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Holding your hand: creating a healthier business

It sounds like a win-win proposal: a cutting-edge new health service which promises to cut employer insurance premiums, boost productivity and create a healthier business.

For all companies, maintaining a healthy bottom line requires a series of dynamics to be working effectively, from an efficient management team to a motivated and engaged workforce.

However, one factor that many companies do not pay enough attention to is the overall health of their employees and their families.

Of course, companies provide a raft of benefits to support workers, from paid sick leave and carers’ leave, to contributions for health insurance packages, but what about support for employees dealing with a long-term illness or an ageing family member? Think of all the every-day frustrations and stresses; the lost minutes and hours spent on the telephone trying to organize medical appointments or to locate the best specialist for a particular condition; the exasperation of explaining your medical history, or that of your loved one, again and again; the work days cut short to sit in a hospital waiting room or to visit an elderly parent who is not coping.

It is a common scenario for many employees trying to juggle full-time work, a family and health issues of their own or those of a family member (or possibly both). In the UK, there are 10 million people who have long-term illnesses that need on-going management, such as diabetes, asthma, cancer and heart disease, a figure that is sadly expected to rise in line with the ageing population.

For employers, making sure employees can effectively and efficiently manage health issues makes sound economic sense. A stressed, distracted employee is obviously a less productive one, and the business also pays the price via higher absenteeism and ever increasing health insurance premiums.

However, what can companies do to create a healthier business?

New Style Patient Advocacy: How It Works

An idea promoted by UK health start-up company Holding Your Hand is a new take on patient advocacy, a service which involves health experts using their knowledge and experience to make it easier for patients to navigate the health system.

Patient advocacy in itself is nothing new. However, the advent of the digital age means that it is now possible to provide a bespoke one-on-one service to multiple individuals a lot more easily than in the past.

This is how it works – a company pays a subscription fee on a monthly or annual basis to cover their workforce.   Each employee who uses the service is appointed a trained ‘medical navigator’, who can guide and support them by:

  • Listening to and understanding their concerns and needs
  • Making phone calls to health services and insurers on their behalf
  • Sitting in on medical appointments, on request
  • Advising which healthcare professionals would be best placed to help them
  • Providing access to relevant, up-to-date research in order to help employees make informed choices

A basic package is available for £25 per individual per month, covering an initial consultation of up to an hour, as well as phone calls to the employees’ doctor and/or consultant.  Premium packages costing from £75-£100 per month include unlimited, 24/7 access to personal health advice.

The service can be tailored to suit people dealing with a wide variety of health issues. Holding Your Hand also specialises in providing packages that cater to family members as well – for example, assisting to develop a care plan for an employee who has a parent with Alzheimer’s disease.

The Benefits

The surface benefits of such an approach are evident: alleviating the stress for people dealing with illness so they can more effectively get on with their everyday lives.

However, according to Holding Your Hand Co-founder Lena Chauhan, the overall benefits are more far-reaching. She says the company’s approach can cut corporate health insurance premiums in the long-term, as well as improving workplace productivity, by empowering individuals to take control of their own healthcare experience.  Armed with relevant knowledge, support and advice, patients are in a better position to make informed decisions. This might mean, for example, a more holistic exercise and healthcare plan instead of an invasive operation.

The old school mentality was that we should just listen to doctors and not question their advice,” Chauhan says. “However, with the over-burdened health service that we have today, doctors are under so much pressure to see as many patients as they can, and a few of them are not as patient-centric as we would like.“The population in general needs to feel more empowered about their health, because, once people are comfortable feeling more responsible, they are more open to helping themselves and looking at all of the alternatives available to them.”

While Holding Your Hand’s corporate service is new to the market – it launched in October – the company has been seeing individual clients since its inception in 2013. Chauhan says their outcome records clearly demonstrate the potential cost saving for companies. Of 212 clients who used the consultancy, 57% decided they did not need an operation to manage their condition.“If we look at how much time people need to take off work when they have an operation for a shoulder problem, for example, avoiding that operation through a more holistic approach would in itself save thousands of pounds,” Chauhan says.

Strong Foundations

Chauhan’s own experience dealing with the illness of her mother-in-law is a poignant example, and the reason she first became involved with Holding Your Hand, the brain-child of former cancer surgeon Dr Sarvi Eastell.Chauhan’s mother-in-law had been in agony with recurrent back pain and had been told that she needed a spine operation, despite a big risk of infection and complications. The situation was having a big impact on the family, and Chauhan was struggling with the role of caring for her mother-in-law, on top of her responsibilities as a high-powered financial broker and the mother of two toddlers. She sought advice from Dr Eastell, a friend and fellow parent at her sons’ school. “Dr Eastell took a look at my mother-in-law’s medical history, and her scans, and then sought the opinion of an Orthopaedic Surgical Registrar, Ross Coomber, who is also one of the Co-founders of Holding Your Hand,” Chauhan explains.

“They both agreed that she didn’t need surgery; that, instead, she needed to find the right physiotherapist. We found a physiotherapist who fitted my mother-in-law’s profile, one who had done previous work with that particular condition, with that particular age group. “She had eight sessions with the physiotherapist, and then he told her that she would need to do a set of back exercises every day for ten to fifteen minutes, and she would continue to feel fine. She has done so, and she doesn’t need an operation. She is now a lot more open-minded and has bought into the concept of taking responsibility for her health. It has changed her life, and also changed ours.”

Chauhan was so impressed by the experience that, after 20 years in the financial services industry dealing with banks, hedge funds and private investors, she resigned her job to join Dr Eastell. She is now among a notable team of experts at the health start-up.  Spearheaded by Dr Eastell, who has worked extensively within the NHS and was herself inspired by personal experience with the health system, Holding Your Hand’s Co-Founders also include digital expert James Stevens.  The board of advisors includes Tom Sackville, the Chief Executive of the International Federation of Health Plans, and a former Minister in various UK government departments, including the Department of Health; Roger Taylor, a consumer affairs advocate and newspaper correspondent who helped to establish NHS Choices;  and renowned surgeon Mr Omar Faiz. Chauhan says the company is focused on engaging with new clients and has recently inked deals with two international financial services companies, including one that covers around 1000 employees based in the UK and Europe.

“Our focus is showing employers what we can offer as a benefit to their workers, “she enthuses. “We do what we say on the tin! And, ultimately, from a corporate perspective, we lower insurance premiums. Hardline business has to be about looking at cost base, and so if we can lower costs, people are open to speaking with us.”

At a Glance: Holding Your Hand

Q: What does the company do?:

Holding Your Hand is a health care consultancy service which employs trained advisors to guide and support an individual or a member of their family through a healthcare experience.

Q: How does it work?

The advisor works with the client to reduce the administrative burden, help with fact finding, clarify information and assist in appointment bookings, with the aim of empowering the client to make informed decisions about their health care.

Q: How does it work with businesses?

Holding Your Hand provides employer packages to cover all members of a workforce. Charges start from £25 per month per individual.

For more information:

Getting Back to Work

As well as assisting employees in the workplace, Holding Your Hand is helping people who need the flexibility to return to paid employment.

The company is training 15 people as advisors, who will work from home at hours to suit their lifestyle. The candidates chosen for the program are unable to hold down a full-time office role for a range of reasons, such as being the main carer for children or living with a disability.

Chauhan says working online makes it possible for the company to employ a wider pool of employees. “All of our medical navigation programs are available virtually and online,” she adds.

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