The Two-Minute Drill

Here's how you can win the Wellness ROI game.

Here is the wellness gig in a nutshell. Health care costs really are out of control. How do we win this out-of-control game? I think everyone agrees the word "wellness" sounds nice and makes good sense, correct? On the surface, it does make sense. If we concentrate on getting our employees healthier, we will lower our escalating health care costs. However, it is easier said than done.

The most common hurdle is that most simply speak the word but never "get off the dime" and invest in a wellness program, greatly due to the fact they have no idea when they will pay for their investment and get a positive return on their investment. In this economy, no ROI means no go.

Short Term vs. Long Term

To win at the wellness game, we must have a short- and long-term strategy in play. Everyone searching for an answer is flocking to the Internet and such to get their employees signed up for wellness activities.

Walking programs, smoking cessation, club memberships, weight loss programs, disease management programs. All of these initiatives are aimed at making employees healthier, so they must be the correct choice, right? The problem here is that most of these wellness initiatives take three to five years to show any measurable results or dollar return. This means that, after a year, the senior management pulls the plug and everyone loses.

Start with a short-term strategy, then move to the long term down the road. (Most do the opposite, of course.) In sports, this advice is similar to the old "focus on your first opponent before thinking about your next game." The primary strategy is to achieve ROI quickly and convince our senior management that wellness is not a waste of money but, rather, a critical, profitable eff ort that will save lives, money, and make for a much more productive work environment with great morale.

Plan to achieve ROI within six months on our first wellness initiative. Once this is accomplished, we will then have the funds to invest in longer-term wellness initiatives that will keep the healthy from falling into unhealthy status. Programs such as weight management, stress management, etc. will be added later.

Launch a Health Risk Assessment (HRA) to all employees. A good one not only helps your employees learn how to improve their health, but also provides data on which wellness areas your company needs to focus on to make an impact. Remaining HIPAA compliant, a third party can use your HRA data to identify and consult with those 15 percent who are causing 90 percent of your company's health care costs. This is key. One challenge is the fact that most HRA participation rates are less than 20 percent. The first critical play here is that in order to make an impact, you must get north of 75 percent participation. Keep in mind that most companies purchase an HRA and then do nothing with the data. Don't make this mistake, resulting in the ultimate penalty.

It's a fact that unmanaged prescription drug therapy causes a significant number of trips to the E.R., along with other short-term measurable costs. This is greatly caused by drug compliance, drugs interacting negatively with each other, patients taking the wrong dosage, etc. Without a doubt, this group is likely the group that is producing most of your medical claims. It's been proven if we focus on and help this group with skilled registered pharmacists (working in hand with that person's doctor), we will get immediate results and ROI.

Most of you have heard the term "disease management." This is another good way of going aft er the "critical 15 percent"; however, it takes much longer to deliver ROI, according to a report published in the Journal of Managed Care Pharmacy in 2008. Using disease management in our long-term approach later does make some sense.

Tie In On-the-Job Safety

Most separate wellness from safety. Big mistake. By combining them, you are adding yet another measurable and quick-ROI-generating tool to your game plan.

It's likely you already have a good overall safety program in place, but how is it being promoted? Is there a strong awareness and educational campaign behind it that has everyone motivated? Do you have a good safety incentive program in place?

By combining, most have found they save significant dollars. Some simply use their existing safety incentive budget and add wellness awarding criteria at little extra cost. (Two birds with one stone? You bet.) I have seen firsthand literally thousands of companies running gamecard safety incentive programs deliver an ROI within three short months that is capable of paying for a wellness campaign for an entire year.

Make sure that your incentive system is flexible and can reward smaller batches of "points" for multiple behaviors.

This article originally appeared in the April 2010 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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