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Employers trim waistlines, budget lines with wellness programs

Worksite health management programs improving company morale

Written By: Henry Ross, CEO

At a time when businesses of all sizes are trimming the fat out of their budgets, their commitment to literally trimming fat out of their employee’s waistlines is stronger than ever. A recent survey by Buck Consulting showed that 87 percent of responding employers consider worksite wellness to be very important. And even in these tough economic times, nearly 20 percent said they plan to increase their health insurance budget, and 59 percent expect funding to stay the same. The reason why wellness programs are seemingly immune to financial hits is simple: they work.

Worksite health-management programs have been proven to improve morale, increase productivity, decrease absenteeism and lower health-related costs. And at a time when healthcare costs continue to escalate, workplace wellness initiatives are viewed as an effective and positive way to reduce costs long-term.
With so many choices among wellness program partners, it can be difficult to decide which will best meet the needs of your company and your workforce. The most logical place to start is with your local hospital. Hospitals offer valuable resources in a wide variety of areas through their medical staff, existing services and road-tested health education programs. Best of all, hospital-employer partnerships have shown to be cost-effective, accessible and trusted.
The best hospital-employer partnerships should include these seven elements:

  1. Personal health profiles – These surveys, completed by employees, collect demographic data on each employee along with such important information as health plan participation, family history, physician relationships and selected health metrics, including blood pressure and glucose readings. Information gained through these surveys also helps identify any existing or potential health issues, such as an employee who is diabetic, has hypertension or smokes. Many employers encourage employees’ spouses to complete personal health profiles, too, as family members are often covered by an employer-sponsored benefit package and so their health risks have a direct bearing on a company’s healthcare expenditures.
  2. Personal health reports – These reports are a compilation of the information collected through the personal health profiles – prepared for and delivered confidentially to each respondent. The reports provide useful information for employees to discuss with their personal physicians and can provide some guidance as to healthy lifestyle habits and which hospital-sponsored programs might help them improve their health or mitigate health risks.
  3. An aggregated report for the employer – By combining all employees’ responses to the personal health profiles into one comprehensive, de-identified report, employers get a snapshot of the overall health of their workforce. It allows you to pay particular attention to those conditions that affect a high number of employees. You may find a high incidence of back problems, high cholesterol or pre-diabetic risks, issues that can be addressed as a group through bringing in speakers, launching organized group efforts, establishing intervention-reward programs or simply providing ongoing education.
  4. Health screenings – Your local hospital can provide screenings for diabetes, colorectal cancer, high cholesterol and hypertension – all of which allows you to identify and tackle health concerns before they become costly chronic conditions. Most hospitals will conduct these tests for very nominal costs … money well-spent if more serious (and costly) problems can be averted.
  5. Health Information Centers – These centers can take many forms. The most effective are visually appealing displays that are mounted to the walls of break rooms, cafeterias or employee lounges and serve as a highly visible focal point for the distribution of health-related information and educational materials. Health information centers provide the opportunity for you to visibly demonstrate the company’s commitment to good health and wellness promotion. And at a time when so many employees are seeing benefit takeaways, that’s a great message to send.
  6. Educational presentations or workshops – Hospitals often will offer lunchtime lectures led by medical professionals as well as classes or workshops on such topics as smoking cessation, diabetes management, weight loss and nutrition. These presentations can be custom built and targeted toward those employees that would benefit most.
  7. Consistency – Many health plans offer health risk assessments or other wellness tools and encourage employers to take advantage of these. But if the company changes its benefits providers or an employee switches to a different insurance company during open enrollment, the data collected is lost and the employee must start over. Most local hospitals have made significant investments in their communities and are committed to doing whatever they can to be the centerpiece of health and well-being there. Partnering with them on worksite wellness initiatives, rather than with your health plan, allows you to follow the effectiveness of your company’s health initiative over time and truly measure results.

The days of simply helping to fund health insurance are long gone. Employers have found that true bottom-line benefit only materializes when they become proactively involved in employee health. Fortunately, there are many things employers can do today without spending a fortune to make this happen. All across the country, one of the best approaches has shown to be partnering with the local hospital. Doing so is fiscally prudent, enhances productivity, and holds the local hospitals more accountable than ever for providing programs and services that truly match the current and future health needs of the community. What’s more, such an effort directly aligns the incentives of local employers with local healthcare providers in a way that makes them true partners in community health … just as they should be.

About the Author
Henry Ross is the president and chief executive officer of Aegis Health Group, a Brentwood, Tennessee-based, company that has been helping hospitals and health systems build strong relationships with local employers and physicians for 20 years. Mr. Ross joined Aegis in 2000 and has nearly 30 years’ experience in healthcare management. He earned an MBA from Southern Methodist University in Dallas and a Bachelor of Arts from Texas Tech University in Lubbock.

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