As a CEO, how concerned are you about healthcare costs? Wherever you come down on the Affordable Care Act and other reform efforts, I’ll bet you lose as much sleep at night as I do about the effects of health — and health-related costs — on our bottom line and long-term productivity. Being in the health IT business, as my company is, only accentuates my worries. My only source of peace: our employees. They’ve taught me some lessons you might likewise find helpful.
First, personal health influences population health. So, by promoting personal health, companies can also enhance population health. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and proclaim that the most important thing companies can do to control their healthcare costs is to cultivate a culture of personal health. Doing so need not be difficult or expensive.
Following these three steps has proven useful in creating a culture of wellness here at Get Real Health:
- Educate: We teach employees about the benefits of maintaining their health; let them know about nutrition, healthy foods and exercise; and we inform them about preventive measures, like early screenings for breast cancer, diabetes, heart disease or stroke.
- Encourage: We emphasize the proactive steps employees can take — and back up those steps by encouraging and supporting them through insurance, workshops, seminars and presentations by guest speakers. We also encourage healthy activity. (For example, our office building includes a quality gym — and some of our employees set a great example by using it.)
- Support employee initiatives: We have a group that does 10 minutes of light exercises every afternoon and we sponsor a softball team. Both of these are activities initiated by employees that foster both health and positive personal interaction between employees across departments and at all levels of the organization.
- Reward: Telling people the right things to do, and nudging them to do those things, isn’t quite enough. Human nature being what it is, we dangle a carrot by putting some money on the line and rewarding workers for achieving their respective goals — weight loss, smoking cessation, cholesterol reduction or whatever. Financially incentivizing goal achievement not only helps us reinforce positive behaviors, it also helps us celebrate employees’ accomplishments, boosting morale by linking wellness — personal and corporate — with tangible results.
Smart Use of Technology
As a health IT company, we bring one more perspective — a fourth step — to the workplace wellness table that many employers might not intuitively consider: leveraging technology to empower employees’ pursuit of better health. Specifically, employees need an easy way to manage, track and access information about their health.
Sorry if this sounds like a commercial, but — by way of example — Get Real Health’s InstantPHR™ product gives both healthcare consumers and providers a robust tool for accessing health records and managing care. InstantPHR (PHR stands for Personal Health Record) is a platform that provides a flexible and interoperable suite of Web-based tools for personal health, including data visualization and care management tools that can be used to quickly, easily and cost-effectively create and customize personal health applications — on the Web and via smartphones and tablets.
By literally putting employees’ health data in their hands via the devices they already use, employers can empower their people to view — and become accountable for — their health in ways never before possible. In the healthcare field, we call this “patient engagement,” but you could just as easily think of technology-powered health information sharing as “employee engagement.”
Patient engagement has proven to lead to better clinical outcomes. Research* shows that more “activated” patients are:
- 13 percent less likely to be readmitted to a hospital within 30 days of discharge
- 19 percent less likely to experience a medical error
- 13 percent less likely to suffer a health consequence from poor communication among providers
Moreover, patients want tools, and doctors want patients to collaborate in their own care. Survey data** shows:
- 75 percent of patients are willing to go online to view their medical records
- 52 percent say they would use a smartphone to monitor their health
- 62 percent want to correspond online with their primary physician about their health
- 70 percent of physicians report their patients are embracing self-tracking, with at least one of their patients sharing health measurement data with them
- 75 percent of physicians agree that self-tracking leads to better outcomes
[Sources: *AARP survey of patients over 50 with 2 or more chronic conditions; **Optum Institute Survey, June 2012, Manhattan Research, 2011, Optum Institute Survey, June 2012, respectively]
Getting employees engaged with their own health takes a collaborative mindset and a set of tools to facilitate that collaboration. It’s not only about electronic access to health records, but also action-oriented tools such as activity logs, reminders, health goals, task lists, and interactive information-sharing of health data between healthcare consumers and their physicians (including objective measures from devices like scales, glucose meters, blood pressure monitors, Fitbit®/wearable trackers, and subjective measures from online tools people can use to note symptoms, side effects, eating habits, moods and more).
Stats highlighted in The Willis Health and Productivity Survey Report 2014 back up our experience and perspective. In a survey of 958 large and small organizations, Willis researchers found that:
- 68 percent have some type of wellness program
- 61 percent identified employees’ health habits as the primary challenge in controlling health care costs
- 64 percent provide employees with tools and resources to become better consumers
- 78 percent of organizations with a wellness program said that they used some sort of incentive to drive participation
- 49 percent of those with a wellness program reported a measurable improvement in either medical costs or health risks
- 93 percent believe that healthier employees are more productive, yet very few are measuring the impact of productivity on employees’ absenteeism (22 percent), FMLA (19 percent) and presenteeism (7 percent)
By virtue of providing employee health insurance, employers are major consumers in the healthcare industry and therefore have a lot of power to push back against increasing healthcare costs.
The Willis survey report noted that 53 percent of respondents “said that their organization was effective at leveraging their health insurance carriers to drive health and productivity,” and that 56 percent “said that their organization was effective at leveraging their insurance broker or consultant to drive health and productivity.” These are great places to start if you don’t know where to begin in creating a health and wellness initiative in your organization.
As company leaders, we have an opportunity to help large numbers of people become healthier while supporting our business goals. With partisan gridlock, political baggage and obesity-enhancing food choices littering America’s path to a healthier citizenry, you and I as CEOs find ourselves in the unexpected position of helping to lead the country toward a positive shift in health and healthcare by making wellness a corporate priority.
About the Author:
Mark Heaney is CEO & Founding Partner of Rockville, Maryland-based Get Real Health Inc., and has designed and architected dozens of consumer health
applications for organizations like American Heart Association, UnitedHealth Group, TELUS Health Solutions, Microsoft, Premera Blue Cross, Medstar Health, The
American Cancer Society, and Kaiser Permanente. Prior to co-founding Get Real Health, Mr. Heaney served USWeb as Vice President of Architecture and
Development and created the USWeb -Microsoft Joint Technology Laboratory. Mr. Heaney studied Psychology at the University of Maryland at College Park and holds
numerous technical certifications from Microsoft, Cisco, and Novell.