Expert Offers 6 Secrets to Implementing Successful Wellness Program
With the baby boomer population growing older, many experts believe wellness programs will become an even more important tool in controlling health-related costs. Businesses can't afford to remain complacent in today's economy and fail to address these emerging risks, said Henry Ross, chief executive officer of Aegis Health Group.
"Business leaders today are looking for ways to run leaner businesses, literally and figuratively," he said. "They may be cutting costs in some areas, but they also recognize that offering health-management initiatives to their workers ultimately saves dollars and makes good sense. That's especially true if they know the six secrets to success."
These secrets of conducting a successful program, according to Ross, include:
1. Partner with the local hospital. While employers of all types have begun to offer wellness programs, Ross said only hospitals are truly at the center of health and well-being in almost every community. Most hospitals, he said, have made significant investments in their communities and are committed to staying, thus providing the consistency required to track the effectiveness of a health initiative over time.
2. Gather data. A wellness program will likely be ineffective unless employers are armed with enough data to target and track their initiatives. Ross said companies should encourage employees to complete questionnaires regarding health plan participation, family history, physician relationships, lifestyle, and selected health metrics, such as blood pressure and glucose readings. This information must be kept confidential to protect employees' privacy. However, it is essential to share it with the individual employee to help them manage potential health risks. Without this information, Ross said it is tough to know where to begin.
3. Assess the cost of doing nothing. Based on the identified health risks of a workforce, Ross said employers can determine what their health-related costs would be if those risks go unmitigated. Health-related costs can include health benefits, absenteeism or lost productivity due to illness or injury, and workers' compensation claims. This data can be used to illustrate to management the danger of failing to act.
4. Educate your employees. Many people want to improve their health or break bad habits but don't know how to do it or where to start. According to Ross, work sites are ideal for distributing or posting health-related messages, offering lunchtime presenters on various health topics, or hosting support groups or health workshops. And, at a time when many employers are forced to freeze or eliminate some benefits, this is something of high value that you can offer at a low cost, he said.
5. Offer encouragement. Reward employees' efforts and accomplishments. Incentives contribute to the overall success of workplace wellness programs and add an extra spirit that makes the programs fun. These rewards can include discounted health premiums, gift cards, financial rewards, or extra paid time off. Ross said it is important to remember that these are relatively small expenses when compared to the potential cost savings of having a healthier workforce.
6. Measure the results. Track the health improvements among workers through periodic screenings for such conditions as high blood pressure or cholesterol. Ross recommended calculating the company's health-related costs over time. Survey employees to find out if they feel better about themselves, their health and their jobs.
"We have known for years that chronic conditions, such as obesity, smoking, diabetes, and high blood pressure are extremely costly to America's businesses," he said. "The time has come for all employers to take an active role in reducing these conditions and their associated costs."
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July 20, 2009
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