Digital services supporting occupational well-being

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Finland is a leading country in terms of Internet use, but health care services are lagging behind in the development of digital services. Electronic services have only recently started to become more common, and they have provided customers with tasks that support the traditional treatment process, such as appointment booking, checking laboratory test results and saving information on measurements taken at home. Elsewhere, however, digitalisation is used on a wider scale in the prevention and treatment of diseases.  How could the matter be promoted in Finland?

Employers and occupational health services are perfect partners for developing digital well-being services, as a large proportion of Finns can be reached through employers and occupational health care.  Employers could, if they wanted to, act as a channel for applications that prevent diseases and improve occupational well-being in general, while occupational health care could concentrate on the actual digital self-care services.

Education is not enough

As Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Medicine and Occupational Health and Docent of Occupational Medicine, Markku Seuri states in his book Työterveyshuolto 2.0 – järjestelmämme on muututtava (Occupational Health Care 2.0 – Our System Must Change) that the greatest occupational risks are related to our lifestyle: lack of exercise, obesity, alcohol use and smoking. According to Seuri, distributing information is not a sufficient remedy; employees should also receive support to make the necessary behaviour change.

Whether it is a question of a self-care solution offered by occupational health care or a well-being service offered by an employer, several benefits can be achieved through digitalisation:

  1. The availability of services can be improved. The same services can be offered to all employees regardless of, for example, the place of work.
  2. The threshold to use services can be lowered. There is still much fear of being stigmatised due to health-related problems, which prevents seeking of professional help. Through digital services, the threshold for making the first contact can be lowered and an employee can also be offered services that prevent diseases.
  3. The cost-efficiency of services can be improved. Time is saved when the number of face-to-face meetings can be reduced and the use does not involve all employees at the same time. Digitalisation can bring savings, especially for lifestyle diseases, by preventing diseases and by offering means to increase the effectiveness of treatment.

In a study funded by the Finnish Work Environment Fund, we investigated how the implementation of a digital well-being service can be carried out through employers. We cooperated with two ICT companies. We used an existing application to promote mental well-being (http://oivamieli.fi). Employees were able to use the application either online or by downloading it on their phones. The idea of the application is to offer exercises that last for a couple of minutes to improve mental well-being. The exercises can either be listened to on headphones or read. In previous studies, the application received very positive feedback as a service aimed directly at consumers.

Management support needed

Against our expectations, the implementation of the application in a workplace context encountered obstacles. Only a small portion of employees downloaded the application and used it. On closer examination, a few apparent reasons were revealed: The application was not allowed to be used during working hours and it was not available for use on employees’ Windows phones. We noticed that an excellent application alone is not enough; the use of the application had to be understood as part of other actions for occupational well-being and the rest of the operation of an organisation. We understood that

  1. Implementation must be supported by the management of an organisation. For the management of a company to be able to make a decision on the implementation of an application, the application must prove to have benefits that are closely related to the operation of the organisation. For example, it must have a positive effect on the productivity of an organisation.
  2. The suitability of the content, functionalities and use habits for the work environment affect the use of well-being services. Employees are busy both at work and during their leisure time, and it is not easy to find time to carry out additional tasks. A well-being service must offer clear added value, which could be, for example, learning new skills or improving personal life management.

There is still plenty of room for improvement in the adoption of digital services for occupational well-being, as there is a contradiction between using a smart phone, which is considered private, and well-being training for the benefit of the whole organisation. For example, processing confidential information may raise questions from the perspective of an employee.

It remains to be seen whether Finnish decision-makers have enough courage to demand modern services that genuinely use digitalisation and in what scale the opportunities and benefits of digitalisation are utilised by the management of companies and the occupational health services.

Marja Harjumaa

Senior Scientist

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