Aetna International's Damian Lenihan asks if technology is being underutilised when it comes to assignment success in the health insurance sector.
Earlier this year, two international surveys1 were carried out that looked specifically at workplace well-being for expats. Across 10 different countries including the UK and UAE, results showed an interesting split when it came to the impact of taking on an overseas assignment.
Approximately 30% of respondents said that they'd experienced a positive uplift to well-being, thanks to factors such as the quality of the health care system in their chosen country of residence. On the other hand, another 30% said that the work-life balance in their new country had had a negative impact on their overall well-being.
Staying in robust mental, physical and emotional health is an important consideration for expats, and an essential consideration for employers if they want to maximise the chance of overseas placements being productive and successful long-term."
It's a timely reminder that not all expats have the same single challenge when they move abroad. In Dubai, for instance, fully 91% of respondents said that difficulties in making friends affected their well-being, compared to a global average of 43%. While there are often areas of commonality experienced by expats - two thirds agreed that feeling part of a community takes time - on the whole, it is entirely dependent on circumstances, locations and individuals.
Staying in robust mental, physical and emotional health is an important consideration for expats, and an essential consideration for employers if they want to maximise the chance of overseas placements being productive and successful long-term. In order to get the personalisation that people require when they are far from home, sometimes it pays to be creative and look outside the box to connect to health care. Technology can help here, but are expats and their employees really making the most of the available options?
Ease of access
One of the advantages about using technology to look after the holistic health of expats is accessibility; it can be deployed almost everywhere in the world. Even if wifi isn't widely available in your new country, most places offer somewhere you can connect - perhaps a restaurant, hotel or workplace.
While expats tend to embrace fitbits and the like, there are lots of alternatives for health specific tech that can keep people balanced and working towards their well-being goals as they relocate from country to country.
For example, in line with the zeitgeist of our time, we're seeing a market that is increasingly designing devices with emotional well-being in mind, such as wristbands with bio-sensors to track emotions, stress levels and heart rate.
Currently more widespread within businesses are online wellness programmes that let people move at their own pace to address personal objectives. Some companies offer webinars and virtual classroom teaching for mindfulness and other stress-busting techniques, and digital coaching is also popular. Via email or texts, coaches can provide work/life emotional support, and help people achieve exercise goals, embed healthy eating habits, or finally give up smoking.
For employers, these can be cost-effective ways to empower employees to dip in and take control of their overall well-being when they need to.
The whole picture
However, it's when we're talking about primary care that tech can really make difference, especially as expats are well-disposed to adopt this type of innovation. To wit, 78% of survey respondents indicated that they're open to using remote access health care technology to maintain their overall well-being - a 28% increase since 2016, showing how rapidly appetite is growing.
There are good reasons for this. Virtual health care is extremely useful for those who live far away from quality care facilities and have demanding jobs. It provides straight-forward access to high quality primary care, and can even help with the remote management of chronic conditions.
It also eradicates any language barrier, which might otherwise discourage an expat to visit a doctor in a host country or potentially incur misunderstandings affecting access to the right medical care. With virtual health, you can always speak to a medical professional who shares your native tongue.
A significant amount of time is saved too by switching GP consultations to a virtual health consultation - in the region of four and a half hours on average, per appointment, per person - making it convenient for employees and economical for employers. There are also apps available that can keep your entire medical history in one place, a huge bonus if you repeatedly move from country to country during your career.
Despite these benefits, utilisation of virtual health resources can be surprisingly low, averaging out at about 6% per year of those who are entitled to access. This is true of both large corporations and smaller businesses.
The reasons behind this are unclear. Are companies unaware of the advantages? Are expats not being given enough information? Or are HR departments simply missing a trick?
Given that there are 50.5 million expats across the world and that companies face an ever greater a duty of care to ensure these employees are happy, healthy and engaged, it's clear that connected, convenient, remote health care is currently at risk of being overlooked. But by using tech to maximise routes to personalised care, when and where people need it, expats have the best chance of optimising their holistic health and settling well into whichever country they choose.
1. https://www.aetnainternational.com/en/about-us/explore/international-health-insurance/expat-employee-social-determinants-of-health-report-2019.html and https://www.aetnainternational.com/en/about-us/explore/international-health-insurance/expat-workforce-wellbeing-survey-2019.html
Damian Lenihan is executive director, Europe at Aetna International