Employee Health Management Part 1

The following is a transcription from a webinar we hosted with Synbella, a corporate wellness program coordinator.

Employee wellness is a huge topic and growing area. I’ve been in it about 12-15 years and I have seen major changes. I’ve seen it start with only the largest corporations being a part of it to now it’s really trickling down to all levels, because we’re all beginning to understand that this has a much greater return than just the healthcare investment dollars. Now, we’re looking at employee productivity, lessened absenteeism, and happy, healthy workers and we know that is the type of talent we want. We’re facing a huge national challenge here. We spend $2.2 trillion annually on health care and this is only rising. People are getting sicker and sicker and it is very difficult with society the way it is. Basically, the cards are not stacked in our favor in society; we have a food system that is much less than perfect, we have a very inactive society with people sitting all day long, and we have a lot of negativity in our society and of course, mental issues eventually trickle down into the body and manifest in physical issues. It’s finally happening that Westernized medicine, the medical system that we know here in the United States, is attributing 85 or more percent of diseases to the mental stressors that are out there. So managing employee stress is becoming more and more important and we’re finally starting to see that. 

Population Health Management (PHM) is a term that has become pretty popular in the wellness world. I hear a lot of people ask “What’s the difference between wellness and population health management?”. What I like to tell them is PHM is an umbrella term that really started out with the world health organization (WHO). This is when they were looking at PHM of the humans on earth. So the health of the entire world. That has slowly trickled down to the health care in certain countries. Obviously, Europe is going to be way different than America and how we’re looking at things, what is allowed in our food systems, the lotions we put on our body, I mean you name it, everything is different there than it is here so we’re having different ailments and issues that are arising. This has even trickled down to states, counties, communities, and hospitals. Hospitals are beginning to focus on the PHM of their patients and now we’re in that last decade or two, a real strong commitment by employers to manage the health of their employees. 

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When we look at the continuum of care, we definitely want to look at preventative lifestyle choices. We want to set up community, our office buildings, and our office spaces to maximize health for our employees. When we look at preventative care, there is something called gaps in care and what we’re talking about there is whether people have been given the appropriate vaccines, are they seeing their doctor annually, are they going for age appropriate screenings such as mammograms or PSA testing. When people are engaged with their physician in that way, they are going to have things detected much earlier than if they’re not seeing their doctor and they don’t have that relationship. There are a lot of ways to look at this. There is something called the ACE report, the Annual Customer Evaluation which comes out of Blue Cross; HAP has different ones. So all these health care providers or insurance providers have these annual reports that you can look at and you can find out what percent of your employees visit their PCP annually. You can see want percent of your employees have gaps in care. How many of them are not getting their mammograms? How many of them are not going to get these certain screenings? By knowing these things, you can drive home a campaign surrounding that. Tell your employees it is very important to have these relationships and engage your employees with a physician to help stop this. Of course, PHM also has disease management (DM), case management (CM), and medication adherence (ex. diabetic). If a diabetic is not adhering to their medication, most likely they are going to end up in the ER. The cost of that ER visit is so much higher than trying to keep that person on their medicine. Proper care and follow up from surgeries or any type of medical procedures are very important because that is when issues can arise. And of course, PHM is also data integration and what I mean by that is many of us how so much data sitting in different silos. We have a workers comp pile with all this data and we have a health care pile with all this data. We also know how often people are absent and maybe we’re tracking productivity, but all of this information is sitting in these separate piles and there are programs out there, PHM systems and health management systems. One large example you may have heard of is called Verisk, which is basically a platform that can pull all this information together so you can look at it in a very holistic picture. 

So again, PHM is kind of this umbrella and in that case, wellness is the “back half” of that. So we’re looking at the numbers of what we’re gathering with the PHM, and we’re applying it to a program on site. What I mean by that is the education piece such as lunch and learns, e-learning, support programs, health fairs, newsletters, wellness committees, flu shots, and so on. If we know that all the things we see from these annual evaluations is that 60 percent of our employees are overweight, then we know we want to focus on weight loss. Maybe it is fitness, maybe it is nutrition, it could be hands-on participation programs. It really is going to work differently for everyone depending on the culture. What type of culture do you have? Do you have a lot of Millennials or do you have mostly Baby Boomers? This will determine the type of program you will need. Are they tech savvy or are they not? Are they someone who needs people to sit there and hold them accountable or do they prefer to do things at their own leisure? It is important to understand your options and be able to pull that in to determine what is appropriate for your employee base.

There are a lot of trends with engagement, but one of the new things I am excited about seeing has been this missing link which is the mind, body, and spirit integration. We’re looking at stress way more now than we ever have. We’re beginning to understand that stress is an important pillar that makes up a person. We really need to focus on what makes our employees stressed. Sometimes that can be found through surveys and questionnaires. There are a lot of ways to identify what is stressing out your employees. If you put together a program to help them, you’re going to help them in the long-term with their health. There are different types of incentives and rewards that can be used to encourage participation. You can get really creative with your incentives and rewards. You can do a bank of wellness banks where employees can leave early two hours early on a certain day, or if they bank enough they can have a paid off day. You can do jeans days, or pick parking spots and have it go to the person with the most wellness points. There are so many that are free and that you can implement without actually having that budget. There is also this idea of carrot vs stick. Different people respond differently to the carrot vs the stick (incentives). There is a lot of studies out there that talk about readiness for change and the behavior around change when it comes to health. These are worth looking into and understanding what works for what part of your population.  

There are a lot of industry cross-currents around wellness. People ask does it work? It does work and it is easier to see how it works if you define your success. What I mean by that is up until now, so many companies have been throwing things at the wall trying to figure out what works with wellness. A big part of this is surveying your employees to find out what they will actually participate in like we mentioned earlier. It is very important to understand there is no one-size-fits-all with wellness. Measuring the program isn’t just about the return on invest, it is also about the value on investment. We all know a healthy culture just makes sense. This is a very intuitive understanding. Doing nothing is less and less acceptable. Millennials really value their health, which is wonderful to see, but it is tough for employers because they’re going to have to figure out how to bring their workers into their workforce and make them happy. We used to hear questions such as “Why are we doing this?” and now we’re hearing “What and how am I going to do this?”.

Come back for part two.