Engaging employees in healthcare — even while traveling

What happens when an employee gets sick or injured while traveling? In 2018, Americans took 463.6 million trips for business, leaving employees unsure of what to do when they get sick or injured while away. Continue reading for how employers can engage employees who are traveling in healthcare.


Business travel is booming. Americans took 463.6 million trips for business last year. But what happens when a business traveler gets sick or injured while away from home and how can employers help their employees in this situation?

It starts with a simple solution: Make sure you’re providing employees with a health insurance plan that includes coverage outside the state or region where the business is located. While the majority of plans provide coverage for illnesses and injuries that meet the insurer’s definition of an emergency, some plans don’t cover care for common serious, but non-emergency health problems like strep throat, migraine headaches, a sprained ankle or back pain. Employers should ensure they offer at least one plan option that includes either an extended physician and hospital network or coverage for out-of-network care.

If employees need to travel out of the country for business, employers may want to consider offering travel medical insurance, which provides coverage during the period of time while the employee is outside the U.S. and medical evacuation if needed. To ensure employees have all the immunizations they need and are aware of any health risks at their destinations, employers can offer access to or reimbursement for pre-trip visits with a travel medicine specialist.

Even when employees have health insurance that gives them access to care while they’re away from home, connecting with experienced healthcare providers can still be difficult. Some insurers offer phone support for plan members seeking care providers, although often these providers are not heavily vetted for the experience or providing the highest quality care. Health advisory services can also help employees find and connect with healthcare providers in the U.S. and overseas.

When considering health advisory firms, employers should ask how the firm vets the healthcare providers it connects employees with and whether the firm uses a set network of providers or whether it connects employees with the most appropriate providers regardless of their health system affiliation.

Make sure employees know how to find the right type of care

When an employee falls ill or gets injured while traveling for business, her or his first instinct may be to seek care at a local emergency room, but that’s not always the best option. In addition to long wait times, the cost of care delivered in the emergency room is significantly higher than other care settings.

  • Employers can help employees make better choices by providing information about the options available and how to choose the right care setting:
  • The emergency room for serious, life-threatening illnesses and injuries such as chest pain, symptoms of a stroke, serious burns, head injury or loss of consciousness, eye injuries, severe allergic reactions, broken bones and heavy bleeding
  • An urgent care center for conditions you’d usually make a doctor’s appointment for such as vomiting or diarrhea, fever, sprains, moderate flu symptoms, small cuts, wheezing and dehydration
  • A walk-in or retail clinic for minor problems such as a rash with no fever, mild flu-like symptoms, sore throat, cough and congestion, ear pain and eye itchiness or redness
  • Telemedicine or virtual physician visits for minor illnesses and injuries and advice on whether additional care is needed

The key to helping employees know which care setting is the most appropriate is ongoing communication and education, which can take the form of in-person meetings with the benefits team, newsletter articles and email blasts, and video content shared through the company’s intranet channels.

Employees who are living with chronic health conditions should take special steps when traveling for business, including ensuring they have enough of any prescription medication they take and bringing an extra prescription with them for essential medications in case they’re lost in transit.

Ensure employees can quickly share their medical records with providers

Another important part of the healthcare equation for business travelers is ensuring that when they need care while they’re on the road, the healthcare providers who treat them can get quick, secure access to their medical records. Access to these records is important for several reasons:

  • It gives a provider who’s not familiar with the employee’s medical history a comprehensive look at past and current health problems and chronic conditions, medications, allergies or adverse reactions, and treatments and surgeries. Having this information can lower the risk of misdiagnosis, inappropriate care and duplicate care or testing, which not only adds unneeded costs but can also cause harm.
  • This information can be especially important when employees are seriously ill or injured and can’t speak for themselves to share medical history and their wishes about issues like the use of a ventilator or feeding tube.

There are several online services and apps that allow users to upload medical records so they can share them with healthcare providers. Another option is to work with a health adviser who can make sure employees’ records are carefully reviewed to ensure accuracy and stored in a secure universal medical record that can be accessed in minutes by treating physicians anywhere in the world.

Giving employees who travel for business the right resources and guidance can not only increase their peace of mind, it can help make sure they have access to the care they need wherever work takes them.

SOURCE: Varn, M. (18 June 2019) "Engaging employees in healthcare — even while traveling" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/engage-employees-in-healthcare-when-traveling


Tips and tricks to help you stress less

We all feel and complain about stress. While stress can be unavoidable, it's important to learn how to deal with stress in healthy ways. Read this blog post from UBA to learn more about stress management.


Stress. We all feel it. We all complain about it. And we probably just accept it as being the price we pay for living in today's hectic world.

While it's true that stress is probably unavoidable – whether it's caused by a traffic jam or a bigger challenge like a job loss or a chronic illness – it's also true that you can learn to deal with stress in a more healthy way. And that's important, because stress can wreak havoc on your health. The longer you're under stress, the worse it is for your physical well-being. Here are some things to try to help you manage stress.

  • One of the first things you should do to manage stress is figure out what it is that stresses you out. Then, reflect on how your own behaviors or attitudes might be contributing to your stress. It might help to keep track of your stressors, how they make you feel, and what you did about them. You might begin to see patterns.
  • Look at your stressors and ask yourself which of them you might be able to do away with. Is there constantly too much on your plate because you can't say no?Do you stay at a job that's eating away at you instead of looking for something new? If you have media overload, can you hit the “off” button?
  • Take care of yourself. Try to stick with a healthy diet, get some exercise, and get enough sleep.
  • Listen to yourself. If you tend to be negative, try to reframe your thoughts to be more positive. For instance, instead of “I'm so stupid! I can't believe I'm over drawn at the bank,” say “I made a mistake. I'll keep better track next time.”
  • Don't try to be perfect. Setting yourself up to meet unrealistic expectations does you no good.

Some stress quick fixes

Dealing with stress as a big-picture life issue is one thing. Making the kinds of changes listed above will take time. But on a day-to-day basis, you can learn to focus on some of life's simple pleasures and give yourself a little time to enjoy them. Some ideas:

  • Take deep breaths in and out. Feel your body start to relax.
  • Get up and walk around—even if it's just moving from one room to another, it'll give you a needed break.
  • Ask for a hug from a friend or loved one when you need it. Or pet a dog or cat. Small moments of connection can help.
  • Listen to some favorite music, sing, or play an instrument.
  • Take a bath. Don't forget the bubbles and soothing essential oils.
  • Spend some time in nature.
  • Consider taking up yoga or meditation.
  • Laugh! Whether you're laughing at a comedian on TV, your cat's antics, or even yourself, laughter is a natural stress-buster.

Do a little experimenting. See what methods work for you. And then practice them. You may be surprised how these strategies can lessen the grip stress has on your life.

Sources:

American Psychological Association. Managing stress for a healthy family. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/managing-stress.aspx Accessed 6/11/18

American Psychological Association. How stress affects your health. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress.aspx
Accessed 6/11/18

American Heart Association.Three tips to manage stress. https://healthyforgood.heart.org/be-well/articles/3-tips-to-manage-stress Accessed 6/11/18

SOURCE: Olson, B. (11 June 2019) "Tips and tricks to help you stress less" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/tips-and-tricks-to-help-you-stress-less


Here’s how to get the best ROI on a wellness program

According to the International Labour Organization, Americans work nearly 500 more hours per year than French workers and 260 more hours per year than British workers. Read on to learn how employers can get the best ROI on a wellness program.


U.S. employees are working harder than ever and need more support from their employers as a result.

In fact, according to the International Labour Organization, Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and nearly 500 more hours per year than French workers.

With that growing burden — along with more individuals of all ages recognizing how important their health is — comes an increased need for companies to invest in well-designed health and wellness programs. Rolling out these programs can lead to better employee morale and engagement, a healthier and more inclusive culture and fewer absences due to illness, according to research — all of which are especially important in today’s fast-paced work atmosphere.

In addition, the rise of social media means that businesses are being held accountable by their employees in a way that was not the case for previous generations. According to the British Standards Institution, employees trusting their employers’ commitments is now an increased focus. Health and well-being are becoming a significant part of that workforce trust agenda.

With these points in mind, it’s important to recognize that your organization needs to make and keep commitments to investing in and executing successful health and wellness programs for your workforce. These programs must keep trust momentum going to ensure healthier and happier workers, and it is proven that happier and healthier workers are more productive. This can lead to overall company success.

For example, a recent employee wellness study from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce showed that effective wellness programs have good return on investment of $1.50 to $3.00 per wellness dollar spent over a two to nine year timeframe. Another study from the Australian-based Black Dog Institute concluded that thriving and healthy workforces typically perform more than two times above average, compared with organizations that do not invest at all in their employees’ health and well-being.

BSI recommends a three-pronged approach for successfully investing in your employees’ health and wellness. First, it’s important to define your health and well-being initiative and what it means for your company. While there are many definitions, BSI recommends considering one that recognizes the need to manage workplace occupational health and safety, in addition to the promotion and support of managing healthy behavior, such as stress management, work-life balance and an ever-changing work environment.

Next, employers should define what their health and wellness program for workers should include. In particular, BSI suggests a good model to follow: the U.S. federal government’s recommended approach for workplace health and well-being programs. Created by the Center for Disease Control’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the program is called Total Worker Health.

TWH is a holistic approach to occupational health and safety and worker well-being. It recognizes that work has an important function in the social determinants for health and is defined as “policies, programs, and practices that integrate protection from work-related safety and health hazards with promotion of injury and illness prevention efforts to advance worker well-being.”

However, this program also goes much further than other wellness programs and reflects the nature and challenges of the changing workplace, from new forms of employment to new technologies. It also reflects that non-work-related illness and stress can be adversely impacted by work, can have health and safety implications within the workplace, and the way an organization manages absence and rehabilitation policies can have hugely positive or negative impacts on the individual and the business.

Once you know what health and well-being means to your business and what kind of program your organization wants to execute, it’s time to move forward. For step three, BSI recommends companies review and implement ISO 45001, the new global management system standard on occupational health and safety. This standard has physical, mental and cognitive well-being and health at its core, while continuing to drive high safety standards for companies.

ISO 45001 also recognizes that the most successful and productive organizations take a holistic approach and therefore, good occupational health and safety management can be integrated with employee well-being initiatives. Related to this, holistic employee wellness programs can be used as a recruitment tool. Evidence from WhenIWork.com suggests that employees want their employers to take an active role in their health, so if you can show potential employees that you are invested in their well-being, you will gain an advantage over companies offering only bare-bones benefits.

As a global standard, ISO 45001 also enables a consistent worldwide approach. With its focus on culture and employee participation, it also provides businesses a best practice model for developing an effective health and well-being program. And employee participation will happen. For example, experts from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health recently analyzed surveys to determine the overall perceptions of wellness programs from employee and employer perspectives. Its data analysis revealed that nearly 60% of employees think employers should attempt to improve the health of their workers.

Overall, seeking accredited certification of the standard not only builds trust within the organization, but also provides external assurance to customers, shareholders and the wider community. Investing in employee health and wellness programs increases healthy behavior and curbs the risk of lifestyle-related disease, leading to happier workers, more productivity and overall company success.

SOURCE: Field, K. (4 June 2019) "Here’s how to get the best ROI on a wellness program: (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/opinion/how-to-get-the-best-roi-for-your-wellness-program


Protect your pet, protect yourself

While pets can give us joy and unconditional love, they can also sometimes give us illness. Zoonoses, infectious diseases that can be passed between animals and humans, can spread through direct contact, insects and sometimes via the animal's environment. Read this blog post from UBA to learn more.


Pets bring us joy and unconditional love. But sometimes they can bring us illness. Infectious diseases can be passed between animals and humans. These diseases are known as zoonoses. Zoonoses can be spread through direct contact, sometimes through insects, and sometimes via the animal's environment.

Let's face it. Animals do some gross things. Dogs drink from filthy puddles. Cats kill birds and chipmunks. And sometimes, our pets even—gasp!—bite and scratch. All of these things and more can cause the spread of infections and diseases between animals and humans.

Luckily, there are steps pet owners can take to help keep both their animals and their families safe from these risks. The first line of defense for dogs and cats is vaccination. Over the last century, say experts, vaccines have saved the lives of millions of pets. Talk to your veterinarian about what vaccinations your pet should have. The most common for dogs include rabies, canine distemper, canine parvovirus infection and canine hepatitis. Cats normally receive shots for rabies, feline distemper, feline rhinotracheitis (feline influenza) and calicivirus (FVC). Your vet may recommend other vaccines based on your pet's needs.

Try to keep your pet away from wildlife whenever possible. Animals like skunks and raccoons can carry the rabies virus. After spending time outdoors or around other animals, check for ticks. Contact with contaminated water or soil can cause a host of diseases such as cryptosporidiosis and leptospirosis. These and other illnesses, caused by parasites, can be spread to humans. Humans can also contract fleas, mites, and ticks, hookworms and roundworms, and fungal infections. Cats pose a few unique threats. Toxoplasmosis is a parasite that lives in the intestines of cats. If toxoplasmosis spreads to a pregnant woman and then to her baby, birth defects can occur. So pregnant women should wear gloves when cleaning the litter box or, even better, leave the chore to someone else. And a scratch or a bite from a kitty can cause serious infection to any unlucky victim.

It's not just cats and dogs that can spread illness. Amphibians, like frogs and salamanders, and reptiles, like turtles, lizards, and snakes, often carry salmonella. These pets aren't recommended in homes with children under five years old. Backyard chickens and ducks also often carry the salmonella bacteria.

Don't let these facts scare you—but do make sure you use good sense around animals. Always wash your hands after petting or holding animals. Train dogs to follow your commands, and keep them leashed. Don't let your pets drink dirty water or eat something they shouldn't eat, and keep them away from wild animals. Check your pet for ticks after they've been outside. Keep shots up to date, and see the vet for regular pet checkups. A healthy pet is a happy pet—and that makes pet owners happy, too.

Sources:

American Veterinary Medical Association. Common-sense measures to protect your dog, yourself and others in canine settings. 2018.
https://avma.org/public/PetCare/Pages/Protect-Your-Dogs-Yourself-and-Others.aspx (Accessed 5/3/18)

American Veterinary Medical Association. Vaccination FAQ. 2018.
https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/FAQs/Pages/Vaccination-FAQs.aspx
(Accessed 5/4/18)

American Family Physician. Pet-related infections. 11/15/2016. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2016/1115/p794.html (Accessed 5/3/18)

Healthline. Animal bite infections. 11/15/2016. https://www.healthline.com/health/animal-bite-infections (Accessed 5/4/18)

SOURCE: Olson, B. (30 May 2019) "Protect your pet, protect yourself" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/protect-your-pet-protect-yourself


Outside-the-box ways to spend time outdoors

How are you spending your time outdoors? Fresh air, sunshine and being active outdoors is good for your health. Read this blog post from UBA for creative, outside-the-box ways to spend time outdoors this summer.


Fresh air and sunshine are good for our health, and being active in the outdoors is better yet. Even if you're not an avid runner or cyclist, there are so many other wonderful ways to get the exercise you need while taking in the joys of nature, family, and friends. Here are a few ideas that might inspire you to grab your sneakers and head out the door for an activity that may be new to you.

Go birding. Take a walk, observe and listen. You'll find song and color all around you. Try different habitats for different species. Join an organized birding hike in your community. Use binoculars if you have them.

Try outdoor yoga. If you like yoga, you'll love outdoor yoga. Many communities hold outdoor yoga classes in parks or on beaches. Let the breezes and sounds of nature add to the enjoyment of your practice.

Go canoeing, kayaking, or paddle boarding. Paddling a canoe, kayak or paddle board is a good workout. Many parks and outdoor equipment stores rent the equipment. (Don't forget the flotation devices.)

Work in a community garden. Volunteer to help plant or care for a community garden to get some beneficial time working outdoors while making the world more beautiful.

Bike to the store. Use a back pack or bike basket to carry your purchases home. Get your exercise and run your errands in one fell swoop.

Walk the beach.If you're lucky enough to live on the shores of the ocean or a large body of water, turn your stroll into a treasure hunt. Search for the prettiest and most unusual seashells or colorful rocks. If you start a collection, you'll be more motivated to get out there again and again.

Stroll the farmers market. You'll be outdoors, you'll be walking, you'll carry your purchases (weight training!) and you'll have fresh, seasonal, local foods for healthful eating. Take in the colors and textures, the aromas, and the great people-watching.

Play like a kid. Organize some old-fashioned backyard games like badminton, croquet, or whiffle ball. Invite the neighbors. Have a tournament with fun prizes. Cool off with the hose or run through the sprinkler.

Dance at an outdoor concert. Whether you're enjoying a community band in the local park or a world-class act at a festival, move while you groove. Dance your heart out. Nobody's watching (except maybe your kids).

Source:

Get Out! 5 Benefits of Outdoor Exercise, 3/27/2018

https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/6360/get-out-5-benefits-of-outdoor-exercise(Accessed 2/21/2018)

SOURCE: Olson, B. (28 May 2019) "Outside-the-box ways to spend time outdoors" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/outside-the-box-ways-to-spend-time-outdoors


Your bad work environment may be raising your healthcare costs

Is your company’s culture leading to raised healthcare costs? More and more research is documenting a relationship between stressful work environments and a range of chronic conditions. Continue reading to learn more.


If you want to reduce the cost of healthcare for your employees — while simultaneously improving care — you may need to take a serious look at your work environment. When reviewing areas that could help reduce costs, a much overlooked aspect is a stressful work environment.

While employers have done a lot to reduce the risk of potential injuries in the workplace, they have done far less to reduce stress, which could also be harmful.

Research finds a link between employee health and job performance. There also is a growing body of research documenting the relationship between a stressful work environment and a range of chronic conditions — including depression, hypertension and sleeping problems. But employers often struggle to connect the dots between these health concerns and supporting a healthy environment for employees.

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to manage something that remains unmeasured. That’s why measuring outcomes beyond healthcare cost fluctuations, such as absence, periods of work disability and job performance, can help employers understand a broader range of outcomes important to the successful operation of their business.

When employers ask how they can affect the health of their employees, I ask what they know about the working conditions in their organization. Is there management trouble, high turnover, high illness-related absence or low job satisfaction? Some of this can be determined from employee satisfaction surveys, or analyses of sick leave data and work disability claims. Often, even more can be discovered by gathering employee feedback.

For example, listening to employees, equipping them with the knowledge to recognize safety issues and providing the tools or procedures to correct these issues, were key to improving workplace safety. A successful safety review can result in real change. Employees observe this change and a cycle is created where prevention becomes the focus because all are accountable and all have trust based on experience that their identification of potential or real safety issues will be dealt with effectively.

If employers are unaware of the factors in their own work environment that could be modified to lessen psychosocial stressors, a good place to start is by listening to employees. Many employers already conduct job satisfaction surveys or health risk appraisals that provide some information around work and health issues. These same tools could be used to identify and address psychosocial issues in the workplace.

Whatever the channel — a suggestion box, a designated HR representative, a focus group, a survey — it must provide employees with the opportunity to authentically and safely share their perspectives. And, finally, it must be demonstrably legitimate, resulting in employer actions that are clear and meaningful to all.

Typically employers use health and wellness programs in an attempt to remediate rather than prevent illness. Our interviews with medical directors of some of the leading U.S. corporations revealed a similar finding. Often, the medical director or chief health officer is charged with improving employee health, while the HR benefits manager is charged with reducing healthcare costs. Not surprisingly, these two goals can be at odds with each other. Imagine the company with a large percent of untreated depression.

So how can employers know what works or even what to try?

Evaluators often start their work by asking why particular activities, services or coverage types were chosen or implemented. This helps identify those areas more proximal to the employment setting (something about the job or in the work environment, for instance) and those areas more distal to the employment setting (such as medication formulary). To put a fine point on the problem, Pfeffer notes that “putting a nap pod into a workplace is not going to substitute for the fact that people aren’t getting enough sleep because they are working 24/7.”

Those looking to get started might begin by watching Working on Empty, an 11-minute documentary, which can provide solid direction for the type of information you’re seeking from your employees. Honor their voice and insight, and use it to implement real change. In doing so, you will build trust and a channel for contribution that improves outcomes for employees and employers.

SOURCE: Jinnett, K. (20 May 2019) "Your bad work environment may be raising your healthcare costs" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/workplace-stress-increasing-healthcare-costs


Workout - Girl - Stretching - Pixabay

Exercise and Health: The Mind-Body Connection

Did you know: There are physiological reasons why you get an overall feeling of well-being after taking a long walk, shoveling snow, dancing, etc. Read this blog post from UBA to learn more.


Ever notice how you can get an overall feeling of well-being after taking a long walk, shoveling snow, dancing, or playing Frisbee with the kids? It’s not just because you can check “get some physical activity” off your to-do list. Turns out, there are physiological reasons why you get that feeling. And for people who suffer from a mental health condition like depression, anxiety or ADHD, exercise can relieve symptoms almost as well as medications, and can sometimes help certain symptoms from coming back.

How does it work? Researchers aren’t completely sure. But we do know that physical activity causes certain substances that affect brain function to kick in. These include:

  • Endorphins– brain chemicals that reduce stress or pain and increase feelings of well-being
  • Serotonin– a brain chemical that affects mood
  • Glutamate and GABA– chemicals that influence parts of the brain that affect emotions and mental clarity
  • BDNF(brain-derived neurotropic factor) – a protein that protects nerve cells in the brain that help control depression-like symptoms

Many people have found that exercise helps keep anger, stress, and muscle tension at bay and can help you sleep, which helps lessen stress, boost concentration, and improve self-esteem. In addition, it can help you cope with challenges in a healthier way, instead of turning to behaviors like drinking alcohol, which can actually make symptoms worse.

Recommendations for physical activity are the same for mental health benefits as they are for physical benefits: try for at least 150 minutes per week. But even one hour a week has been shown to help with mood disorders like depression and anxiety and even substance use disorder. But people suffering from mental health conditions may find it hard to do even that small amount. No matter how much you try to convince yourself to get up and move, you just can’t get motivated.

If this happens, remind yourself that just a walk around the block is a great start. Don’t set yourself up for failure by telling yourself you “should” be doing more. Just start somewhere, and hopefully the benefits you start to notice will keep you motivated to build up from there. Finding an activity you actually enjoy can really help you stay motivated.

There’s no doubt that physical activity is beneficial for mind and body. And even just short spurts are helpful. But if you are having symptoms of depression, anxiety or another mental health condition, physical activity may not be enough. Always talk to your doctor or a therapist if your symptoms are troublesome — you may benefit from medication and/or talk therapy.

Whatever you do to boost your activity level – even taking the smallest of steps – give yourself lots of props. Getting started isn’t easy and staying motivated can be challenging. But try. It just might leave you feeling great.

Sources:

Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Exercise for stress and anxiety. https://adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/managing-anxiety/exercisestress-and-anxiety (Accessed 3/1/19)

Helpguide.org. The mental health benefits of exercise. November 2018. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/the-mental-healthbenefits-of-exercise.htm (Accessed 3/1/19)

Mental Health America. Exercise. http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/fitness-4mind4body-exercise  (Accessed 3/1/19)

Mental Health America. Get physically active. http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/get-physically-active (Accessed 3/1/19)

Mayo Clinic. Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms. September 27, 2017. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/

depression/in-depth/depression-and-exercise/art-20046495 (Accessed 3/1/19)

SOURCE: Olson, B. (23 May 2019) "Exercise and Health: The Mind-Body Connection" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from http://blog.ubabenefits.com/exercise-and-health-the-mind-body-connection


Workplace Wellness Programs Barely Move The Needle, Study Finds

Workplace wellness programs do not cut costs for employers, reduce absenteeism or improve workers' health, according to a recent study from JAMA. Continue reading this blog post to learn about this recent study and workplace wellness programs.


Workplace wellness programs have become an $8 billion industry in the U.S. But a study published Tuesday in JAMA found they don’t cut costs for employers, reduce absenteeism or improve workers’ health.

Most large employers offer some type of wellness program — with growth fueled by incentives in the federal Affordable Care Act.

A host of studies over the years have provided conflicting results about how well they work, with some showing savings and health improvements while others say the efforts fall short.

Many studies, however, faced a number of limitations, such as failing to have a comparison group, or figuring out whether people who sign up for such wellness programs are somehow healthier or more motivated than those who do not.

Now researchers from the University of Chicago and Harvard may have overcome these obstacles with one of the first large-scale studies that is peer-reviewed and employs a more sophisticated trial design.

They randomly assigned 20 BJ’s Wholesale Club outlets to offer a wellness program to all employees, then compared results with 140 stores that did not.

The big-box retailer employed nearly 33,000 workers across all 160 clubs during the test.

After 18 months, it turned out that yes, workers participating in the wellness programs self-reported healthier behavior, such as exercising more or managing their weight better than those not enrolled.

But the efforts did not result in differences in health measures, such as improved blood sugar or glucose levels; how much employers spent on health care; or how often employees missed work, their job performance or how long they stuck around in their jobs.

“The optimistic interpretation is there is no way we can get improvements in health or more efficient spending if we don’t’ first have changes in health behavior,” said one study author, Katherine Baicker, dean of the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago. (Dr. Zirui Song, an assistant professor of health policy and medicine at Harvard Medical School, was its co-author.)

“But if employers are offering these programs in hopes that health spending and absenteeism will go down, this study should give them pause,” Baicker said.

The study comes amid widespread interest in wellness programs.

The Kaiser Family Foundation’s annual survey of employers found that 53% of small firms and 82% of large firms offer a program in at least one of these areas: smoking cessation, weight management and behavioral or lifestyle change. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

Some programs are simple, offering gift cards or other small incentives to fill out a health risk assessment, take a lunch-and-learn class or join a gym or walking group. Others are far more invasive, asking employees to report on a variety of health-related questions and roll up their sleeves for blood tests.

A few employers tie financial incentives to workers actually lowering risk factors, such as high blood pressure or cholesterol — or making concerted efforts to participate in programs that might help them do so over time.

The Affordable Care Act allowed employers to offer financial incentives worth up to 30% of the cost of health insurance, leading some employers to offer what could be hundreds or even thousands of dollars off workers’ deductibles or premiums to get them to participate. That led to court challenges about whether those programs are truly voluntary.

In the study reported in JAMA, the incentives were modest. Participants got small-dollar gift cards for taking wellness courses on topics such as nutrition, exercise, disease management and stress control. Total potential incentives averaged $250. About 35% of eligible employees at the 20 participating sites completed at least one module.

Results from those workers — including attendance and tenure data, their self-reported health assessment and results from lab blood tests — were specifically compared with similar reports from 20 primary comparison sites where workers were not offered the wellness gift cards and classes. Overall employment and health spending data from all worksites were included in the study.

Wellness program vendors said details matter when considering whether efforts will be successful.

Jim Pshock, founder and CEO of Bravo Wellness, said the incentives offered to BJ’s workers might not have been large enough to spur the kinds of big changes needed to affect health outcomes.

Amounts of “of less than $400 generally incentivize things people were going to do anyway. It’s simply too small to get them to do things they weren’t already excited about,” he said.

An accompanying editorial in JAMA noted that “traditional, broad-based programs like the one analyzed by Song and Baicker may lack the necessary intensity, duration, and focus on particular employee segments to generate significant effects over a short time horizon.”

In other words, don’t give up entirely on wellness efforts, but consider “more targeted approaches” that focus on specific workers with higher risks or on “health behaviors [that] may yield larger health and economic benefits,” the editorial suggested.

It could be, the study acknowledges, that 18 months isn’t enough time to track such savings. So, Baicker and Song also plan to publish three-year results once they are finalized.

Still, similar findings were recently reported in another randomized control trial conducted at the University of Illinois, where individuals were randomly selected to be offered wellness programs.

In one interesting point, that study found that wellness-program participants were likely already healthier and more motivated, “thus a primary benefit of these programs to employers may be their potential to attract and retain healthy workers with low medical spending.”

Everyone involved in studying or conducting wellness agrees on one thing: Changing behavior — and getting people motivated to participate at all — can be difficult.

Steven Aldana, CEO of WellSteps, a wellness program vendor, said that for the efforts to be successful they must cut across many areas, from the food served in company cafeterias to including spouses or significant others to help people quit smoking, eat better or exercise more.

“Behavior is more complicated than simply taking a few wellness modules,” said Aldana. “It’s a lifestyle matrix or pattern you have to adopt.”

SOURCE: Appleby, J. (16 April 2019) "Workplace Wellness Programs Barely Move The Needle, Study Finds" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://khn.org/news/workplace-wellness-programs-barely-move-the-needle-study-finds/


Digital health revolution: What we’ve learned so far

The effectiveness of digital health devices is being called into question by recent studies. Digital health devices provide personalized feedback to users, helping improve their health. Read this blog post to learn more.


The promise of the digital health revolution is tantalizing: a multitude of connected devices providing personalized feedback to help people improve their health. Yet, some recent studies have called into question the effectiveness of these resources.

While still evolving, many compelling use-cases are starting to emerge for digital health, including a set of best practices that can help guide the maturation of this emerging field. In the near future, many people may gain access to individual health records, a modern medical record that curates information from multiple sources, including electronic health records, pharmacies and medical claims, to help support physicians in care delivery through data sharing and evidence-based guidelines.

As these advances become a reality, here are several digital health strategies employers, employees and healthcare innovators should consider.

Micro-behavior change.

Part of the power of digital health is the ability to provide people with actionable information about their health status and behavior patterns. As part of that, some of the most successful digital health programs are demonstrating an ability to encourage daily “micro-behavior change” that, over time, may contribute to improved health outcomes and lower costs. For instance, wearable device walking programs can remind people to move consistently throughout the day, while offering objective metrics showcasing actual activity patterns and, ideally, reinforcing positive habits to support sustained change. Technology that encourages seemingly small healthy habits — each day — can eventually translate to meaningful improvements.

Clinical interventions.

Big data is a buzz word often associated with digital health, but the use of analytics and technology is only meaningful as part of a holistic approach to care. Through programs that incorporate clinical intervention and support by care providers, the true value of digital health can be unlocked to help make meaningful differences in people’s well-being. For instance, new programs are featuring connected asthma inhalers that use wirelessly enabled sensors to track adherence rates, including frequency and dosage, and relay that information to healthcare professionals. Armed with this tangible data, care providers can counsel patients more effectively on following recommended treatments. Rather than simply giving consumers the latest technologies and sending them along, these innovations can be most effective when integrated with a holistic care plan.

Real-time information.

One key advantage of digital resources, such as apps or websites, is the ability to provide real-time information, both to consumers and healthcare professionals. This can help improve how physicians treat people, enabling for more customized recommendations based on personal health histories and a patient’s specific health plan. For instance, new apps are enabling physicians to know which medications are covered by a person’s health plan and recommend lower-cost alternatives (if available) before the patient actually leaves the office. The ability to access real-time information — and act on it — can be crucial in the effort to use technology to empower healthcare providers and patients.

Financial incentives.

Nearly everyone wants to be healthy, but sometimes people need a nudge to take that first step toward wellness. To help drive that engagement, the use of financial incentives is becoming more widespread by employers and health plans, with targeted and structured rewards proving most effective. From using mobile apps and comparison shopping for healthcare services to encouraging expectant women to use a website to follow recommended prenatal and post-partum appointments, financial incentives can range from nominal amounts (such as gift cards) to hundreds of dollars per year. Coupling digital health resources with financial rewards can be an important step in getting — and keeping — people engaged.

The digital health market will continue to grow, with some studies estimating that the industry will exceed $379 billion by 2024. To make the most of these resources, healthcare innovators will be well served to take note of these initial concepts.

SOURCE: Madsen, R. (14 March 2019) "Digital health revolution: What we’ve learned so far" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/digital-health-revolution-what-weve-learned-so-far?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


Workout - Girl - Stretching - Pixabay

How employers can take advantage of the best-kept wellness secret

Did you know: Some insurance carries pay wellness dollars to companies who implement wellness programs. Continue reading this blog post to learn how companies can take advantage of insurance companies’ best-kept secret.


Did you know some insurance carriers pay companies to implement wellness programs? It’s called wellness dollars, and it is insurance companies’ best-kept secret.

Wellness dollars are a percentage of a company’s premiums that can be used to cover wellness-related purchases. The healthier employees are, the fewer dollars insurance carriers need to pay out for a policy. Many insurers have incentives like wellness dollars for employers to improve the well-being of their workers.

The benefits of adding a wellness program are plenty. These programs typically generate a positive return on investment for companies. Research done by three Harvard professors found that overall medical costs decline $3.27 for every dollar spent on wellness programs. Costs from absenteeism fall about $2.73 for each dollar. Well-designed programs can improve employees’ overall wellbeing and life satisfaction, according to a report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

It’s a new year, and group health insurance plans are starting fresh. Here’s how employers can take advantage of wellness dollars.

Get in touch with your carrier. The first step is to get in touch with your insurance carrier to find out if your self-insured or fully-insured plan covers participatory or health-contingent programs. If you don’t have wellness dollars, it’s still early in the year, and it’s worth negotiating to see if you can include them in your company’s current package.

You will work with your insurance carrier to determine how your wellness dollars can be spent, based on an agreed-upon contract. The amount of wellness dollars that you receive depends on the number of employees and profitability.

Every company is different, so the range of services varies and could include wellness programs, gym memberships, nutrition programs, massages and more. Sometimes incentives for wellness activities can be used; sometimes it can’t. Ask your carrier for a complete list of covered expenses. This will help you as you shop around to find the right offerings. Save receipts and records for reimbursements.

Determine the best use. There are a few ways to determine what offerings you should use for your company. Before making any decisions, ask your employees and the leadership team what type of program they would be most likely to engage in. Gallup named the five elements that affect business outcomes: purpose, social, community, physical and financial. Look for a comprehensive program that includes these five elements, instead of coordinating with multiple vendors. If only a portion of your expenses will be reimbursed, it’s still worth getting a wellness program. They have cost-savings on an individual and team level.

Wellness programs are all about building culture, and with unemployment at a record low, it’s a sticking point to keep employees invested in your company. A few examples of wellness offerings include fitness classes, preventive screenings, on-site yoga, financial wellness workshops, healthy living educational workshops, and health tracking apps.

Once you’ve implemented wellness offerings in your workplace, keep track of your company’s progress. Create a wellness task force, a healthy workplace social group, or conduct monthly survey check-ins to make sure employees are staying engaged. Some wellness programs utilize technology to track participation, integrate with wearables, and report other analytics. Ask your insurance carrier if wellness dollars have flexibility in adding or changing the services throughout the year, based on engagement.

SOURCE: Cohn, J. (14 February 2019) "How employers can take advantage of the best-kept wellness secret" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-employers-can-take-advantage-of-the-best-kept-wellness-secret