Digital Health: Its Potential to Modernize Benefits and Improve Member Health Outcomes

Small Business Canada

Colleen Adams, Manager of Health & Digital Product Solutions for Medavie Blue Cross

Colleen Adams is Manager of Health & Digital Product Solutions for Medavie Blue Cross. Colleen plays a lead role in strategic partnerships and product development across group business with a focus on solutions that leverage technology and industry trends. Colleen has championed digital health as a tool to modernize benefits and improve member health outcomes while supporting plan sustainability. She has a strong background in marketing and channel development and has worked with some of Canada’s leading healthcare companies. She holds a Bachelor of Business Administration, with distinction.

When did you start your career? Describe your journey as the manager of health and digital product solutions at Medavie Blue Cross?

Since graduating from university in 2001, I have been growing my career in product development with a focus on innovation in health care. I am curious by nature, I have always been drawn to big challenges, and am relentless in my drive to find solutions that push the status quo. I joined Medavie Blue Cross ten years ago with a focus on wellness products which eventually grew into a leadership role overseeing all health benefits and building our digital product solutions team. Today, my role focuses on building short and long-term strategic product roadmaps to continuously hone our value proposition, deliver industry-leading solutions and help transform the delivery of health care for our members. 

As the pandemic era has undoubtedly increased the need for mental health support, what do you have to say about the latest Canadian mental health benefit trends?

According to our latest data, mental health has become one of the fastest-growing and leading causes of disability claims in Canada. In 2021, Medavie Blue Cross saw a 34 percent increase in paramedical mental health benefits spending. This is a trend that we think will continue to increase and, in my opinion, is a good sign. It means more people are taking a proactive approach to their health, choosing to engage in self-care and opting to help themselves build resilience, overcome obstacles and deal with life’s challenges by accessing the mental health support they need.   

Why are the mental health benefits more popular among young Canadians? What is making them choose these benefits?

Benefit claims for the services of a psychologist or other mental health practitioner are becoming more popular with younger Canadian plan members, according to our data. This trend doesn’t mean they’re more likely to deal with mental health distress, but rather shows increasing acceptance by Gen Z and Millennials in accessing mental health supports when they need them. In fact, according to a recent poll, conducted in March 2022, more than four-in-five Canadians (84 percent) aged 18-34 said mental health benefits – including in-person counselling and/or virtual therapy – are important to them. This trend shows us that the stigma around seeking mental health support isn’t as dominant as it once was, and people are getting the help they need, where and when they need it. 

With the services of a psychologist or other mental health practitioner becoming more popular among younger Canadian plan members, what is your opinion about destigmatizing mental health supports and making it ok to ask for help?

Early findings of a five-year study through the Observatoire sur la santé et le mieux-être au travail (OSMET), sponsored by Medavie Blue Cross, show that more than one-in-three working Canadians are experiencing some form of mental distress. This data shows those dealing with mental health challenges are not alone and it’s important for employers to establish accessible and effective support in the workplace. We want to continue to destigmatize mental health and empower and equip people to make their mental health a priority. 

How do you think the offering of robust mental health support for employees will help businesses in this new normal world?

As businesses adapt to a new normal and a changing work environment, so too should benefit plans. For an organization, this means offering a wide range of mental health services and supports through a combination of traditional and newer options, such as in-person therapy plus virtual alternatives like internet-enabled Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (iCBT), pharmacogenetic testing, mindfulness programs and so on. By providing a flexible and inclusive mental health benefits package, organizations can play an important role in their employees’ overall health and wellbeing.

What specific advice do you have for the young Canadians who are creating awareness of mental health benefits?

We’ve made great strides when it comes to raising awareness of mental health benefits, but there is still work to be done. I would encourage young Canadians to continue their efforts in shifting the narrative about getting help and understanding it’s okay to be not okay. They can lead the way for other generations and play a pivotal role in the normalization of mental health awareness in the workplace. 

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