markets*, workers were willing to try an average of 10 digital health solutions, compared to an average of 5 in mature markets. To some extent, this disparity may reflect generational influence; a higher percentage of workers in growth markets are Millennials and Gen Z (54%) compared to the workers in mature markets (43%), and younger people tend to be early adopters of technology regardless of geographic location. Survey results from the countries with younger workforces may provide employers in the US with an enlightening look at how attitudes towards digital health will change here as more Boomers leave the US workforce and more Gen Z enters.

*Growth Markets: Brazil, China, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Mexico

Percentage of workers in the US who said this solution would be “extremely” or “highly” valuable to them and their family
An app that helps me find the right doctor or medical care when and where I need it (39%)
Personal individual and family medical records that are electronic and portable (38%)
Self-managing health conditions using wearable technology, e.g., diabetes, heart failure (36%)
Tele-medicine (remote video-chat, text with a doctor or nurse) for a simple health issue like a rash or a cold (36%)
An app that helps me find an expert doctor based on my diagnosis anywhere in the world (35%)
Self-managing well-being using wearable technology, e.g., fitness, sleep, blood pressure, diet, fertility (34%)
Tele-medicine (remote video-chat, text with a doctor or nurse) for a significant health issue like diabetes (32%)
Customized treatment and medicines using algorithms based on my genetic sequence (32%)
Virtual mental health counseling via video chat to address issues like anxiety, stress, mild depression (32%)
Tools that predict the likelihood of certain illnesses based on data automatically collected about me (e.g., shopping behavior, food choices, social media use) (30%)
New ways to help people follow their medication plans, such as implants and ‘smart’ pill bottles (29%)
Diagnosis of simple medical conditions using artificial intelligence (AI) chat based on data I provide (28%)
Companion robots or digital avatars that help elderly relatives stay healthy at home (27%)
Virtual / augmented reality solutions to provide self-care, e.g., pain management (26%)
An app that helps me find and interact with other people who share my health issues and concerns (24%)

Source: 'Health on Demand'

Implications for building a culture of health

Interest in digital health solutions is part of a broader focus on workplace culture of health. Clearly, employers in the US believe in the importance of employee well-being; virtually all respondents (94%) say their organization will invest more or the same amount in health and well-being initiatives over the next five years. Further, 77% believe that their organization cares about their workers’ well-being. 

However, when workers were asked the same question, just 52% said they believe their employer cares about its workers. But survey results suggest a way for employers to help close this perception gap. According to the ‘Health on Demand’ findings, the wider the range of health and well-being resources an employer offers – from insurance coverages to subsidized nutrition or exercise programs – the more likely workers are to feel supported and energized, and the less likely they are to leave their employer. Of the US workers who are offered 10 or more such benefits today, 68% believe their employers care about them, compared to just 44% of those offered five or fewer. Digital health solutions can provide a cost-effective way for employers to provide more of the targeted, personalized support for health and well-being that employees want and appreciate.

These are just a few of the findings from the ‘Health on Demand’ survey. The results confirm our belief that employers looking to build a workplace culture of well-being and to improve talent retention should consider digital health investments -- or risk being left behind in today’s competitive global labor markets. But the survey also uncovered the concerns employees have about digital healthcare – like the loss of human interaction and privacy risks. Employers will need to pay careful attention to communication, experience, and privacy to see their expectations for digital health translate to meaningful engagement.

There’s so much more to discuss! We look forward to sharing additional survey results in this space over the weeks to come. Meanwhile, to learn more and download the US and global ‘Health on Demand’ report at the links below:

US: https://www.mercer.us/our-thinking/mercer-marsh-benefits-health-on-demand.html

Global: https://www.mercer.com/our-thinking/mercer-marsh-benefits-health-on-demand.html

Beth Umland
by Beth Umland

Director of Research, Health, Mercer

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