As global competition continues to rise, employers areincreasingly finding the importance in a healthy and productivework force. Employees' health has both a direct and indirect impacton an employer's bottom line, and to battle these costs, moreemployers are focusing on wellness programs, according to ChangeAgent Work Group.


In fact, in a recent CAWG webinar on wellness, KateKohn-Parrott, president and CEO of Greater Detroit Area HealthCouncil, noted that employees' lifestyles made a huge impact on anemployer's financial situation because many of the diseasessuffered by the population, such as diabetes, are directly relatedto poor health decisions.


“We recognized very quickly that the lifestyles our employeesled were driving a lot of our costs and that we had a variety ofcontrollable lifestyle conditions,” Kohn-Parrott said.


According to “Employer Health Asset Management: A Roadmap forImproving the Health of Your Employees and Your Organization,” aguide published by CAWG that outlines how employers can introducecost-effective employee health programs, there are seven elementsrequiring involvement and accountability from employers andemployees that should be conducted in order to implement asuccessful wellness program.

Develop a vision of health 

The first element is developing and embracing an organizationalvision of health. Many employers first focus on the importance ofemployee health by reducing short-term medical costs; however,research shows that a short-term focus on medical costs—instead ofa strategic vision of employee health—only provides limitedresults. Rather, employers should focus on making employee health acentral part of the organizational vision.


“Once an organization establishes a vision of a healthy andproductive work force, it must support the programs that improveemployee health with funding and with workplace policies thatcomplement healthy values,” Employer Health Asset Managementstates.

Senior management commitment andparticipation

Employers should then secure senior management commitment andparticipation. When it comes to implementation, senior leadershipis responsible for ensuring that all managers recognize their ownresponsibilities in the culture of health because they lead the wayfor establishing the programs and policies designed to encouragehealthier lifestyles for employees. Often it takes evidence andresearch to show these senior leaders the financial correlationbetween productivity and healthy employees.


 “To make a real difference in employee health andproductivity, the senior management team must be committed toimproving the overall health of the work force,” Employer HealthAsset Management states. “Senior leadership sets the tone for aculture of health, and employees are much more likely toparticipate when they know that CEOs, trustees and senior managersare actively engaged.”

Address workplace policies and the workenvironment

Workplace policies as well as the work environment shouldcompletely support the health goals of an organization. Forexample, many employers now have smoke-free workplace policies.There is already precedence for this as many employers already havepolicies that guide employee behavior, such as safety policies, inplace.


“When a substantial portion of the employer's health care costsresult from unhealthy lifestyle choices made by employees, healthpolicies are as important as safety policies,” Employer HealthAsset Management states. “Written policies do a good job definingand communicating expectations.”


Identify diagnostics, informatics andmetrics

Although few employers keep an integrated data warehouse thatcan produce all needed metrics and measurements to analyze whatcontributes to the total cost of poor health and the true impact ofhealth initiatives, there are vendors in the health benefits andanalytics marketplace that can help. Some vendors offer standaloneproducts to provide a comprehensive analysis while other tools canbe enhanced for a more complete picture.


“Once the employee population is stratified, management canselect specific prevention and intervention strategies that willhave the greatest impact on health status, health care costs andhealth-related productivity,” Employer Health Asset Managementstates. “Programs should also address employee relations and moraleand job satisfaction, as well as discrete improvements inmeasurable biometrics such as blood pressure, cholesterol, bloodsugar and stress levels.”

Set health goals and program elements

When setting goals, it's better to tie them to improvements thanfixed endpoints. To do so, employers should focus on treatinghigh-risk employees by putting them on the road to better healthand helping healthy employees maintain their good habits. Healthprograms should be implemented because of their abilities to pushtrends in the right direction and accelerate the pace ofimprovement.


“Many organizations use incentives as a way to promote healthyemployee behavioral changes,” Employer Health Asset Managementstates. “Incentives range from cash cards and reward points forcatalog shopping to a reduction in co-pays or premiumcontributions. Incentives drive participation, participation driveshealth improvement, and health improvement drives cost andproductivity improvement.”

Create a value-based plan design

As more employers are considering cost-sharing approaches, theyshould look at a model that is based on the value of particularbenefits to individual patients. Most of today's cost-sharingmodels take a one-size-fits-all approach, but employers can bettercontrol costs by implementing a value-based plan design, whichtailors co-payments to the evidence-based value of specificservices for targeted groups of patients.


“The approach can help mitigate a key downside of cost sharingby reducing financial barriers to critical medical services andmedicines,” Employer Health Asset Management states. “Manyorganizations still rely on benefit designs created years ago withlittle understanding of health care cost drivers and followed thelead of competitors without thinking through how well a benefitdesign would fit within their own organization.”

Integrate patient-centered medical home and chroniccare management

To provide comprehensive primary care and attain better healthoutcomes, a patient-centered medical home model is recommended.With a PCMH, each patient has a continuing relationship with apersonal physician trained to provide ongoing, comprehensivecare.


“Many employers and fund trustees understand the value ofprevention and are receptive to the PCMH concept,” Employer HealthAsset Management states. “They see it as a way to improvepreventive care and chronic care management. For those patientswhose diseases need to be closely managed to prevent their healthfrom deteriorating, the PCMH provides an integrated approach tocare. Chronic care management through the PCMH can reduce the costsrelated to uncontrolled health conditions.” 


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