Use healthcare data to maximize your wellness program dollars, experts say

Wellness programs are now the norm for large companies, and employers can maximize the dollars they spend on these programs by using available data to provide employees with health solutions and information and to change health behaviors, according to experts speaking during a recent webinar hosted by ActiveHealth Management. According to webinar presenter Shawn Moore, the rapid increase in technology from such devices as smartphones, tablets, smart watches, and fitness tracking devices, is changing how employers communicate with employees, and changing employees’ expectations regarding their health data.

Moore advised that employers are currently using three main strategies to control health care costs. First, they are promoting consumerism by having employees take more ownership of their health, often in the form of consumer-directed health plans. Second, they are re-evaluating their cost-sharing strategies, and third, they are working to get their insurance plans and wellness plans to operate together more seamlessly.

Healthcare costs can also be lowered via wellness programs by understanding what impacts employees and what would maximize their engagement in such programs, she said. Data from newly available technology can personalize wellness program experience, and employees expect this, she continued. Employees are less likely to participate in wellness programs if the experience is not convenient and relevant to them. Moore pointed to an Employee Benefits News/bswift 2016 study which showed that some of the metrics employers typically use to evaluate how effective their health and wellness programs are: increases in employee engagement and participation (32%); reductions in plan costs (30%); and improved health outcomes (24%). Carefully analyzed data can deliver convenience and personalized experiences, and create personalized healthcare recommendations, along with push notifications to draw employees back into the experience, creating sustained engagement.

Ways to transform data into savings. Speaker Lance Farmer, Healthcare Analytics Manager at Cummins Inc. explained how Cummins had transformed collected data into wellness savings reality. The biggest wellness investment that Cummins made was an onsite “LiveWell Center,” he said, which has primary care physicians available, along with specialists in chiropractic, massage, acupuncture, optometry, and dermatology. Because Cummins wanted to maximize its investment, it had physicians take various biometric screenings of employees at the beginning the year, and again at the end. Farmer used data collected from employees, and bonuses were provided to employees who either stayed low risk, or who were high risk and improved. Farmer also determined that the incidence of diabetes Type 2 is extremely high right now, and, consequently, Cummins provided physicians with a sizable bonus if they could get their patients off of their diabetes medications.

Keep analyzing data to realize savings. To further maximize its use of health data, Cummins came up with a five-tier system of health goals, and gave employees monetary rewards for achieving them. Farmer pointed out, however, that, while the company realized health cost savings when employees moved up in health fitness from tier three up to tier four, it actually lost money when they moved from tier four to tier five. This is because employees were given $100 bonuses for rising from tier to tier. The average cost for health care for an employee who moved from tier three to tier four dropped by $171, which meant that the $100 bonus for that tier gave the company $71 in savings. Moving from tier four to tier five only created a drop in health care costs by an average of one dollar per employee, however, which meant that Cummins was losing money through the $100 bonus. Consequently, Farmer recommended that Cummins eliminate the fifth tier and invest the money in other wellness areas.

SOURCE: ActiveHealth Management webinar, Personalizing Healthcare: Transforming Data into Action, July 21, 2016.

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