As global competition continues to rise, employers are increasingly finding the importance in a healthy and productive work force. Employees’ health has both a direct and indirect impact on an employer’s bottom line, and to battle these costs, more employers are focusing on wellness programs, according to Change Agent Work Group.
In fact, in a recent CAWG webinar on wellness, Kate Kohn-Parrott, president and CEO of Greater Detroit Area Health Council, noted that employees’ lifestyles made a huge impact on an employer’s financial situation because many of the diseases suffered by the population, such as diabetes, are directly related to poor health decisions.
“We recognized very quickly that the lifestyles our employees led were driving a lot of our costs and that we had a variety of controllable lifestyle conditions,” Kohn-Parrott said.
According to "Employer Health Asset Management: A Roadmap for Improving the Health of Your Employees and Your Organization," a guide published by CAWG that outlines how employers can introduce cost-effective employee health programs, there are seven elements requiring involvement and accountability from employers and employees that should be conducted in order to implement a successful wellness program.
Develop and embrace an organizational vision of health
The first element is developing and embracing an organizational vision of health. Many employers first focus on the importance of employee health by reducing short-term medical costs; however, research shows that a short-term focus on medical costs – instead of a strategic vision of employee health – only provides limited results. Rather, employers should focus on making employee health a central part of the organizational vision.
“Once an organization establishes a vision of a healthy and productive work force, it must support the programs that improve employee health with funding and with workplace policies that complement healthy values,” Employer Health Asset Management states.
Senior management commitment and participation
Employers should then secure senior management commitment and participation. When it comes to implementation, senior leadership is responsible for ensuring that all managers recognize their own responsibilities in the culture of health because they lead the way for establishing the programs and policies designed to encourage healthier lifestyles for employees. Often it takes evidence and research to show these senior leaders the financial correlation between productivity and healthy employees.
“To make a real difference in employee health and productivity, the senior management team must be committed to improving the overall health of the workforce,” Employer Health Asset Management states. “Senior leadership sets the tone for a culture of health, and employees are much more likely to participate when they know that CEOs, trustees and senior managers are actively engaged.”
Address workplace policies and the work environment
Workplace policies as well as the work environment should completely support the health goals of an organization. For example, many employers now have smoke-free workplace policies. There is already precedence for this as many employers already have policies that guide employee behavior, such as safety policies, in place.
“When a substantial portion of the employer’s health care costs result from unhealthy lifestyle choices made by employees, health policies are as important as safety policies,” Employer Health Asset Management states. “Written policies do a good job defining and communicating expectations.”
Identify diagnostics, informatics and metrics
Although few employers keep an integrated data warehouse that can produce all needed metrics and measurements to analyze what contributes to the total cost of poor health and the true impact of health initiatives, there are vendors in the health benefits and analytics marketplace that can help. Some vendors offer standalone products to provide a comprehensive analysis while other tools can be enhanced for a more complete picture.
“Once the employee population is stratified, management can select specific prevention and intervention strategies that will have the greatest impact on health status, healthcare costs and health-related productivity,” Employer Health Asset Management states. “Programs should also address employee relations and morale and job satisfaction, as well as discrete improvements in measurable biometrics such as blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and stress levels.”
Set health goals and program elements
When setting goals, it is better to tie them to improvements than fixed endpoints. To do so, employers should focus on treating high-risk employees by putting them on the road to better health and helping healthy employees maintain their good habits. Health programs should be implemented because of their abilities to push trends in the right direction and accelerate the pace of improvement.
“Many organizations use incentives as a way to promote healthy employee behavioral changes,” Employer Health Asset Management states. “Incentives range from cash cards and reward points for catalog shopping to a reduction in co-pays or premium contributions. Incentives drive participation, participation drives health improvement, and health improvement drives cost and productivity improvement.”
Create a value-based plan design
As more employers are considering cost-sharing approaches, they should look at a model that is based on the value of particular benefits to individual patients. Most of today’s cost-sharing models take a one-size-fits-all approach, but employers can better control costs by implementing a value-based plan design, which tailors co-payments to the evidence-based value of specific services for targeted groups of patients.
“The approach can help mitigate a key downside of cost sharing by reducing financial barriers to critical medical services and medicines,” Employer Health Asset Management states. “Many organizations still rely on benefit designs created years ago with little understanding of healthcare cost drivers and followed the lead of competitors without thinking through how well a benefit design would fit within their own organization.”
Integrate patient-centered medical home and chronic care management
To provide comprehensive primary care and attain better health outcomes, a patient-centered medical home model is recommended. With a PCMH, each patient has a continuing relationship with a personal physician trained to provide ongoing, comprehensive care.
“Many employers and fund trustees understand the value of prevention and are receptive to the PCMH concept,” Employer Health Asset Management states. “They see it as a way to improve preventive care and chronic care management. For those patients whose diseases need to be closely managed to prevent their health from deteriorating, the PCMH provides an integrated approach to care. Chronic care management through the PCMH can reduce the costs related to uncontrolled health conditions.”