Building better whole-person health together: the legacy of COVID-19

As a leading global health and wellness benefits provider, Aetna International provides people with the care and resources they need to manage their whole-person health – mental, emotional and physical. Our clear, well-defined benefits help organisations and individuals put well-being at the heart of everything they do. We help people engage meaningfully with their health, whether that’s locally, at home or in the palm of their hand. That’s why we currently serve almost 900,000 people around the world. Ultimately, we believe that when people thrive, their work and personal lives thrive too.

Well-being necessity or nice to have?

At Aetna, we recognise that current psychosocial, workplace and economic stressors are profoundly impacting individuals’ behaviours and health and wellness needs. Recent events have been a significant leveller, revealing our vulnerabilities and bringing health, hygiene, work-life balance and lifestyle choices sharply into focus. The data in our recent annual global study revealed that huge percentages of employees said the pandemic has heightened the importance of mental health (84%), physical health (89%) and access to quality care (87%). In addition, 74% of employees felt that poor mental health has affected their productivity since early 2020, yet just 31% said they are happy with the health benefits and resources their employers provide.[1] It’s clear that well-being is no longer a nice to have. It’s a necessity.

Just as vaccination programs are accelerating in many nations, so too are we starting to see the shoots of economic recovery and accelerating change in positive health-related behaviours, strategies and policies.[2][3][4] So, as we glimpse the light at the end of a very dark tunnel, it’s important to use our optimism – even if it’s somewhat cautious at this stage — to build the foundations for healthier, happier, more productive employee populations.

Driving whole-person health awareness and action

The legacy of the pandemic is paradoxical. Events have directly and indirectly given rise to significant health challenges. However, our interaction with rapidly maturing technology is greater than ever, as is our understanding of the ways the psychological, social and physical pillars of health and well-being are intertwined. And both of these areas offer up significant opportunities.

2020 saw dramatic shifts in health care utilisation. While hospitals overflowed with desperately ill patients, and many physicians’ offices sat empty, the world experienced a rapid acceleration in the deployment and acceptance of telehealth services, such as Aetna International’s vHealth offering.

From a duty of care perspective, organisations are now far more attuned to giving their people support in a productive, sustainable way for everything that is happening in their lives. A 2020 Deloitte report stated that “recognizing the inextricable link among our well-being, our work and our lives has led more organizations to think deeply about ways they can design well-being into work itself.”[5] The change in tack is being driven by recognition that organisations feel it’s the right thing to do for their people and their families, as well as by demand from employees – either directly or indirectly.[6]

Another positive is a heightened awareness of how individuals can control their own health destinies. In the Southern Hemisphere, influenza was all but non-existent last flu season thanks to practices like social distancing.[7] And people worldwide saw how wearing masks and washing their hands could keep them healthy. The focus now must be on extending that learning to other preventative measures, like quitting smoking, losing excess weight, managing stress and tackling poor sleep patterns.

COVID-19 has highlighted how body and mind intersect. The social isolation caused by pandemic lockdowns had an immediate effect on mental health, which should come as no surprise. For example, a study last summer by the World Economic Forum found a marked increase in mental health concerns across 26 European countries.[8] Practising psychosocial hygiene can prevent low lying mental illness indicators such as mood and sleep disturbances from developing into clinical anxiety or depression.

Lockdown measures are also likely to have a longer-term negative impact on physical health since many people have become more sedentary in the past year.[9] For example, a study in the European Journal of Public Health found that Spaniards with chronic conditions had reduced moderate exercise by a third (from 90.5 to 60.5 minutes per day).[10] Therefore, it’s critical to help ensure those with a condition, whether mental or physical, benefit from whole-person health support. It’s only in this way that employers can help influence how well people manage or recover from their condition and how productive they are within a workforce.

What organisations can do

More than ever employees are asking their employers, “How are you supporting me?” Choosing the right benefits partner – one that manages people’s health and not just their claims – and choosing the services that are tailored to the diverse needs of a particular employee population will drive the best, most meaningful outcomes in the future.

Now is the time for organisations to look at the way in which they structure, promote and measure utilisation of their benefits. Organisations that lead with compassion and build a culture of well-being can help improve people’s health journeys while avoiding preventable costs.

To better support workers, organisations should hold listening exercises to understand the needs of their population, evaluate and build a strategy around what they learn. Seeking out the right solutions to fit the strategy and developing guidance that is connected will bring it all together in an accessible way.

By doing this, they can help ensure their benefits package is structured, holistic and tailored to helping workers take care of themselves mentally, emotionally and physically. Benefits should include new programs to help workers combat loneliness and access everything from mental health services to nutritional guidance and support digitally.

Employees should also be encouraged to seek medical advice early, to attend medically necessary tests and treatment appointments and to advocate for their own health. And organisations can support their people by ensuring they have access to the care they need when and where they need it.

At Aetna International we stand ready to support you as your trusted health and well-being benefits partner. Contact us to speak to one of our expert sales consultants for Europe: EMEA_Marketing@aetna.com

By Damian Lenihan, Executive Director, Operations and Distribution, Europe, Aetna International

 

[1] https://www.aetnainternational.com/en/employers/tackling-polarised-perceptions.html

[2]https://www.gavi.org/vaccineswork/covid-19-vaccine-race

[3] https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/covid-vaccine-tracker-global-distribution/

[4] https://www.cnbc.com/2021/02/02/euro-zone-gdp-contracts-amid-tight-covid-restrictions-vaccine-rollout.html

[5] https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/focus/human-capital-trends/2021/workforce-trends-2020.html

[6] https://www.aetnainternational.com/en/about-us/explore/future-health/expat-international-employee-health-care-trends-2021.html

[7] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/flu-season-never-came-to-the-southern-hemisphere1/

[8] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/02/covid-19-pandemic-europe-mental-health-depression-anxiety-loneliness-social/

[9] https://europepmc.org/article/med/32481594

[10] https://academic.oup.com/eurpub/article/31/1/161/5882018

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