As our national health care costs reach $74 billion per year, wellness programs are in place at nearly every midsize and large business across the country. For wellness programs to truly become a solution for controlling health care costs, the programs must be well integrated into the benefit design and company culture, says Sally Stephens, president of Spectrum Heath Systems. Well-integrated programs will eliminate confusion and provide the best outcomes.
Integration can create a healthy corporate culture that motivates rather than stimulates fear, says Stephens. Business owners should strive to make the programs personalized and easy to access so that the entire population can become engaged. Statistics indicate that the more integrated the program, the higher the return on investment. Averages can be 12 percent or greater.
Smart Business spoke with Stephens about the steps business owners can take to properly integrate wellness programs and the importance of doing so.
How does a business owner properly integrate wellness programs into the company?
Wellness programs can be properly integrated by streamlining human resources and third-party vendors to work more effectively together, by branding and marketing the program to employees and families and, most importantly, tracking outcomes to ensure the initiative is having a positive impact. Breaking down the silos between health and wellness will generate a focus on total health management, not just a wellness program.
Business owners must also reach out and communicate to families when integrating wellness plans. Often, the dependents are the more costly members of the employer’s health plan. According to Hewitt, 60 to 70 percent of an employer’s costs are generated by the dependents, not the employees. And, 70 percent of health care decisions are made by women.
What are the risks of not integrating wellness programs into the company’s health benefit plan?
The results may not be as effective. Company health and wellness programs work best in an environment where improving well-being is understood, accepted and encouraged by all employees. A sense of group cohesiveness is one of the most effective methods to obtaining a well-integrated program.
How can business owners decide what wellness programs will best work with their health benefit design and their employees?
Managers need to fully understand employee issues and cost drivers before implementing a wellness program. Determining management attitudes, knowledge and support can help drive the implementation strategy.
Today, there are far more options for employers wanting to implement a wellness program. When selecting a vendor, choose one that takes a strategic partnership approach to health management. Look for the right partner who can integrate health and productivity programs, and ensure that it is aligned with the interests of the employer and will significantly impact the company culture.
How can you integrate wellness programs to be well received by employees?
As with any effective initiative, senior management buy-in is critical. Personal participation by management will reinforce the value of the program. To integrate wellness programs successfully, business owners can:
- Nurture a culture of health
- Change the benefit design from an acute focus to prevention and chronic care
- Use incentives
- Integrate data
- Commit long-term for the future health of employees
How can business owners increase participation for wellness programs?
Offering incentives will maximize participation. The most effective incentives are those that are tied to the health plan, such as premium discounts and contribution to flexible spending accounts. This also helps tie the wellness program to the employee’s health plan.
Communication is key. Employees have to understand what benefit participating will have on their future. Address upfront specific issues such as privacy and confidentiality with employees. Use positive messages regarding the program and any incentives so that employees can recognize the benefit. True behavior change happens when plan participants have an investment in the game and they want to change.
SALLY STEPHENS is the president of Spectrum Health Systems. Reach her at Sally.Stephens@spectrumhs.com.