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As the cost of healthcare in the U.S. continues to climb, businesses are beginning to turn to tech to help reconceptualize how they handle employee health. Virgin Pulse, a platform built to encourage and establish healthy lifestyles, is an innovative tool that gets to the heart of the issue by putting the needs of their members first.

Rising Costs of American Healthcare

Americans are spending over $3.4 trillion per year on medical care. Costs have risen exponentially over the past few decades, especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. One estimate says that hospitalization for treatment of the virus costs around $20,000 for many patients.

By 2016, the average annual cost of healthcare per person rose above $10,000 per year. This was a drastic increase from the average of $7,700 just five years prior. Estimates show that these costs will continue to climb and nearly reach $15,000 per year by 2023.

When comparing these numbers against what they were in 1960, at around $150 per person, and adjusting for inflation, we see that Americans are paying about nine times as much for medical coverage as in years past.

Compared globally, these numbers become even more confounding. America has the highest per capita health spending in the world by far. American healthcare spending is about 25% higher than second-place Switzerland and 108% higher than Canada.

While Americans are being hit hard with these ever-rising costs, American businesses are also bearing a large brunt of this burden in the employee health benefits they're responsible for providing. On average, American employers bear 71% of employee health and wellness costs, with an over $20,000 employer responsibility per household.

Americans and American companies spend more than any other country on healthcare, more on administrative healthcare costs, and more to their healthcare professionals, and yet this inflated spending has not equated to improved health.

Quite the contrary, despite the substantially higher spending, the U.S. has worse population health outcomes than most other developed nations. As the country grapples with this issue, companies are getting creative with how to provide effective employee health and wellness coverage in a cost-effective manner.

Despite substantially higher spending, the U.S. has worse population health outcomes than most developed nations.

Many are turning to Virgin Pulse, a digital platform designed to promote wellbeing and reverse these negative health trends. CEO, David Osborne, explains, "The healthcare industry is broken... We're seeing a rise in medical care costs and people are less healthy. Our job now is to innovate around it and give people the tools and the opportunities they need to take control of their own health."

A Digital Hub for Health

The vision for Virgin Pulse was to create a central hub that employers and insurers could offer that would help individuals easily manage all aspects of their health. The personalized platform helps them monitor and improve their daily physical activity, nutrition, sleep, mental resilience, financial wellness, and even social interaction.

The Virgin Pulse platform is accessible via an app that delivers small interactions on an ongoing basis to help members develop healthy routines and lifestyles. The app encourages members with positive feedback, provides accountability, and creates social support structures with colleagues, family, and friends. It also connects members with coaches who can partner with them to address their individual needs.

"We want people from the moment they wake up until the moment they go to bed practicing healthy habits."

Rajiv Kumar, M.D.

Rajiv Kumar, M.D., Virgin Pulse's Chief Medical Officer, explains, "We want people from the moment they wake up until the moment they go to bed practicing healthy habits and making them a part of their daily routine."

Additionally, the app helps users better understand and navigate the services and benefits available to them through their health plans. It can direct users to the services that are best suited for them based on a variety of factors.

This guidance serves to increase users' health literacy, which removes some of the fear and uncertainty that prevents people from seeking medical care. This is especially concerning for those with chronic conditions and those for whom gaps in care can be life-threatening.

Improving Health Literacy 

According to the CDC, a person's health literacy refers to their ability to understand "basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions." Many Americans, despite having healthcare coverage, don't fully understand which benefits are included within that coverage or how to best utilize those services.

The Virgin Pulse platform, while providing avenues for motivation and reinforcement of positive health behaviors, also helps users improve their health literacy and better understand how to make positive decisions. Employees are equipped to find the care they need, when they need it. This all helps companies and their employees maximize how their money is being spent.

Riley Zahm, a Virgin Pulse member, is an excellent example of the platform's impact. Zahm struggled with obesity throughout his entire life. After a visit to the doctor in which he was told he would die in five years if he didn't make any changes, Zahm turned to the Virgin Pulse platform, a benefit provided through his employer, to make the changes needed to save his life.

"Am I drinking enough water? Have I walked for at least 20 minutes today? You can put these goals on there and track them."

Riley Zahm

Zahm says, "The app is fantastically designed in the sense that it's customizable. Am I drinking enough water? Am I having vegetables today? Have I walked for at least 20 minutes today? You can put these goals on there and track them." Using the app, he was able to develop healthy habits and a routine that helped him lose 230 pounds in 12 months. 

A Return on Investment

The Virgin Pulse platform is helping improve the health literacy and health outcomes of thousands of Americans. The app has helped individuals get sober, improve their mental health, sleep better, and even reverse chronic conditions. It's also helped some users reduce or eliminate the need for prescription drugs to manage conditions like high blood pressure.

Not only is this platform improving the overall health of employees, it's also saving employers significant dollars. Employers report that they're saving approximately $1,000 per employee, per year on members who use the platform.

While America's healthcare concerns aren't going to be fixed overnight, the Virgin Pulse model has the power to, at the very least, help its users reach their potential to live healthier lifestyles and be their best selves.

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