Employee Wellness Via Web Portals: It’s a Mix That Hospital and Other Providers Can Furnish

Payers & Providers 09.05.2013

By Pearson Talbert

If it seems like the trend toward employee wellness programming is gaining momentum, the reason is as simple as understanding that a carrot-and-stick approach to workforce health has been built into the Affordable Care Act. Starting next year, the new rule supports workforce health promotion as a means to improve employee health and limit rising costs. Specifically, it outlines standards in wellness incentives, which reward employees who meet health-related targets. In 2014 the maximum incentive is 30% of the employee-only cost of insurance coverage and can go up to 50% for programs dedicated to tobacco-cessation.

While there are many ways to manage population health, hospitals and health systems are uniquely qualified – and positioned – to help employers manage this process. For those healthcare organizations that successfully do so, the benefits of tighter community alliances and increased market share await.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly half of all companies with more than 200 employees have some type of wellness program that measures workers’ weight, blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol. These key metrics are often used to assess individual health and are tied to incentives for health improvements. Still,employers remain challenged with finding ways to track real-time gains that are attributable to wellnessinitiatives and in motivating employees to monitor and take pride in their successes.

One effective way hospitals can help motivate employees to begin addressing personal risk factors is through online population health portals, which they sponsor. These hospital-branded solutions enable providers and employers to leverage technology in a way that benefits them both.

For employers, portals offer the tools to proactively engage workers in health-improvement programs, provide health education and track user progress. They allow employers to understand the greatest health risks among their workforce and offer programs targeting those needs. Most importantly, online portals can trend participation in wellness programs to ensure that incentives for gains in health status are delivered appropriately and in a timely manner.

For hospitals, a user-friendly population health portal brings a value-added benefit they can offer to local employers. These websites streamline the hard work of tracking employees’ health while providing hospitals with greater insight into consumers’ health risks and medical needs. They enable hospitals to “push” relevant programming such as educational initiatives or screenings to appropriate participants. Online portals also offer a 24/7 presence for the organization with health-improvement tools consumers can use at their own pace,when they are at their most motivated.

Online health tracking meets consumers where they live. According to the Pew Research Center, 72% of Internet users say they looked online for health information within the past year. The study also found that 60% of U.S. adults say they track their weight, diet or exercise routine, and 33 percent track health indicators or symptoms like blood pressure, blood sugar, headaches or sleep patterns. Even more impressive, 46% state tracking has changed their overall approach to maintaining their health, or the health of someone for whom they provide care.

Web-based tools for healthier living are the most prevalent wellness tactic favored among employers. Hospitals now have an incredible opportunity to deliver true health-improvement initiatives that allow employers to measure and track workforce progress versus simply “feel good” wellness programs that typically offer no way to calculate bottom-line impact. By providing a branded population health portal to local businesses and organizations, health systems can eclipse the competition and maximize the opportunities presented by the ACA for forging closer ties with employers and the people who work for them.

Pearson Talbert is president and CEO of Aegis Health Group, a hospital revenue-growth strategy firm.

For more information, visit www.aegisgroup.com.

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