The impact of early intervention services on group income protection claims

early intervention

Need to know

  • Workplace health and wellbeing strategies that incorporate early intervention services can improve employee health and reduce absence costs.
  • Providing access to fast and confidential advice, support and treatment services at the earliest stage of a health problem reduces both the likelihood of a long-term absence from work, and the need to make a group income protection claim.
  • The key to effective early intervention in staff health issues is good communication of the confidential support services that are available.

The old saying ‘prevention is better than cure’ certainly rings true in the workplace, where employee absence is costing the British economy £18 billion in lost productivity, according to the Change at work report published by the Centre of Economic and Business Research in March 2017.

Long-term sickness absence is a particular challenge. In their efforts to tackle the problem, many employers are incorporating early intervention services into their workplace wellbeing strategies with the aim of improving employee health and reducing the cost impact of long-term absence.

Preventative wellbeing measures
These services take various forms, and can include access to employee assistance programmes (EAPs), virtual GP services via video link or phone, health risk assessments linked to wearable devices, and occupational health. Some services are offered as part of a group income protection (GIP) product and provide dedicated client relationship managers and claims specialists.

The result is a broad network of services encapsulating the employee benefits offering that can intervene in the earliest stages of mental and physical health issues with advice or fast-tracked medical care.

Adrian Humphreys, director, group risk and healthcare at JLT Employee Benefits, says: “The purpose is to join up the network of various in-house and bought-in suppliers to ensure that illnesses are picked up early and best directed to the quickest possible route for recovery and that the employee either does not leave work or returns very speedily. Quick access to one-to-one counselling can make all the difference and support an employee before they even have to take time off work.”

Mental health issues and musculoskeletal problems are among the biggest causes of sickness absence. Early intervention services can play a key role in reducing sickness absence and the associated costs of both.

EAPs and mental health services can be very effective early interventions in cases of mild-to-moderate mental health problems, says Eugene Farrell vice chair of the UK Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA). “Early intervention, before the issue grows out of proportion, is a good thing,” he explains. “Swift access to help via an EAP, which is a completely confidential service, provides that safe early intervention that individuals might be looking for.”

Early intervention
GIP providers are now focusing on front-end early intervention, as well as the longer-term absence cases. “Some are providing EAPs now, and that’s because early intervention will negate some of those claims,” adds Farrell. “We are also seeing more discussion and openness around mental health, which has helped to make people feel more confident about using mental health services. That has to be better for the long term.”

Musculoskeletal claims represent the biggest group of claims by sector, with self-help and self-guidance counting for approximately 34% of musculoskeletal referrals, according to Paul Roberts, strategic consultant at health and wellbeing firm IHC.

“If intervention takes place within the first two weeks of a condition becoming known about, [individuals] are able to recover with a tailored exercise programme, which includes access to an online database and video-based guidance,” he says. “Early intervention helps to signpost the employee to the right resource and treatment, gets them back to work, and can prevent a GIP claim progressing at all.”

Any intervention that provides that early support and reduces absence should, in theory, reduce the likelihood of GIP claims arising.

Robin Watkins, client relationship director at employee benefits provider Broadstone, says: “Statistics suggest that early intervention limits the number of claims that go into payment by facilitating a return to work, or simply providing the support to avoid someone going absent in the first place. They also suggest that proactive support of someone who is absent can reduce the length of a claim too.”

However, many employers still do not fully understand the benefits of proactive early support, and do not necessarily know what is available to them, adds Watkins.

“We still hear the occasional employer saying, typically, when they are late in notifying a claim, ‘We thought they would be back to work by now’,” he explains. “There are so many early intervention services provided by insurers and other organisations, my suggestion would be to weave the benefits and assistance together, badge it as wellbeing, or simply see it as a way of supporting [employees] while ensuring that the business is healthy too. Using the right language to communicate the support on offer is a priority.”

Utilising the early intervention services available, therefore, may have a positive impact on GIP claims.