Providing answers Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2008

Employees spend a lot of time at work. Thus, it’s only natural that they turn to their employers, their source of health insurance, for health care information.

Because of this, employers should offer workers related information and resources. Progressive companies are helping employees get the answers they want and the services they need, right at the workplace.

“It should be the obligation of every organization to make information, programs and services accessible,” says Doug Ribley, vice president of health and wellness services at Akron General Health System.

Smart Business spoke with Ribley about ways you can provide your employees with the information and assistance they need.

Isn’t health care information usually a function of human resources?

Typically, employee health initiatives fall under the HR umbrella. HR professionals work tirelessly to recruit, retain and maximize productivity within the work force. Employee health initiatives play an important role in the realization of these goals. Development and delivery of a comprehensive employee health menu of services requires a unique and specific skill set. For this reason, third-party employee health and wellness venders are often contracted to assist organizations in achieving their employee health objectives.

With a clear understanding of an organizational health profile and outcome expectations, a service provider can present a defined list of deliverables and meet this commitment in an efficient, effective and cost-effective manner. It is common for organizations to realize a $4 to $5 return on every $1 invested with this approach.

What sorts of resource materials should HR have at hand?

With any successful program, the promotion and communication related to an employee health initiative directly correlates to program success. Resource materials provide information on lifestyle-related disease, including risk factor, prevention and treatment practices. Distribution of this information should take many forms, including Web-based platforms. Organizational information centers serve as distribution points for flyers, brochures and pamphlets and typically use bulletin boards with information dispensers to create an attractive and user-friendly information location. A broad range of information should be made readily available and should include materials on health screenings, health education, nutritional recommendations and programs, clinical support services, and occupational medicine.

Is it legal for employers to get involved in employee health issues?

Typically, organizations introduce an employee health initiative by issuing a health risk appraisal (HRA) and offering incentives to maximize employee participation. This information is gathered by a third-party employee health vender in most cases, who analyzes individual data and assembles aggregate data that represents health trends related to the entire organization.

Once complete, a specific program is developed to address areas that need improvement. The trend is to offer specific services that directly address the needs of each individual employee. On-site clinics, pharmacies, fitness centers, etc., are becoming more prevalent in the workplace and include the gathering of personal health information (PHI) from the participating employee.

It is legal to acquire this information as long as the employee grants permission and the organization follows HIPAA regulations for use and storage of this information. Any program that requires employee PHI must present the employee with a document titled, ‘Notice of Privacy Practices.’

What other on-site resources do companies provide?

As employers continue to bear the majority of the burden related to growing health insurance premiums, more organizations are expanding their employee health initiative to include a broad range of health, wellness and clinical services. The objective is to identify employees at risk, establish programs and services that prevent and/or treat chronic disease and reduce identified risk factors, make adherence and/or access to health services quick and convenient, and offer a comprehensive menu of health services that improve the quality of life for participating employees. This directly contributes to organizational success by reducing health care costs, absenteeism and workers’ comp injuries, while increasing employee morale, productivity and retention. On-site physicians, clinics and pharmacies are becoming more commonplace as they have a direct positive impact on time away from work and on convenience.

Should a firm push health information to workers?

Providing information and program/service options to prevent and treat disease, illness and injury is the right thing to do. Employers who take a proactive approach are seen as an organization that cares. Pushing health information on employees may create some push-back, however, making information readily accessible is the right thing to do. In addition to elevating awareness and positively impacting work force health, the very real opportunity to save lives makes this a meaningful, important and worthwhile area of focus for all organizations.

DOUG RIBLEY is vice president of health and wellness services at Akron General Health System. Reach him at dribley@agmc.org.