This content is part of the Essential Guide: Wearable health technology in medical and consumer arenas

Craft employee wellness programs for better population health

Inclusion of wearable devices, EHR integration and analytics data are a few items providers consider when forming a wellness plan for employees.

In recent years, employee wellness programs implemented by private organizations have returned mixed results. Wellness plans work by offering patient engagement incentives to achieve larger goals: to improve population health and help patients with chronic diseases manage their conditions. Businesses work with health plan providers to create wellness programs that help reduce premiums costs and improve the health of their employees.

Typically, the first step in implementing an employee wellness program is to calculate employees' health risk scores. That data provides a measure of where the group stands compared to the general population and can help establish an overall health goal for the organization to work toward.

Wellness initiatives are offered by payers and private entities with the technology and healthcare experience needed to support these programs. There are several areas in which a wellness plan provider can help achieve the goal of improving the group members' health scores. The following are some of those areas.

Not all wearables are created equal. Organizations of all sizes have experimented with providing employees with wearable devices. What they realized is that only the individuals ready for change are likely to be long-term users of these devices. Unsatisfactory levels of adoption of wearable devices can be a sticking point for employee wellness programs.

Constant communications. Wellness plan providers offer Web solutions to enable participants to easily communicate with and receive feedback from coaches. Many wellness plans include online communities that serve as sources of peer support and educational recommendations. Additional interactions between wellness plan participants and providers can occur in other settings, such as on-site workshops.

Personal health records integration. It is desirable for any health information that has been recorded through a wellness program to be shared and centralized in part of a patient's personal health record. Some wellness program providers have adopted platforms that can share all relevant health data with an EHR system.

Effective incentive programs. A wide variety of wellness-focused incentive programs are being offered today. Most revolve around financial incentives for members who improve their health risk scores. Other programs host interdepartmental competitions, designed to serve as friendly motivation to outdo the progress of employees from different business units.

Analytics and reporting capabilities. Wellness programs are designed to measure specific health data points and track if and why they improve over time. Results of a wellness initiative are based on reports and analytics defined either by a payer or by the wellness platform. Existing best practices or standard benchmarks are used as gauges for a program's success. Regardless of the outcomes, the captured data provides an opportunity for either a wellness participant or organization to gain insights into both individual and group population health statistics. These potential discoveries make the analytics component a key part of any wellness platform.

Observing the health routines of a small subset of the population, such as a group within a public or private business, offers a chance to identify which behaviors can be changed to benefit the wellbeing of those within the group. By informing employees of specific emotional, nutritional, lifestyle and physical changes they can make to reinforce healthier habits, providers can be assured that their wellness programs are inspiring individuals to take an active role in improving their health and quality of life, and reducing their healthcare costs.

About the author:
Reda Chouffani is vice president of development at Biz Technology Solutions Inc., which provides software design, development and deployment services for the healthcare industry. Let us know what you think about the story; email [email protected] or contact @SearchHealthIT on Twitter.

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