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How companies can use technology to boost employee wellness

Chairman, Carebook Technologies, Inc.

The lifestyle and health habits of individual Canadians have a major bottom-line impact on employers, insurers and other health-care funders throughout Canada. In fact, preventable health conditions are estimated to account for as much as 86 per cent of all national health costs, and worker absenteeism costs the Canadian economy more than $16-billion a year, according to the Conference Board of Canada.

Regrettably, though, most people have no clear view as to how their own habits directly affect their health risks or of the benefits that can be achieved by positive change.

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So, what can be done to lessen the burden on the national health-care system, reduce health-related worker absenteeism and motivate people to make a lifelong commitment to preventive health and wellness?

To begin, Canadians need to become more aware of their own state of health and knowledgeable about the positive lifestyle changes that lead to good health and longer, more productive lives.

This might not be an easy pill to swallow for many, but the truth is that the adoption of preventive and proactive health habits is as much a social responsibility as it is an integral element of any personal will toward well-being, both physical and mental. Most people have a general sense that they and their families could benefit from adopting better health habits, but – as is often the case in life – they have a hard time translating that knowledge into a sustainable positive change in their lifestyle. That's human nature.

As the founder of a preventive health services company, I am familiar with the business argument for organizations of all sizes to create and support a culture of health among their employees. However, as a physician treating patients for all those years, I also know how difficult it is to get people to adopt and stick with long-term wellness behaviours. That's why I'm excited about the potential resolution to this long-standing problem that today's consumer digital technology brings to the table.

Fortunately, the explosive growth in popularity in consumer health devices – think Apple Watch – and mobile wellness apps in recent years literally puts the power of good health in the palm of one's hand. Coupled with incentives provided by a supportive employer, a fantastic opportunity is created for organizations and individuals to get on the same preventive health-care page.

In fact, a growing number of companies, embracing the principle that healthy employees are healthy for business, are facilitating the use of digital technology tools and programs for their employees. For these forward-thinking firms, avoiding the trap of one-size-fits-all corporate wellness programs is critical to ensuring a higher level of employee engagement and, ultimately, better long-term results.

Of course, it's about more than simply handing out free activity trackers to employees. The potential, in fact, exists to transform the current health and wellness landscape through advanced technology by making personalized, immediate and real health issues visible to the affected individuals. Further, by incorporating tools that can recommend and guide specific preventive care solutions, planned wellness initiatives can be more targeted, ongoing and focused on results than they ever could in the past.

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For most individuals, having a tool that can dynamically track and monitor their key health indicators will naturally lead them to better self-manage their health risks and pay more attention to the personal health risk assessments they're provided.

For instance, by demonstrating the impact of poor eating and exercise habits for a person with high cholesterol and a family history of heart disease, immediate lifestyle changes can be recommended through a simple mobile app that can also help the user to set personal goals and provide them ongoing motivation by showing their progress along their journey to improved health. The results of this changed behaviour can then be monitored and recommendations adjusted accordingly, based on medically and scientifically backed data.

On the employer side, the ability to have real-time visibility into the health risks and trends facing the organization's entire work force (not specific individuals) can enable employers – as well as insurance companies and public health funders – to draw a direct correlation to savings in medical and insurance claims costs and increases in work force productivity.

An ounce of prevention may well be worth a pound of cure, as Benjamin Franklin once famously said. But, a little more effort on the prevention side could, in fact, be worth billions.

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