The majority (81.5 per cent) of plan members participating in digital wellness programs experienced improvements for a wide range of health indicators across 30 months, according to a new study by the Institute of Health Economics in partnership with Alberta Blue Cross.

Equally important, the study found cost savings for benefits plans with a corresponding 14 per cent reduction in claims volume resulting from healthier employee populations.

The IHE used data from Alberta Blue Cross’ digital wellness programs, spanning a seven-year period from September 2013 to September 2020, considering 48 months pre-program and 30 months with the programs in place. It found measurable improvements for more than 360,000 plan members who used the programs across four areas of wellness: respiratory, cardiac, mental and physical health.

Read: Employers cite productivity, morale gains among ROI from health programs

While the study identified a basic lack of research on digital corporate wellness programs, it also found much of the existing research has limited applicability to the Canadian context. At the same time, the IHE found the research that does exist tends to define wellness too narrowly or assumes short study periods that don’t account for the complexity of a person’s wellness journey or the time it may take for behaviour changes to translate into health outcomes.

In a press release, Melanie Fuller, director of wellness at Alberta Blue Cross, noted the results are particularly important in the context of chronic disease conditions, “where cost avoidance not only supports the sustainability of group benefits plans for cost drivers such as prescription drugs, but helps to avoid employer cost liabilities associated with disability claims. And we know that at the same time, healthier employees having less illness means higher levels of productivity.”