Do employee health and wellness plans need a shot in the arm?

Where programs fall short

Accenture research shows that 82 percent of employed consumers believe their employers or health plans should provide health and wellness programs—but the programs offered today are falling short of their needs and expectations.

There is a distinct gap between programs offered versus awareness and use of these programs. The research found awareness and utilization of health and wellness programs offered by health plans was extremely low—62 percent of employees were unaware of basic.

Employee awareness and use of wellness programs is low
Employee awareness and use of wellness programs is low.

Source: Accenture 2016 Employer Health and Wellness Survey and Accenture 2016 Employee Health and Wellness Survey

More than half (54 percent) of employees surveyed felt their employer-sponsored health insurance plan should provide these programs. Employers are increasingly looking outside of health plans to access health and wellness services. Industry surveys found 44 percent of employers said they used a third-party vendor to support their wellness program.

Clearly, health plans are failing to reach and have impact on people through their current health and wellness products, so they must rethink how they design, market, and operate these products or risk being carved out of this business.

Engagement hinges on digital

Health plans are missing the boat on engagement. Accenture research shows employees engage more with health and wellness programs when there is a digital engagement channel. For instance, people who engage digitally respond they access the program weekly—70 percent from a mobile device and 40 percent from a computer.

Unfortunately, most plan-sponsored health and wellness programs lack relevant digital access. Less than 50 percent of employees report having access to these programs via their computers and less than 25 percent report access via their mobile device.

Other business-to-consumer and third-party models in the marketplace are meeting these digital demands. For example:


Digital behavior change program Omada helps users lose weight and reduce their risk of chronic disease through programs that seamlessly integrate with users’ everyday lives across interaction channels.


On-demand healthcare concierge Accolade, which offers mobile, web and telephonic solutions, touts 70 percent engagement and 98 percent consumer satisfaction.

Ovia Health

Ovia Health, which offers mobile fertility, pregnancy and maternity programs, states 95 percent of enrolled employees engage in benefits content via the company’s app.

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Accenture is in no way promoting or intending to market any one particular solution or product or otherwise offer or market a medical device or clinical solution. Each company uses its own operations to ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations.

Influencing employer decisions

Digital access for a broad range of consumer-facing services, combined with the increased availability and popularity of fitness and other health-tracking devices, has elevated employees’ expectations for health services. Employers have sought and are acting on employee-generated requirements for health and wellness programs. In fact, employee surveys on care management decisions influence 59 percent of employers, versus 43 percent being influenced by brokers/consultants and 47 percent influenced by industry peers.

When asked why they are not using health and wellness programs, 40 percent of employees report it is because “one or more components of my wellness program offered by my employer are not relevant to me” or “has no apparent value” and 26 percent of employees report the program is “too difficult” or “takes too much time.” Such insights are causing employers to look toward third parties that can deliver on rising expectations.

Factors influencing lack of program utilization

Source: Accenture 2016 Employee Health and Wellness Survey

Accenture research on employer buying behaviors reveals employers view employee active engagement as a key measure of success, above same-year claim cost reduction.

When asked what they are looking for in a health and wellness program, employers (84 percent) rated employee engagement number one overall, higher than return on investment (ROI, 79 percent). ROI continues to be elusive to prove, with only 39 percent of employers responding that they have confidence these programs deliver ROI. The data suggest employers are looking at their employees’ use of these programs as the true measure of their value.

Perhaps most alarming for health plans, 60 percent of employers report they are looking to reduce scope of services purchased from health plans. The top reason employers are looking to third-party providers of health and wellness program components is because employers see third parties as offering more valuable components than health plans.

Employer reasons for looking to third-party provider of health and wellness program components
Employer reasons for looking to third-party provider

Source: Accenture 2016 Employer Health and Wellness Survey

Appealing to employees

To compete, health plans must modify their health and wellness products to better appeal to employees’ desires for relevant, multi-channel services that are digitally enabled. Here’s how:

Know your customer’s customer

Employers are listening to what employees want, and health plans should listen, too. Understand what key features are most important, what programs are most desired and how employees would want to access programs. For employers measuring success based on employee engagement, these programs must be digitally enabled and user-friendly to promote use.

Be future-ready

Emerging digital trends are influencing the way services are delivered—and the landscape changes every day. Look to the developing trend of artificial intelligence as the new user interface through which voice interfaces and chatbots help solve engagement issues. Also, there is a rising need to manage for individuals, not populations. Artificial intelligence for the enterprise can provide insights into how to modify or expand services, and it can yield opportunities for better personalization through a continuous learning loop. The key is to continually iterate to keep pace with changing demands.

Tap into the ecosystem

Creating leading-edge digital solutions isn’t a core capability for all health plans, so determine the best path forward. Does it make sense to develop a solution, partner with others and white label, or have an open system where the health plan can collaborate with a number of other providers for services ranging from analytics to security to digital marketing?

2016 Accenture Employer Health and Wellness Survey

2016 Accenture Employee Health and Wellness Survey

Rick Stewart

Managing Director – Strategy & Consulting, Care Innovation Practice Lead

Scott Miller

Senior Manager – Health Strategy


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