Research shows that stopping illness before it starts is the key to curbing health care costs. This point is generally undisputed. But thanks to a study by StayWell, employers now have a set of proven best practices that can improve health management efforts and, ultimately, lower health care costs.
The study, “Association Between Nine Quality Components and Superior Worksite Health Management Program Results,” conducted by StayWell researchers: Erin L. Seaverson, MPH. and David R. Anderson Ph.D., was published in the June 2008 Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (JOEM).
They study’s findings indicate that companies using industry best practices achieved higher program participation and more than double the improvement in employee health risks compared to standard practice companies. More specifically:
- Health assessment completion was 68 percent of eligible employees for best-practice companies versus 47 percent for standard-practice companies.
- Health coaching program completion was 48 percent of those eligible in best-practice versus 34 percent in standard-practice companies.
- Best-practice companies saw employee health risks decline by 4.7 percent versus 2.0 percent for standard-practice companies.
“Risk reduction outcomes in both groups compare favorably to benchmark levels of 1 to 2 percent annually, but what is exciting is that the best-practice risk improvement is 2.3 times the standard-practice rate,” said Anderson. “Since population risk levels drive higher health care costs and lost productivity, this difference ultimately translates to substantial additional cost savings and productivity improvement for our best-practice companies.”
As a result of the study, StayWell has identified nine best-practice strategies—further verified by third-party industry experts and published literature—that can effectively increase employee engagement in health management programs and improve program outcomes. According to Anderson, a common denominator underlying many of these best practices is that they contribute to creating an organizational culture that promotes health.
“At StayWell, we’ve long believed that one of the keys to a successful health management program is creating and nurturing a culture of health within an organization,” said Anderson. “The results of this study underscore that belief, while giving us more concrete evidence for how to achieve this goal.”
The best practices for implementing a successful health management program as identified by the StayWell “Best Practices Study” include:
- Strong senior management support
- Comprehensive program design
- Integrated incentives
- Integrated, comprehensive communication strategy
- Dedicated onsite program management staff
- Multiple program modalities (phone, mail, online)
- Population-based, awareness-building activities
- Biometric health screenings
- Vendor integration
The study examined program design and outcomes from 22 companies that are StayWell clients. According to Anderson, one of the common elements—and that which appears to have the biggest influence on how health management programs are accepted by employees—is the attitude of senior management.
“Creating a culture of health in the workplace starts at the top of an organization. Strong senior management support is really the key that opens the door to creating a culture of health,” said Anderson. “Having committed, visionary leadership that communicates and demonstrates an ongoing commitment to good health will effectively drive that same sentiment down through the organization. Fostering this mindset among employees will fundamentally improve both program participation and long-term health behavior change.”
In addition to support from top management, Anderson added that the integration of incentives can also play a key role in program participation. According to Anderson, the use of incentives is a growing trend in health management and is a strategy that many third-party payers are also employing to increase plan adoption. The StayWell “Best Practices Study” found incentives integrated into the health plan design are most effective. At the same time, employers must take care in designing incentive strategies. “The goal is to use incentives as a catalyst in accelerating culture change and supporting individuals’ internal motivation to change. Poorly designed incentive strategies can backfire in both of these areas,” according to Anderson.
The StayWell “Best Practices Study” examined data from large employers with a total of 767,640 eligible employees, spouses, and retirees. The study was conducted using data from October 2004 through December 2006.
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