Virtual Health Coaching

Employer Solutions | 5 years ago

Virtual Health Coaching: A Bold New Benefit

Ellen Isaacs, RN, BSN, CPHM, CHC – Director, Occupational Health Nurse, Employer and Atrium Health On-Site Clinics

How Healthier Employees Save You Money

After years of testing and trial, we've finally reached a tipping point with digital health services. Hardware and software costs have dropped to a range that supports mass adoption, while privacy and security protocols have matured to the level needed to ensure personal data remains secure. One of the leading new tools to emerge in this rapidly growing field is virtual health coaching.

Get a Virtual Health Coach, Cut Costs

Increasing access for employees while helping keep overall healthcare costs down for employers, virtual health coaching is an attractive, preventive-care tool for many wellness programs. With virtual coaching the net widens for expanded access. While telephonic coaching returns an engagement rate of two percent, virtual coaching can average an engagement rate of 60 percent to 85 percent. The more engaged employees are in their healthcare, the more likely they are to see results. Those results translate into reduced costs for employers.

Save Money With a Health Coach

Our historical on-site coaching approaches revealed sustained results as follows:
  • A municipality client saved $4.25 for every dollar spent on its wellness program by incorporating health coaching with a high engagement rate.
  • A manufacturer with a 72 percent engagement rate reduced its claims by 17 percent, with a total avoidable ER utilization reduction of 69 percent.

What is Virtual Health Coaching?

Virtual health coaching brings the benefit of one-on-one assistance and guidance a patient receives from working with a health coach into the privacy of their own home. Rather than requiring a participant to attend a series of appointments in a dedicated facility, virtual health coaching relies on several technologies that are already easily accessible, including laptops, tablets, smartphones, secure text messaging, email and videoconferencing. Patients who work with a virtual health coach engage in the same basic protocols they would if they were meeting with a healthcare professional in person, such as motivational interviewing, behavior modification, goal setting, barrier assessment, problem solving and emotional support. One-on-one care of this nature helps patients take an active role in improving their health by providing guidance, support and accountability in an ongoing setting.

Virtual Health Coaching Works

The virtual health coaching process begins with a preventive biometric health screening and personalized health risk assessment. Data collected from the biometric screenings is stratified by an analytics team at Employer Solutions to determine an individual’s risk category: low, rising or high. An individual’s risk category determines to what extent they are prone to developing certain conditions. The goal is to be on the lookout for rising health risks. Participants deemed to have a rising risk are typically eligible for three health coaching sessions and high-risk individuals would be eligible for five sessions. This formula was found to provide the best return on investment. One standout component of virtual health coaching is that personal health tracking devices can be uploaded onto a coaching portal to support client goals and engagement throughout the process. Many employees have access to their personal health information on these platforms. For example, if an employee has a Fitbit and they want to download that information, they can track that and engage with specific goals.

Virtual Health Coaching: Private and Secure

Most questions and concerns during a health coaching session include nutrition, weight management, exercise, sleep patterns and emotional health issues involving anxiety and stress. But unlike traditional coaching, the virtual approach can potentially reach far more wellness plan participants. Since privacy is critical, all virtual health coaching sessions are confidential and treated like any other healthcare encounter. An individual’s information is never shared with employers. In addition, all Employer Solutions platforms are secure and sessions are tracked for quality assurance purposes.

Bright Future for Virtual Health Coaching

There are many reasons to be optimistic about the future of virtual health coaching. As healthcare costs rise health coaching is a cost efficient approach to meet clients in their comfort zone for more conversations about their health goals. Overall these sessions are a cost-effective solution for employers as the reimbursement for virtual consults in the United States has grown to 604 percent from 2006 to 2015 according to The Advisory Board Company. In addition, the on-demand nature of virtual health coaching appeals to both employees and employers. Digital coaching sessions are easier for employees to schedule and attend, which makes it easier to establish and stick to a plan. At the same time, employers can enjoy increased productivity as sessions can take place almost anywhere, meaning employees do not need to invest additional time traveling to and from appointments or sitting in the waiting room.

Virtual Health Coach Perk Helps Recruit Employees

Within a larger employment context, virtual health coaching can be seen and promoted as a way to help recruit and retain talent. Employer Solutions has recently introduced virtual health coaching as part of several Charlotte-based employers’ wellness programs. For some Employer Solutions clients, face-to-face sessions were started more than five years ago. The virtual platform comes in handy especially for companies with multiple locations that make on-site consultations a challenge. While implementing these types of services does not happen overnight, employers’ initial responses were highly enthusiastic.