Selecting the right wellness vendor takes careful study

Wellness programs have become a staple of American companies over the past two decades. A 2012 study by Rand Corp. showed that 51 percent of all employers with 50 or more employees reported that they offered wellness programs.

The foundation for workplace wellness programs actually goes back to the 1970s, when government entities such as the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration were created to help ensure safe, healthful working conditions.

Over the past 20 years, the popularity of wellness programs has intensified, especially as health care costs have risen. But not all wellness programs are created equal as companies are finding out. Choosing the one that best suits a specific company can be a challenge.

“The characteristics and quality of health management and wellness programs can vary considerably,” says Stephen T. Doyle, senior director of Strategic Health Management Solutions at UPMC WorkPartners. “Business owners should make a careful study of their options before selecting a wellness vendor.”

Smart Business spoke with Doyle about what employers should look for in a wellness program.

What is the future of wellness programs?

It is obvious that with health care costs on the rise and participation-based incentives losing some effectiveness, the emphasis is shifting to programs that provide incentives (or disincentives) based on outcomes. Recent employer surveys have shown 52 percent of employers had outcomes-based incentives for tobacco use in 2013, and 33 percent offered outcomes-based incentives for biometric screening values such as weight, blood pressure and cholesterol.

To ensure continued participation and to maintain program momentum and success, programs often need to make significant shifts toward outcomes-based incentives.

What are some characteristics of successful incentive wellness programs that employers should look for?

An effective incentive program can be a powerful strategy for engaging employees and motivating behavioral change. However, while many programs may provide incentive strategies for specific behaviors, often these will fall short of addressing the whole population, given individuals’ specific health concerns or needs.

Each employer’s needs are different, and, therefore, wellness and health management providers need to be able to tailor programs to accommodate an organization’s particular needs.

Should wellness programs be integrated with other employee benefits?

Wellness and health management programs produce optimal results when integrated with an organization’s medical benefits. Integrating all employee benefits allows for seamless coordination of benefits and can provide the most complete picture possible of the health of the employee population, which in turn can help guide program direction and development.

Professionally trained and credentialed staff is needed to produce the best service. Ideally, staff should be involved in ongoing training and education initiatives.

In addition, a wellness and health management program provider should be readily accessible in the same geographic region as an employer. This allows for the most responsive service delivery and face-to-face interaction with employers and employees as needed.

Regular, customized reporting that summarizes employee utilization of programs and its impact on the organization is essential.

Are wellness programs the final answer to improving overall workplace health?

Achieving widespread and significant improvements in health risk levels, especially among workers at risk for chronic diseases, may require more than financially incentivized workplace wellness programs. Other workplace modifications — such as on-site health clinics and lifestyle and disease management health coaches on-site — may be needed to enhance the impact of workplace wellness programs.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan