Are dig­i­tal de­vices the next big thing in di­a­betes man­age­ment?

Us­ing new tech­nolo­gies, em­ploy­ers can en­gage work­ers while bring­ing down health­care costs

Employee Benefit News - - HEALTH CARE - BY NICK OTTO

Em­ploy­ers who em­brace a dig­i­tal ap­proach to com­bat­ing di­a­betes in the work­place can not only pro­vide em­ploy­ees en­gag­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to help man­age the con­di­tion, but also take ad­van­tage of cost-sav­ing mea­sures.

A re­cent pi­lot pro­gram within a seg­ment of em­ploy­ees at Mount Si­nai Health Sys­tem in­te­grated Livongo for Di­a­betes, an in­ter­ac­tive blood glu­cose mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem, and show­cased sig­nif­i­cantly en­hanced con­nec­tion and en­gage­ment be­tween em­ploy­ees and health ser­vices.

Ad­di­tion­ally, it showed “timely, se­cure and con­ve­nient col­lec­tion of data that can lead to im­proved clin­i­cal care,” ac­cord­ing to a new re­port from the North­east Busi­ness Group on Health.

“Di­a­betes shows no signs of abat­ing as a key con­cern for em­ploy­ers, de­spite in­vest­ments in a wide range of tar­geted di­a­betes preven­tion and man­age­ment strate­gies over the years, in­clud­ing bio­met­ric screen­ings, nu­tri­tion and ex­er­cise coun­sel­ing, on­site clin­ics and in­cen­tives for di­a­betes med­i­ca­tion ad­her­ence,” says Lau­rel Pick­er­ing, pres­i­dent and CEO of NEBGH.

Pick­er­ing says that the pi­lot pro­gram proves that in­vest­ing in dig­i­tal health is a “worth­while ad­di­tion” to those strate­gies — “as long as em­ploy- ers are will­ing to set clear ob­jec­tives, care­fully se­lect a dig­i­tal part­ner, be pre­pared for chal­lenges and de­cide in ad­vance what mea­sures they will use to gauge suc­cess.”

Em­ploy­ers should know what mea­sures they will use to de­ter­mine dig­i­tal health’s suc­cess, and how to eval­u­ate them, NEBGH says. They might mea­sure cost-re­lated out­comes such as re­duc­tions in med­i­cal spend and de­creases in di­a­betes-re­lated emer­gency room and hos­pi­tal ad­mis­sions. An­other op­tion might be fo­cus­ing on health out­comes such as re­duc­tions in A1c lev­els, weight and blood pres­sure.

While em­ploy­ers look ahead to strate­gize pos­si­ble pro­grams, ben­e­fit man­agers can look to some of the en- roll­ment and en­gage­ment chal­lenges Mount Saini en­coun­tered and how they tack­led the prob­lem head on.

En­roll­ment in this type of pro­gram was chal­leng­ing for Mount Si­nai, ac­cord­ing to the re­port. Un­like a gen­eral well­ness ben­e­fit that may be ap­pro­pri­ate for any em­ployee, get­ting a dig­i­tal tool specif­i­cally into the hands of em­ploy­ees with di­a­betes re­quires tar­geted mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

While em­ploy­ers can mar­ket to an en­tire em­ployee pop­u­la­tion with hopes those di­a­betic em­ploy­ees will self-se­lect, that gen­eral ap­proach may not work; a per­cent­age of em­ploy­ees who could ben­e­fit from the tool will likely not seek it out.

One chal­lenge em­ploy­ers have is find­ing a way to com­mu­ni­cate pro­grams ef­fec­tively to the em­ploy­ees who stand to ben­e­fit the most.

Sus­tain­ing en­gage­ment in the pro­gram fol­low­ing en­roll­ment also pro­vided Mount Si­nai with some new chal­lenges in uti­liz­ing the di­a­betes tech­nol­ogy. Em­ploy­ers can en­cour­age en­gage­ment by in­cen­tiviz­ing reg­u­lar and on­go­ing use of a dig­i­tal health tool through value-based in­surance de­sign.

At Mount Si­nai, em­ploy­ees cat­e­go­rized as “ac­tive par­tic­i­pants” in the Livongo pro­gram over the course of a month re­ceived their di­a­betes drugs and in­sulin free of charge the fol­low­ing month.

“It’s too early for mea­sur­able re­sults, but we feel en­cour­aged by what we’ve seen with Mount Si­nai’s use of Livongo,” adds Jeremy No­bel, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of NEBGH’s So­lu­tions Cen­ter. “Based on ob­ser­va­tions, we would en­cour­age other em­ploy­ers to con­sider whether im­ple­ment­ing a dig­i­tal health so­lu­tion — for man­age­ment of di­a­betes or other chronic ill­nesses — might ben­e­fit their em­ployee pop­u­la­tions.”

Go­ing for­ward, the NEBGH re­port ad­vises cul­ti­vat­ing the right em­ployer-dig­i­tal part­ner re­la­tion­ship.

“A good dig­i­tal part­ner will let the em­ployer take the lead on im­por­tant de­ci­sions,” ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

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