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Understanding the value of health assessment data

By David Anderson, Ph.D., Senior vice president and Chief health officer

For the past 30 years, I’ve spent more than my fair share of time working with health assessment tools and data. From the early days of StayWell Health Management, when I was involved in the development of our pioneering health assessment tools, to the many health assessments we’ve implemented for our employer clients, to the many research studies StayWell has conducted or participated in using health assessment data — StayWell has amassed notable expertise in the design and use of health assessment tools.

The health management industry is growing rapidly, and many factors — such as technology, the increased use of social media, and health care reform — are driving exciting innovations in how we engage participants and help them improve their health. In the midst of all this change, however, the health assessment continues to be an essential and valuable component of a best-practice workplace health management strategy. Here’s why.

Health assessments provide unique data.
The health assessment very cost-effectively provides a wealth of data that can be used to tailor the entire wellness experience to each individual. This includes the participant’s personal health portal, where health assessment data can be used to align the content, tools and guidance with the individual’s health risks, health conditions, and readiness to change. The individual also can be triaged into program components best suited to improving their health based on their risks, conditions, readiness to change, self-efficacy, barriers to change, and other relevant data collected in the health assessment. Except for health conditions, none of this data is available from other sources. And, even in the case of health conditions, self-reported data from the health assessment is sometimes more accurate and timely than claims data.
 
Probably because of this ability to target and tailor programs to best meet the unique needs of each individual, research has demonstrated a positive impact on population health and financial outcomes for well-designed programs incorporating a health assessment with individualized follow-up. Research also suggests positive health and financial outcomes for those who participate in a health assessment as their entry into a workplace program, while these positive outcomes often are not realized for employees who participate solely in self-selected program elements. For these reasons, experts in the field consider the health assessment to be an essential component of a best-practice population health management strategy.
 
Health assessment data is accurate.
A substantial body of research extending over three decades documents the overall validity of health assessment data. In practice, we see a high degree of agreement between self-reported health assessment data and objective measures. For example, one of our clients recently screened a population that had self-reported biometric measures in its health assessment the previous year. Based on a body mass index (BMI) range of 25 or higher, the self-reported 69 percent in this target BMI range was very close to the 72 percent in this same range based on weights obtained in a health screening the following year. In addition, a recent StayWell study shows that health assessment data is nearly as accurate as medical or pharmacy claims data in predicting future health care claims costs, making it a very cost-effective tool for targeting the likely highest-cost segment of an employee population. Our research indicates that instances of bogus health assessment data are isolated and usually the result of flawed implementation strategies.
 
Health assessments are an effective engagement tool.
Health assessment is a valuable tool in the best-practice program model that has been proven effective in reducing health care cost trends and improving population health and productivity. It is important to recognize, however, that the role of the health assessment is not to change health outcomes but to make it possible to target and tailor proactive outreach and behavior change programs.

 
State-of-the-art health assessments work by allowing companies like StayWell to collect data not only about a participant’s risks but about their psychological readiness to change, which is a key element in tailoring a wellness program to be more effective for that individual participant. When used with an appropriate incentive strategy that encourages behavior change rather than just passive participation, the health assessment serves as a valuable entry point to a best-practice program. And, when prefaced by culturally relevant communication, employees generally report a very high level of satisfaction with the health assessment process.

This positive experience creates a timely “teachable moment” where health assessment participants are very open to an invitation to take the next step in improving their health. This receptivity of health assessment participants to further engagement stands in stark contrast to attempts to target employees based on claims or benefit use, which are typically met with suspicion or pushback.

If you spend time with our experts at StayWell, you’ll hear us talk about two fundamental principles for improving workforce health: a foundation of healthy culture and a comprehensive best-practice program. The evidence is clear that health assessment, when used appropriately, is a valuable component of a comprehensive workplace health management strategy.

To learn more about health assessments, contact information@staywell.com.

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