Taking Well-being’s Pulse

If there’s a single item that runs through Aon Hewitt’s 7th Annual Consumer Health Mindset Study, released yesterday at the National Business Group on Health’s Business Health Agenda 2017 in Washington, it’s that well-being continues to be a work in progress. (You can pre-register here for the full report.)

The study of 2,503 consumers, mostly employees and their dependents, found that well-being is continuing to have a big impact, with all well-being dimensions (financial, physical, emotional and social) being viewed by employees as important.

The findings suggest that consumers are increasingly looking at well-being in a holistic way, certainly a good sign for employers as they attempt to expand their well-being footprints. In light of this, one of the recommendations offered by Aon Hewitt Partner Joann Hall Swenson at a general session on the survey’s key takeaways was for employers to build workplaces that can support well-being in its entirety.

It’s also worth noting that, according to the study, some of the more traditional elements of physical wellness experienced a decline in importance over the past year. Diet, for example, decreased in importance by 7 percent, from 65 percent to 58 percent. Exercise, meanwhile, dropped 6 percent, from 59 percent to 53 percent.

Swenson suggested that employers might want to refresh their efforts in both those areas.

Employers, of course, would like nothing more than to see a greater percentage of employees become better consumers. Right? Better consumers make better decisions, after all.

Well, if the study’s findings are correct, employers still have more work to do on this front as well.

A takeaway from the study is that savvy consumerism continues to be a challenge as far as healthcare is concerned. Among the data points shared by Swenson: 77 percent of the respondents regretted a health decision they made, and only 40 percent said they know where to go to find out what a particular health service costs, down 7 percent over the past year.

“When you look at the number of people who bring a list of questions to their doctor and the number of people who are looking at costs before having a procedure, those numbers are down,” Swenson pointed out.

Then there’s the high level of frustration and confusion patients experience navigating the healthcare system, another key finding cited by Swenson. “Patients are losing their patience,” especially in the case of emerging millennials, she said.  “Many are giving up and throwing in the towel.”

To address this, she said, employers need to use technology to simplify the health-navigation process.

The survey also took a deeper dive into the area of mental health than in past years, finding that the issue continues to reside “in the shadows.” Not surprisingly, it found that stress continues to be on the rise, with the percentage of respondents reporting high stress levels at 54 percent, up 5 percent over the past year. Of those reporting high stress, 74 percent said they were experiencing more and more obstacles that stood in the way of receiving treatments.

Consumers, Swenson said, would like to see more one-on-one assistance from their employers, greater flexibility in terms of arranging for appointments and an expanded provider network from which to choose.

Finally, Swenson said, consumers want healthcare and well-being to be a multichannel experience, one that includes email, mobile and social. Messages and information, she added, need to be delivered when they’re needed, not when it’s convenient for the employer. (The topic of personalization was addressed at several other points during the NBGH event.)