Oct 4, 2021
Behind the Scenes: Cigna's Innovation Lab for Behavioral Health

At Cigna, delivering on our mission to improve the health, well-being and peace of mind of those we serve through simple, affordable and predictable health care is rooted in everything that we do as an organization. And we’re putting forth the time and resources to make this mission a reality.

Case in point: Our Behavioral Center of Excellence (BCoE), which was launched in July of 2018 as an innovation lab of sorts, with the aim of enabling Cigna teams to address the challenges both our customers and employees face. The team, which consults business leaders across Cigna as well as our commercial business clients, takes a data-driven approach to innovation, rapidly moving new services to the market that meet the needs of today’s health care consumers. The BCoE is responsible for keeping Cigna ahead of the industry curve through anticipation of emerging health care trends and personalization. The team is comprised of both clinical and non-clinical roles, with a wide array of expertise and skillsets such as data and analytics, workplace well-being, behavioral health, and more. 

“Ultimately, the BCoE will influence and consult across all buyer groups and verticals in order to drive continuous improvement to our behavioral strategy for customers as well as to find ways to foster a culture of well-being for Cigna employees,” said Rebecca Quade, chief operating officer of the BCoE. “This consistent focus is required for true innovation, business growth, and ensuring that Cigna is the behavioral partner of choice.” 


Image: At its last team meeting pre-COVID, the BCoE did a community service event at Feed My Starving Children. Part of the team is pictured there, above.


Below we take a look at some of the innovation that’s launching from the team in time for “World Mental Health Day.”

Connection Circles to Foster Employee Well-Being and Resilience in the Workplace

Connection Circles is a program we tested with both Cigna employees and Cigna Total Behavioral Health clients that promotes overall wellness, aims to reduce loneliness, and increase resiliency in the workforce and community. The goal of the program is to have participants learn the importance of making meaningful connections, learn skills to engage with others on a deeper level, and gain a better understanding of self-care.

Loneliness and the Workplace: 2020 U.S. Report

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The program was launched at the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, where companies quickly learned that making personal connections in a virtual setting could be challenging. This program allows individuals to connect better with colleagues and gives them the tools to teach others how to do the same.

Each Connection Circle is limited to 14-16 participants who meet for six 40-minute sessions over the course of approximately two months. Each discussion is led by a facilitator from Cigna with the intention of training circle participants to be facilitators to keep the circles going within their own workforce. Prior to each session featuring a new topic, participants are asked to review videos and articles, and then share what they learned and what they put into practice between sessions. 

Our initial pre and post survey results reflected that participants had a statistically significant reduction in depression and had meaningful improvement in their loneliness after they completed a Connection Circle.  We are very excited to have completed testing and to be offering this program more broadly to more of Cigna's clients.

Emergency Responder and Public Safety Clinical Certification

First responders – police, firefighters and EMTs, to name a few – are the people who rush into the scene when others are fleeing danger. They are the protectors and the helping hands, saving lives day in and day out, while often placing themselves into harm’s way. Their jobs can take a toll on their emotional well-being.

That’s why last year, Cigna partnered with The National Emergency Responder and Public Safety Center to make sure that frontline workers have access to the mental health support they need to help overcome daily challenges they encounter. As part of the partnership, Cigna secured a discount for providers within Cigna's behavioral health network who were granted access to the Emergency Responder and Public Safety Clinical Certification training program to help behavioral health providers better understand and address the unique mental health needs of emergency responders.  The goal was to ensure Cigna has a robust network of providers who understand the unique needs of Emergency Responders and their families.

The program is an assessment-based training and certification which includes 40 hours of education, training and resources. Providers who complete this training are identified in the MyCigna.com directory with a special badge, which makes it easier for emergency responders to identify those with this specialized training.

Mental Health Awareness and Education

In 2018, Cigna started offering Mental Health First Aid Certification, which is an 8-hour, skills-based training, based on a set curriculum developed by the National Council of Mental Well-being. It teaches participants how to recognize and support an individual who is experiencing a mental health problem or a crisis until professional help is available.  As one of our clients shared, “I’m very happy to share that I was able to apply what I learned in the mental health training earlier today. An employee was suffering from an anxiety attack and she asked me to help – I wasn’t afraid to jump in and help and really, that’s probably what helped – being there for her. I spoke to her in a calm, soothing voice and had her focus on her breaths, breathing with her and guiding her to relaxing her mind. I was so happy to be able to help her and the class is what gave me confidence to do so.”

As the pandemic continues, the demand for mental health education grows, and so the BCoE leaned on the clinical expertise of the team to develop additional training. Cigna is launching two new educational offerings for our clients and their employees to help raise awareness and education of mental health challenges in the United States. We created a 1-hour seminar with a licensed behavioral clinician that covers mental health stigma, prevalence and resources. This is a service to our clients that is intended for audiences of up to 100 employees.

Additionally, Mental Health Recognition and Response is an interactive training, also provided by our licensed behavioral clinicians, and is tailored to people managers and human resources professionals. It is focused on providing a high-level understanding of mental health issues and how to respond appropriately to a mental health problem or crisis. The team also recently completed filming a two-part video series for this training to provide an example of a manager having a difficult discussion with their employee.


Image: The BCoE filming a two-part series to educate managers on how to have tough conversations with their team members.

A Toolkit for Practicing Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the practice of bringing attention and awareness to the present moment, instead of worrying about the past or the future. Research shows that practicing mindfulness may help build resilience and improve mental health, blood pressure and heart health, focus and emotional control and even immune response.

To foster mindfulness among the workforce we added enhancements to our Changing Lives by Integrating Mind and Body (CLIMB) program. The CLIMB program, which is available to Cigna Total Behavioral Health clients, helps to incorporate mindfulness and stress management in a person’s everyday life through educational podcasts, guided mindfulness sessions and a referral-based coaching program.

Changing Lives by Integrating Mind and Body (CLIMB)

Learn to live more fully in the moment using our mindfulness and stress management podcasts.

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Separately, Cigna also partnered with Happify, an app that uses science-based activities and games to help employees improve emotional well-being. The app helps users overcome negative thoughts, stress and life’s challenges, build optimism, and gain self-confidence and self-esteem. And it’s accessible 24/7 via phone, tablet or computer.

“COVID-19 has pushed people to have conversations around mental health and to seek help,” Quade said. “At Cigna, understanding and finding ways to solve the mental health epidemic is a business imperative. This is why we formed this BCoE team that is responsible to enable us all to drive very much needed change. While we know there is more work to do, we are proud of the programs and initiatives that we’ve rolled out over the last year, and we will continue to innovate and reimagine our approach to mental health and well-being.”