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"Unmentionables" session at Health 2.0 addresses vulnerability

Mari Edlin

The "Unmentionables" session at Health 2.0 seems to be almost an anomaly among the predictably young group of entrepreneurial attendees, but apparently there are some topics that are not discussed in healthcare, from divorce, work stress and alcoholism to sex and suicide.

This year's issues fit the bill with presentations on caregiving, women and wine, vulnerability, aging, obesity and cancer and fertility.

Thirteen-year-old Eliza Corporation, almost a dinosaur in the health engagement management space, has added another product to its portfolio, the Vulnerability Index (VI), which predicts the relationship between coping mechanisms and their effect on health status, the likelihood of having certain health conditions and associated costs.

"We have a lot of scars through our many interactions with consumers but we have learned what not to do," said Alex Drane, chief visionary officer and chair of the board of Eliza, who also moderated the Unmentionables panel.

Eliza has partnered with the Altarum Institute to analyze results from applying the VI, while Cigna and other national plans have piloted the tool among members.

The index bases its data on three primary life obstacles - financial stress, relationship issues and caregiving - barriers almost everyone can relate to. It correlates that information with three buffers that enhance life, which are social support, spirituality and exercise, and three magnifiers that can potentially trigger stress - sleep issues, feeling sad or worried and substance use, not abuse.

Wendy Lynch, co-director, Center for Consumer Choice in Health Care at the Altarum Institute, said that people can have stressors but must learn how to balance buffers and magnifiers. The VI was put to the test in two different studies, one retrospective and the other prospective, looking six months out.

Study results tied higher vulnerability to those who experience more illness, specifically mental health, back pain and diabetes, and utilize more medications - three times more in fact. People with more life obstacles were far more likely to report bad health, while those with fewer barriers were three times more likely to report excellent health.

Researchers also found that vulnerability predicts increased likelihood of an individual being among the top 5 percent in healthcare spending.

"The Index focuses on life, not just health. It helps us redefine healthcare," Lynch said. "We want to reach people where it matters." She also pointed out that the index results validate the way people deal with life.

The VI is targeting health plans and employer groups who could use the tool to reach out and engage members/employees and help them achieve a better life balance.

"We started hearing people say they won't make certain changes because they can't, which led us to believe that some problems were really life challenges," Drane said. "There are things that are difficult to discuss when people are under stress, and they lead to more illness and higher healthcare costs."

Data from Eliza show that people eagerly welcome support in balancing their lives.

Almost counterintuitive, Drane believes that a company's revenue is its best source of funding. "When companies receive too much funding too quickly, they feel an obligation to provide results to their investors without time for any feedback. Instead Eliza is more raw, giving us the luxury of paying more attention to our customers," she said.

"We have always been laser-focused on what the marketplace needs, which is why we are where we are today," Drane said. "We were profitable after two years. I don't understand the rationale of some companies that soon after they start, they are already looking for an exit strategy. What about building value?"

Drane admitted, however, that two years ago for the first time, Eliza took on institutional capital with a growth investment from Parthenon Capital Partners.

[Photo by - Life Mental Health]

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