Rising health care costs are breaking everyone’s bottom lines—from individuals and families all the way up to the country’s largest corporations. A decade ago, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz revealed that the company spent more on employee health care than it did on coffee beans. In the time since, costs have continued to rise. According to an annual survey of employer sponsored health plans from Mercer, health benefit costs topped $13,000 per employee in 2019, growing for the 8th consecutive year. The cost increases continue to outpace overall inflation.
It is no surprise, then, that employers are increasingly seeking cost-management strategies, but, with individual out-of-pocket costs also rising, it’s clear that these strategies cannot simply shift the costs onto already overburdened employees.
For about the past decade, employers have been turning to digital health solutions to help them thread this needle. Particularly, they have invested in solutions working to address the costliest conditions—chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension. The CDC states that five chronic diseases or risk factors—high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, physical inactivity, and obesity—cost US employers $36.4 billion a year on account of employees missing days of work.
According to the Mercer survey, 58 percent of all large and midsize employers, and 78 percent of those with 20,000 or more employees, offered one or more such targeted digital health solutions in 2019.
But, after a decade of experimenting with various digital products, employers aren’t necessarily seeing the promised results of providing quality care management while reducing overall costs. Employers should evaluate solutions across four key criteria in order to ensure that the investment in a digital health solution will truly deliver value:
1. Digital health solutions should understand that chronic conditions don’t exist in a vacuum.
To truly combat the crisis of chronic diseases, digital solutions need to be able to address all the comorbid conditions that people with chronic diseases experience. If the solution cannot treat people holistically and only focuses on a single condition, it will not be able to get to the root of the chronic issue. That’s why Lark Health offers four programs—diabetes prevention, diabetes management, hypertension management, and prevention—that work in concert to ensure that our users have a full range of support.
Lark’s DPP, which is fully recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, targets those most at-risk for diabetes to help them lower their risk factors and avoid developing the disease. Our Diabetes Management Program works with those who have diabetes to help them make choices that lower their blood sugar and keep them healthy while managing their condition. It delivers this with a smart, connected glucose meter, digital scale, and expert coaching. Our Hypertension Management Program uses a connected blood pressure cuff to help detect patterns and make individually-tailored recommendations for how best to lower blood pressure, including diet and exercise recommendations as well as helping with medication adherence. And, Lark’s Prevention program works to mitigate other chronic disease risk factors, such as weight management, poor sleep, stress and anxiety, and smoking, because addressing these risks will also help improve overall health for someone with a chronic condition.
2. Employers should look for solutions that are truly engaging.
If an employer invests in a digital solution, but employees aren’t using it, then the value of the investment is essentially left on the table. One key factor for driving engagement is personalization. No one likes being bothered with reminders or recommendations that have nothing to do with their needs. Powered by artificial intelligence (AI), Lark’s platform can continuously adapt and make recommendations based on individual preferences, gaps in care, and unique needs for each user. Lark’s program offerings individualize coaching for each employee based on their unique behavior patterns and preferences. And, because the programs are informed by cognitive behavioral therapy, they can provide compassionate, empathetic care that makes employees comfortable engaging with the platform, including men and those over 60*. Additionally, because Lark only engages human coaches for the most complex or emergent needs, artificial intelligence (AI) coaching can be available 24/7 for the rest of the moments when employees need support.
3. Employers shouldn’t be afraid of AI.
Too often, there is a fear that AI solutions will be cold, or somehow fall short of programs relying on human coaches. Conversational AI can actually deliver results on par with other human-led or telephonic coaching programs on a much greater scale. All of Lark’s programs use cutting-edge AI and cognitive behavioral therapy to deliver 24/7, real-time, compassionate care when users need it most. Our programs integrate with pre-existing coaching teams or telephonic solutions, directing employees to human coaches when they have a significant concern or complex issue, but relying on AI to handle the day-to-day needs critical to chronic disease prevention and management. This helps employers leverage their assets more efficiently for better results.
4. Employers should look for value.
Any digital health solution should be able to demonstrate value to the employer with tangible metrics. One mark of a solution that stands behind its value is a pricing structure based on whether employees are actually engaging with the product. Lark stands behind its product with its pricing, and comes in at about half the price of other solutions working to manage chronic diseases while proving equally as effective. When in-person coaching was compared to Lark’s AI-augmented DPP, the results revealed that 56 percent of Lark’s users achieved at least five percent weight loss in comparison to 35.5 percent with other programs, Lark engaged between 200-350 percent more men than the national average of DPP programs (a group that has previously struggled to maintain engagement with similar coaching), and 59 percent of Lark users completed the program compared to 43 percent for other programs.
The National Business Group on Health recently predicted that the average health cost per employee will rise 5 percent in 2020, compared to only 3.4 percent this past year, so employer efforts to curb costs will remain a top priority. Employers need to make sure that they are choosing solutions that will offer them the best value. Lark Health leverages the latest technology to achieve these goals, delivering results for both employers’ bottom lines and their employees’ health.