Building a healthy workforce is imperative in this climate of healthcare debate and uncertainty. The connections between health, job performance, healthcare costs, and engagement is clear. Healthy employees are more productive, have lower overall healthcare expenses, and are more present on the job. Recently, Willis Towers Watson found that 78% of employers encourage employees to stay healthy by using telemedicine services. However, the National Business Group on Health found that just 3% of eligible employees currently use this method to stay healthy.
The reason for the deep divide between the promise of telemedicine and its actual usage by consumers is complicated. First, it’s a big change for most—we’re used to seeing a physician in-person, sitting in the exam room, and feeling the cold of the stethoscope on our chests. For some, that lack of a personal touch, especially after years of in-person trips to the doctor, makes them wonder if it’s as effective. Although these services need to comply with HIPAA regulations just like any other medical provider, some also question their privacy and confidentiality.
This begs the question: If telemedicine services have not yet reached their full potential as powerful, immediate solutions for both employers and employees, then what has? Innovative employers who offer worksite healthcare as part of their benefit offerings have seen success in engaging and managing the health of their workforce alongside attracting and retaining talent and returning hard dollar savings to the bottom line.
Managing the health of employees and delivering true value may prove difficult for some employers, but population health risk management delivered through worksite health centers is one of the best strategies for building a healthy workforce. Managing the health of the population and deriving value for the employer can be achieved by following these four steps:
1. Find the risk
Healthy workforces begin when employers understand the health risks present among their employee population. This model uses claims and screening data, like health risk assessments and biometric screenings, to help clinicians focus on the patients with the highest health risks and chronic conditions. Using this information gives members of the human resources team a total picture of health of the employee population, from how many people are at risk for heart disease to what percentage of the population are smokers, stressed, have sleep problems, or depression. Knowing the health risks and potential impact provides a roadmap for benefits managers and the health center clinical staff to address the identified risk factors. The clinical staff can then stratify the employee population by those risks, allowing them to focus on the employees that can benefit most by engaging with the health center. At this stage, it’s essential to educate and empower the patient to take control of their health.
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2. Mitigate the risk
An engagement program that gets eligible participants into the health center in which a clinical team can then perform a comprehensive health review is key. At this stage, patients are given the tools they need to change their unhealthy behaviors and improve their health. Providing the patient with a personalized wellness score and risk profile to help them begin their journey is a helpful roadmap. Wellness scores can reflect measurements on health risks, including clinical markers such as weight, glucose, blood pressure, cholesterol, as well as health history and risk assessment responses regarding sleep, stress, depression, alcohol use, seatbelt use, and other indicators of overall wellbeing. A health portal displays, which displays the risk measurements and score and shows changes so the patient can monitor results and address health issues over time, can also help mitigate risk and reach patients.
Health coaching is another way to address the areas where they can make the most improvement and better manage their chronic conditions. A personalized approach to the individual patient’s health literacy, values, and goals is key so they can move at their own pace, along a continuum of health improvements. In this process, patients often begin adopting new lifestyle behaviors that are influential for long-term health.
3. Change utilization
Through this process, employees begin to make better, smarter healthcare decision for themselves. The result? A healthier workforce. The risk profile identified at the beginning of the process starts to change, moving patients to lower risk categories as health behavior changes are made. In fact, our data shows that 57% of patients across our customer base make progress towards improving their health. We also see a significant reduction in emergency room use, specialist visits, and hospital stays, meaning that employees are not only improving the way they take care of themselves but also how they utilize the entire healthcare system.
4. Capture value
The results of the improved health of the workforce? Significant cost savings. We know engaged employees cost less than non-engaged employees. But how much less? According to our data, engaged employees who use the health center cost 34% less than those that do not use the health center. In addition, the savings for employees with chronic conditions are even greater at 44%. One might assume that this is because we are seeing healthier employees, but the opposite is true. Patients who are engaged with the health center are sicker (have a higher illness burden rating) than those who do not.
Although telemedicine is a promising solution to improving employee health, employers need a way to engage employees today. Even for the small percentage that is taking advantage of telemedicine offerings, an onsite health center can be an excellent complement to the digital services, especially considering that a telemedicine visit actually spurs more doctor visits. With an onsite health center, employers can achieve the pinnacle of healthcare success: improving patient satisfaction, healthcare outcomes, and lowering the overall cost of care.
Ann Hartman, PhD
Ann oversees operations and processes around the needs of Marathon Health customers. She joined Marathon Health in June 2010 after 18 years at GE Healthcare and IDX Systems Corporation where she worked in various customer-facing roles, including implementation and training, account support, and individual sales efforts. She spent the last decade as a national sales manager. Her focus was on financial and electronic medical records IT solutions for large academic medical centers, hospitals, and physician practices. Prior to joining IDX/GE, Ann received her Ph.D. at the University of Vermont’s Department of Pharmacology and the Vermont Regional Cancer Center, which led her to an assistant professor position teaching molecular and cellular biology. Ann lives in Vermont with her husband and 2 children and enjoys anything that keeps her outdoors and active.