Preventive care can help employees avoid medical issues, lower health costs

Preventive health measures and screenings may help prevent 85 percent of illness and disease, according to a 2013 Institute of Health Metrics report. Employees who receive the screenings and vaccines recommended for their age and gender may be able to address potential issues quicker, or avoid them all together. This can help save money for the health plan and the employee.

“Many employees tend to only use their health plan when they’re sick,” says Julie Bukowiec, senior medical policy analyst at Anthem, Inc. “These employees often miss out on advantages of preventive care, which could lead to more serious medical conditions and out-of-pocket spending.”

Smart Business spoke with Bukowiec about how simple education on preventive care can go a long way to helping change the way employees use their health plan.

Why are health screenings important?

Regular health screenings may uncover a potential issue early. For example, glucose screening could reveal pre-diabetes, a precursor to diabetes. At this point, lifestyle changes can prevent progression to type 2 diabetes. Preventive health exams may also reveal previously undetected conditions, such as uncontrolled hypertension, a leading cause of heart disease and stroke.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicates an estimated 13 million people have undiagnosed and untreated hypertension. In 2015, an estimated 30.3 million Americans were living with diabetes. Approximately 7.2 million of these people were undiagnosed. In both of these conditions, there may be not any signs or symptoms of the disease in the early stages. Early diagnosis and treatment, however, can reduce the associated risks.

What are some recommended screenings and vaccines for adults?

All individuals should undergo an annual comprehensive physical exam that includes height, weight and blood pressure. Some screening recommendations are based on age and gender. Women should receive breast exams every one to three years, up to age 40, and then yearly. Glucose screening for type 2 diabetes should begin by age 40. At age 50, all individuals should be screened for colorectal cancer.

Recommended vaccinations are largely based on age, with the majority of aimed at infants and children. But everyone should receive an influenza shot every year.

How do employees know which preventive care they should receive?

Preventive care recommendations are published by nationally recognized organizations, like the CDC, the United States Preventive Services Task Force and the American Heart Association. These recommendations are available on the sponsoring organization’s websites. Individuals also should talk to their health care provider about what is recommended based upon their circumstances.

What role can employers play in encouraging employees to receive preventive care?

Education is the key to encouraging employees to take advantage of their preventive care benefits. Inform employees that preventive care services aren’t subject to deductible, copayment or co-insurance payments. Some employees may be deterred by a lack of time. Employers can address this by setting up screenings at the office. Finally, attempts to encourage employees to access preventive care benefits should be ongoing, with follow-up reminders, such as emails.

Is there anything else employers should know about preventive care?

Currently preventive services are utilized at approximately half the recommended rate, according to the CDC. (Learn more at www.cdc.gov/healthcommunication/toolstemplates/entertainmented/tips/preventivehealth.html.) But regular preventive care is vital to improving and maintaining health. In addition to screenings and vaccinations, preventive care consists of counseling and education on topics, such as weight control and smoking cessation. Regular preventive care is the first step toward improving the health of your employees. Preventing disease or treating disease at the early stages can help keep health care costs down, lead to longer, healthier lives and encourage greater workplace productively.

HealthLink is a fully owned subsidiary of Anthem, Inc., one of the nation’s leading health benefits companies.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by HealthLink

Do your employees know how to talk to their doctor?

Health care can be complicated and even confusing. The best way for consumers to avoid being overwhelmed by uncertainty is to become health care literate. This doesn’t just mean learning big words, it also means knowing how to talk to doctors, so you have a better understanding of how to follow recommendations, take medications correctly and take charge of your health.

“When people don’t understand the information given to them by their doctors, they are more likely to be in poor health,” says Danielle Freeman, Network Education Representative at HealthLink. “That is why it is important for everyone to know how to talk to their doctor.”

Consumers who talk openly with their doctor and get the most from their appointments may also save money for their health plan and reduce their out-of-pocket costs. By being engaged and more proactive with their health, your employees can avoid issues that are more complex and the need for additional care.

Smart Business spoke with Freeman about how to help employees take charge of their health, and potentially save you both money.

How can an employee best prepare to talk to their doctors?

Being prepared can make a big difference in the success of an appointment with a doctor. Employees should have a general list of questions that they would like the answers to, such as what should I do to prevent or delay health problems, are there tests or screenings I should have, and am I due for vaccines? Employees should also be prepared to ask questions directly related to the reason for their visit.

In addition, having a list of all prescription and over-the counter medications, other drugs, vitamins and any herbal remedies they currently take can help the doctor get a full picture of their health. They should make note of any nutritional drinks or shakes, herbal teas, energy drinks, coffee and alcohol they drink.

Being prepared will show the doctor the patient is engaged and ready to do his or her part to maintain good health.

What about during an appointment?

During an appointment, employees should ask questions and then listen diligently while the doctor responds. They should feel empowered to ask for clarification if they don’t understand something, repeat the information back to the doctor and even have a piece of paper to take notes.

Before leaving the appointment, employees should know what their main issue is, what they need to do to treat it and why the recommended treatment is important. If they aren’t clear on these three points, they need ask for clarification, or schedule a follow-up appointment.

Employees should also pay close attention to any referrals that the doctor orders. The rule of thumb for referrals is to ask, “Why are we doing this?” Employees need to understand the need for the referral, the expected outcome, and whether or not the doctor or facility they are being referred to is in-network. If they are not in-network, they should ask if an alternative is available. The same is true when being referred for lab tests, imaging or other outpatient services. Employees should understand the need, expected outcome and whether or not these services are being requested diagnostically or if it will help their condition.

When lab, imaging or outpatient services are requested, employees should pay close attention to where they are being referred and shouldn’t be afraid to ask if there are alternatives. Freestanding facilities may have less out-of-pocket costs than services received at the hospital. Employees should always feel comfortable talking to their doctor about their concerns and finding the service provider that is best for them.

What if an employee is diagnosed with a medical condition?

When someone is diagnosed with a health problem, he or she needs to understand, in common language, what the issue is. Again, being prepared, asking questions and really listening while the doctor responds can go a long way in understanding the condition. Some common questions employees should ask about their condition include, what is the name of the condition, how it is spelled, what does it mean, what may have caused it and how long it will last? Employees should also inquire about treatment options and how they can learn more.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by HealthLink

Get the word out about EAPs, which traditionally are underused

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) have a long history of success in helping employers and employees tackle complicated and difficult problems. EAPs can trace their beginnings back to 1917, and have been a part of many company benefit programs since the 1960s and 1970s.

And yet, EAPs remain an underused resource for many employees. Employers have to be frustrated when something that could help all employees is not put to best use.

“The reasons for the under use of EAPs are many,” says James Kinville, senior director of LifeSolutions, an EAP that is part of the UPMC Insurance Services Division. “What’s most important is overcoming those reasons and getting the word out to employees that EAPs are a valuable resource that they have available to them.”

Smart Business spoke with Kinville about ways employers can make employees more aware of EAPs and take advantage of their services.

Why do employees resist using an EAP?

Oddly, one of the biggest reasons is that many employees do not believe that EAPs are truly confidential. This comes from a lack of understanding of how EAPs operate. It is imperative that an employer continually educates employees about how an EAP works.

And, of course, the biggest thing is that an EAP is absolutely confidential. EAPs do not report back to the employer after meeting with an employee. Time spent with an EAP is not part of an employee’s work record.

Without that kind of understanding, it is difficult for an employee to look to an EAP as a trusted resource.

What are some other reasons for not using an EAP?

Another misconception still prevalent in the workplace is the stigma attached to reaching out for help in this manner. Men, especially, can struggle with this. What needs to be explained is that everyone at some time or other has had on- and off-the-job problems of a similar nature. Getting help to deal with these kinds of issues is a smart thing to do.

Consider what EAPs handle: financial problems, marital and family issues, cancer, stress-related illnesses, caregiving for parents, substance abuse, workplace conflicts, depression and more. It makes sense to turn to a professional for help with these subjects and it makes sense to realize that some of these problems are bigger than anyone can handle alone. It’s not a stigma to go for help, but rather a wise choice.

Do employees need to go through HR or get permission from their boss to use an EAP’s services?

There is no need for an employee to tell anyone — boss, HR official or work colleague — if he or she wants to partake of EAP services. Companies provide an EAP phone number and an employee can call confidentially and make an appointment.

Because EAPs operate independently of an employer, they are often flexible about when and where they can hold sessions. It could be over the phone, at a therapist’s office or even at the worksite.

What else do employers need to know about EAPs?

Sometimes, employers can be guilty of not fully realizing how EAPs can enhance an organization’s performance, its culture and its business success. EAPs provide value in three ways — by leveraging the value of an organization’s workforce, by addressing the cost of doing business and by helping an organization mitigate its business risks.

It is a key component of an employer strategy to increase employee engagement and improve productivity, morale and workplace harmony.

How does an employer choose an EAP?

Employers need to choose an EAP that can optimize its value to a company’s culture and workforce to ensure the achievement of business objectives.

Employers should weigh an EAP’s experience and expertise in the field, the credentials of the EAP’s staff, the EAP’s level of responsiveness and accessibility, its ability to integrate with other key benefit providers and whether it can tailor a plan design to fit a company’s specific needs.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan

Simple, visible moves help achieve a culture of wellness

Small changes, big results — that’s not always how things work, especially when it comes to health and wellness. But, in terms of the workplace, small changes can often do the most to encourage a culture of wellness.

“You can make a big difference in the lives of employees simply by making the work environment more conducive to wellness,” says Dr. Michael Parkinson, senior medical director of UPMC Health Plan and UPMC WorkPartners. “It doesn’t take major, costly changes to have an impact. Small, simple, but visible moves can communicate that employers are serious about improving the health, safety and well-being of their most precious asset — their employees.”

Smart Business spoke with Parkinson about small changes that can impact wellness.

What are some ways employers can impact employee wellness at the workplace?

One place to start is to encourage employees to walk away from their desks. Cubicles are a mainstay of many workplaces and employees spend much of their time in front of computers. If ‘sitting is the new smoking’ — yes, sedentary lifestyle is a major contributor to death and disease in the U.S. — then getting employees up and moving more needs to be built into each workday.

Leading companies schedule ‘recesses’ throughout the workday, emphasizing stretching, walking meetings and brief walks. Opening an attractive break room or workplace cafeteria encourages employees to not eat at their desks and move at lunchtime.

In early studies, standing workstations have been shown to decrease musculoskeletal strain, improve concentration and increase energy expenditure. Consider introducing one swing activity workstation per group of employees, if the expense for a total office reconfiguration is unaffordable.

Can employers actually increase their employees’ physical activity?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has determined that people who get adequate amounts of physical activity have reduced rates of chronic disease, are better able to maintain a healthy weight, can better manage stress and perform better at work.

Employers can help increase physical activity by taking small measures, which make more activity the expectation and default option. For instance, unlocking the stairwells, making them attractive and encouraging all executives and managers to ‘take a hike’ multiple times throughout the day creates an activity culture.

Employers can support employees who bike to work with safe and secure places on-site for bike storage. They can promote active means of transportation, such as mass transit, by providing transit passes. They can encourage running, walking, biking or taking a fitness class during the day with flextime schedules. Even a single wastebasket in a central work area encourages employees to walk in order to dispose of trash.

How can employers promote healthy eating?

Workplace cafeterias are an ideal place to preferentially price and promote fruits, vegetables, whole grains, non-processed foods and sugar-free drinks. Vending machines can offer healthy alternatives to snack food. Sponsoring ‘new fruit and vegetable of the month’ giveaways can expose employees to foods rarely eaten, but loaded with vitamins, disease-fighting antioxidants and micronutrients.

What about stress, mindfulness and well-being?

All employers see direct and indirect costs of anxiety, stress, depression and lack of mental focus in their medical, disability, workers’ compensation and total productivity costs.

Can the office space or workflow be made less stressful? Are there unnecessary noises, interruptions or poor lighting that exacerbates an already challenging work environment? Are there quiet spaces or rooms for taking a break or practicing mindfulness (deep breathing with mental visualization) to relieve stress and re-charge?

Can employers work to decrease tobacco consumption?

The CDC estimates that smokers cost employers about $5,800 more than their nonsmoking co-workers. A smoke-free policy for the workplace and worksite property should be considered. Employers can make tobacco-cessation classes and services available, as well as materials that promote the benefits of living smoke-free.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan

How to help your employees be smart health care consumers

The term “smart health care consumer” has become increasingly popular. Now more than ever, employers are starting to understand the importance of helping their employees make informed health care decisions — but few know how to do it.

“When employees are smart about their health care choices, it has a positive impact on the company health plan, and the employees,” says Bridgette Bock, sales and retention executive at HealthLink. “But most employees won’t get there on their own, that’s where the employer comes in.”

Smart Business spoke with Bock about how to help employees make informed health care decisions.

How can employers help employees become smart health care consumers?

Employers have a unique opportunity to educate their employees on important health care topics. Typically, employers have direct access to employees and can communicate with them in a variety of ways, such as face-to-face meetings, email, a company intranet site or message boards. Plus, employees tend to more actively engage with information that comes from their employer rather than a third party, such as an insurance carrier.

The most important thing employers can do is use this opportunity to educate their employees. Sharing information about benefits, the best way to use those benefits, as well as a variety of health and wellness topics can help employees become smart health care consumers.

What should employees be educated about?

A great place for employers to focus their efforts is on the company health plan. Employers should consider educating employees on common health care terms, such as deductible, co-payment and co-insurance. They should also educate employees on the specifics of the health plan(s), including a detailed benefit and cost analysis to help them decide which plan is best for them. Providing a side-by-side plan comparison that highlights the important components, if applicable, can really help employees make educated decisions.

Employees also need to be educated about the best way to use their plan. This includes knowing the importance of staying in-network, how to find an in-network doctor and where to go for emergency care. Employers should talk to their insurance carrier or network partner about the materials available to educate their employees on these topics.

What about after an employee picks their plan? Should the education continue?

After employees select their health plan, employers should switch their focus to sharing information about how to use the plan effectively. Some topics to consider include where to go for care, the importance of shopping around before selecting medical services, and available tools like a provider finder, corporate discounts or telemedicine. These can help employees make informed decisions about using their benefits.

When is the best time to provide education?

It’s always a good time to educate employees. Don’t make the mistake of stopping education after open enrollment. Instead, employers should consider developing a yearly calendar with educational topics. Monthly or even bi-weekly communications is a great schedule for educating employees and reminding them about free tools and extras. It is also important to encourage employees to ask questions, so frequently asked questions or question-and-answer sessions are good topics to consider.

Again, employers should check with their carrier or network partner to see what resources are available, as many offer pre-developed educational materials and timelines. This can help employers cut down on the time and resources needed to educate their employees throughout the year.

What else can an employer do to help?

In addition to education, employers can incentivize employees to become healthier with company-wide programs such as a ‘know your numbers’ program or offering flu shots. These preventive programs can help employees avoid chronic disease and the need for additional care. Employers can also consider making the workplace healthier through initiatives like refreshing vending machines with better-for-you options or organizing healthy potlucks or fresh fruit and vegetable deliveries.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by HealthLink

How to support employees with alcohol challenges

Though sometimes hard to detect, alcohol abuse and alcoholism can impact the workplace — from absenteeism and lost productivity to missed deadlines, strained relations with co-workers and outright dismissals from work.

It is important for employers to have policies and plans in place, including support for employees who struggle with these challenges, says James Kinville, senior director of LifeSolutions, an employee assistance program (EAP) and part of UPMC WorkPartners’ suite of services.

Smart Business spoke with Kinville about what employers can do to help employees who show signs of alcohol problems.

What can employers do about this problem?

Employers have an obligation to support their employees, but should not base that solely on lost productivity or the company’s bottom line. Rather, employers have a moral obligation to help their employees live healthier, happier, more sober lives. The same goes for employees dealing with family, financial, legal or health problems.

The best way to address these issues is through an EAP. This benefit offering, which is often separate from health insurance, helps employees with personal or work-related problems that impact their job performance. EAPs typically offer short-term counseling, referrals, employer/employee training and education.

How specifically can an EAP help employees with alcohol problems?

Most EAPs offer awareness training so managers can recognize the signs of a problem and know what to do about it. Once a policy is in place, a manager knows that he or she can refer an employee to the program. That’s incredibly helpful and gives a manager peace of mind.

It’s not a supervisor’s job to diagnose alcohol abuse or alcoholism. Even if a manager suspects that alcohol is involved, it’s better to focus on how the suspected alcohol problem is manifesting itself through increased absences, frequent tardiness or a dramatic falloff in work quality. Stick to tangible behaviors, not the alcohol part.

Accusing the employee of having an alcohol problem rarely goes well and it can be very stressful. It’s better to say you have noticed certain ongoing problems, provide the employee with the EAP number and insist that he or she make contact right away.

What about confidentiality? Are some people hesitant to seek help because it could hurt their career if the word gets out?

Whether the employee seeks help on his or her own volition or is referred by a manager, EAPs are extremely confidential. The EAP only divulges to the employer that the employee made contact with the EAP and that there’s a plan in place. No other health or confidential information is shared.

What is the process once the employee makes contact with an EAP?

Most EAPs offer six sessions with a counselor who conducts a comprehensive review and assessment and works with the employee to develop a plan of action. Sometimes, that’s all that’s needed. Other times, the counselor may refer the employee to a therapist or other behavioral health professional covered under the health plan.

What would you tell employers that don’t have an EAP?

Partner with one. EAPs tend to be low cost and even small companies can afford them. It’s a high-value service that employers tend to not need often, but when they do, it makes all the difference.

It’s also important to promote the EAP. Employees need to know about the service and that their organization supports it. EAPs work best when they are promoted internally in a consistent, customized manner, through mailers, lunch and learns, promotional campaigns and worksite presentations.

Any final thoughts on helping employees with alcohol challenges?

You often hear with alcohol or drug addiction that the person with the disease — and these are diseases, not moral weaknesses — has to hit bottom before realizing he or she has to take steps to get better. By utilizing EAPs and other support services, we can raise that bottom so the afflicted person doesn’t have to fall as far. With an EAP, the employee can take action sooner, before a potential crisis hits.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan

It’s never too early to start preparing for the next health plan year

In today’s ever-changing health care market, it’s never been more important for employers to plan early and shop around for their company health insurance.

“Too many employers simply pay their premiums without a full understanding of what they are purchasing, how well it meets the needs of their employees and how much it affects their bottom line,” says Amadou Yattassaye, president of HealthLink.

If your 2018 plan just went into effect, it could be the perfect time to start thinking about next year.

As an employer, your broker, network partner or insurance carrier should be a trusted resource for making benefit decisions and ensuring your plan meets all industry standards and regulations.

“Employers should start the planning process by working directly with these partners to examine the current plan and its performance,” Yattassaye says.

Aspects such as claim history and spending trends should be evaluated. It may also be beneficial to compare the current plan to those of similar companies to determine if the benefits are competitive. From there, employers can consider different solutions to make next year’s plan more effective. Typically, the more informed and involved the employer, the more successful the benefit plan.

Smart Business spoke with Yattassaye about the health insurance planning process.

What are some top products and services that employers implement to make their benefit plan more successful?

  • Medical management — Through a variety of different types of interventions, medical management addresses the use of services and their appropriateness according to medical standards, the quality of members’ experiences, and the cost of the medical care.
    It’s not only about saving money; it also helps employees avoid being exposed to unnecessary services.
  • Telemedicine — Telemedicine programs offer live, on-demand doctor visits via a phone or video call, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
    When an employee consults with the telemedicine program, there can be significant cost savings for the employer as well as the employee. And, telemedicine programs have been found to help reduce the amount of emergency room and urgent care visits.
  • Behavioral health and employee assistance program (EAP) — Employees who don’t receive the appropriate help for mental health, substance abuse issues or challenges in their personal life are likely to experience higher medical claims, poor productivity and increased absenteeism. Expanded behavioral health and EAP services can help employees with the individualized support they need, leading to increased risk management and productivity for employers.
  • Health and wellness programs — There are a variety of health and wellness programs that can be implemented to help employees manage their health.

Disease management, 24-hour nurse line, maternity management or corporate discount programs are all great options to help employees take charge of their health, while also managing costs.

Is there anything else employers should know about planning for the next plan year?

No matter what changes you decide to make for the next plan year, it is important for employers to stay informed and engaged with their employee benefit offering.

It’s not only one of the largest expenses of running a company, it also has the potential to make the biggest impact on what’s most important to your business — your employees.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by HealthLink

The importance of educating employees about their health plan

It’s never been more important for employees to have a complete understanding of their health care benefits so they can get the most from their coverage.

For many employees, benefit information can be confusing and even overwhelming to understand. However, employers may have a unique opportunity to educate their employees about their health plan.

“The more familiar employees are with their benefits, the easier it will be for them to make informed health care decisions and use those benefits when they need them.” says Judy Dawson, sales and retention executive at HealthLink Inc. “Educated employees may also be more likely to use their benefits to proactively take charge of their health.”

When it comes to educating employees, knowing where to start can be half the battle.

Smart Business spoke with Dawson about five important topics to educate employees on so they can get the most from their health plan.

1) Benefit and plan summaries

Once an employee is enrolled in a health plan, he or she should review the summary of benefits and coverage and summary plan description documents, which are also referred to as SBC and SPD. These documents should be stored where employees can easily access them, such as on a company intranet or with the human resources department, and employers should educate employees about where to find them.

2) Member ID card

Employees’ member ID cards have a lot of important information that can be useful to them as they navigate the health care system and use their benefits. Health plan and network names, group and/or member numbers, and many important phone numbers are listed on ID cards.

Employers may want to consider creating an informational flyer that shows an example of an ID card with the important information highlighted. Employees should be educated on the importance of carrying their ID card with them at all times and how to request a new card if needed.

3) How to find in-network doctors

One of the most beneficial things to educate employees on is how to find doctors, hospitals and other health care facilities that participate in their health plan’s network. Benefits are always richer when receiving services from an in-network provider, which could save money for employees and the plan.

Employees should know that they risk paying more out-of-pocket or their services not being covered when they go outside of their network. No matter how they search — through an online provider finder tool, a provider directory or by calling customer service — all employees should know exactly how to find doctors who participate in their network.

4) Included products and services

If a health plan includes programs that can help employees better manage their health, such as case management, disease management or telemedicine, they need to be educated. Engagement is truly the key to success with health and wellness and cost containment programs, so it’s in the employer’s best interest to encourage participation.

The same is true for pharmacy, which is one of the most used benefits. Employees should be familiar with their pharmacy benefit manager and any prescription guidelines or restrictions so they can make the best use of these benefits.

5) Additional tools and extras

Most employees are surprised to learn about the amount of discounts and free extras that are available through their plan.

If there is a member portal or website available, that can often be an extremely useful tool to help employees maximize their benefits. Employers can also educate their employees about any discounts available on items they purchase, such as glasses and contacts or healthy eating and living products. Some health plans may even offer premium reductions for wellbeing assessments or preventive screenings.

For more tips on educating your employees about their benefits, contact your broker or network partner.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by HealthLink

Simple, visible moves help in achieving a culture of wellness

Small changes, big results — that’s not always how things work, especially when it comes to health and wellness. But, in terms of the workplace, small changes can often do the most to encourage a culture of wellness.

“You can make a big difference in the lives of employees simply by making the work environment more conducive to wellness,” says Dr. Michael Parkinson, senior medical director of UPMC Health Plan and UPMC WorkPartners. “It doesn’t take major, costly changes to have an impact. Small, simple, but visible moves can communicate that employers are serious about improving the health, safety and well-being of their most precious asset — their employees.”

Smart Business spoke with Parkinson about small changes that can impact wellness.

What are some ways employers can impact employee wellness at the workplace?

One place to start is to encourage employees to walk away from their desks. Cubicles are a mainstay of many workplaces and employees spend much of their time in front of computers. If ‘sitting is the new smoking’ — yes, sedentary lifestyle is a major contributor to death and disease in the U.S. — then getting employees up and moving more needs to be built into each workday.

Leading companies schedule ‘recesses’ throughout the workday, emphasizing stretching, walking meetings and brief walks. Opening an attractive break room or workplace cafeteria encourages employees to not eat at their desks and move at lunchtime.

In early studies, standing workstations have been shown to decrease musculoskeletal strain, improve concentration and increase energy expenditure. Consider introducing one swing activity workstation per group of employees, if the expense for a total office reconfiguration is unaffordable.

Can employers actually increase their employees’ physical activity?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has determined that people who get adequate amounts of physical activity have reduced rates of chronic disease, are better able to maintain a healthy weight, can better manage stress and perform better at work.

Employers can help increase physical activity by taking small measures, which make more activity the expectation and default option. For instance, unlocking the stairwells, making them attractive and encouraging all executives and managers to ‘take a hike’ multiple times throughout the day creates an activity culture.

Employers can support employees who bike to work with safe and secure places on-site for bike storage. They can promote active means of transportation, such as mass transit, by providing transit passes. They can encourage running, walking, biking or taking a fitness class during the day with flextime schedules. Even a single wastebasket in a central work area encourages employees to walk in order to dispose of trash.

How can employers promote healthy eating?

Workplace cafeterias are an ideal place to preferentially price and promote fruits, vegetables, whole grains, non-processed foods and sugar-free drinks. Vending machines can offer healthy alternatives to snack food. Sponsoring ‘new fruit and vegetable of the month’ giveaways can expose employees to foods rarely eaten, but loaded with vitamins, disease-fighting antioxidants and micronutrients.

What about stress, mindfulness and well-being?

All employers see direct and indirect costs of anxiety, stress, depression and lack of mental focus in their medical, disability, workers’ compensation and total productivity costs.

Can the office space or workflow be made less stressful? Are there unnecessary noises, interruptions or poor lighting that exacerbates an already challenging work environment? Are there quiet spaces or rooms for taking a break or practicing mindfulness (deep breathing with mental visualization) to relieve stress and re-charge?

Can employers work to decrease tobacco consumption?

The CDC estimates that smokers cost employers about $5,800 more than their nonsmoking co-workers. A smoke-free policy for the workplace and worksite property should be considered. Employers can make tobacco-cessation classes and services available, as well as materials that promote the benefits of living smoke-free.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan

Choosing the right health coaching program for your employees

It’s a fact that 75 percent of employer health care costs are the result of chronic diseases that have unhealthy behaviors as their root cause, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The key to bringing down those health care costs? Change the behaviors that lead to the chronic diseases,” says Amanda Budzowski, MS, MPH, CHES, senior manager of Clinical Training & Development at UPMC WorkPartners and UPMC Health Plan.

“The question is, how? How to get employees to lose weight, eat better, get more active or stop smoking?” she says. “How to help them better manage their diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease?”

And the answer is: With help from a health coach.

“It turns out that many health insurance companies are now offering health coaching free to their members. That’s great news for employers,” Budzowski says.

Smart Business spoke with Budzowski about how to set up a coaching program to help change the employee behaviors that lead to chronic diseases.

What’s important to include in a successful health coaching program?

With health coaching, employees and family members can work one-on-one, usually by phone or email, with a trained expert in behavior change. Research confirms that health coaching works.

When assessing a health plan’s health coaching services, look for:

  • Lifestyle expertise: The health coaching team should be able to help your employees with lifestyle challenges, such as losing weight, eating healthier, quitting smoking, increasing activity and lowering stress.
  • Health condition expertise: Health coaches should also have expertise in managing conditions such as diabetes, asthma, low back pain, depression and heart disease.
  • Comprehensive staffing: To ensure your employees are in good hands, the health coaching team should have licensed nurses, counselors, social workers, registered dietitians and exercise physiologists — preferably with medical director oversight.
  • Accessibility: Some health insurance companies can actually supply health coaches to your job site. Short of that, look for health coaches to be available full-time on weekdays via phone, email or live chat, with accessibility for teletype devices for the deaf, hard of hearing or speech-impaired.

What else should employers keep in mind?

Effective health coaching doesn’t happen by accident. It should follow a process much like this:

1) Health coach meets with client to define their personal wellness vision.

2) Health coach and client explore strengths and past successes as well as anticipated challenges and barriers.

3) Health coach and client determine health goals.

4) Health coach and client co-create solutions and a customized plan to get there.

5) Health coach checks in frequently to help client stay motivated and accountable.

6) Health coach celebrates with client when goal is accomplished.

Health coaching is a highly effective tool for changing the behaviors that lead to the chronic diseases that significantly increase employer health care costs. That’s why it’s so important to choose the right health coaching program for your employees.

Are there any secrets to getting employees to use a health coach?

There is a new strategy out there that is having a big impact on health coach usage, and that’s when a person’s doctor recommends health coaching. It’s one thing if a person self-directs to a health coach or if a health insurance company recommends the health coach, but it’s a different deal altogether if the recommendation comes from the doctor.

People believe their doctors and doctors get to know their patients over time. So there’s a relationship of trust that forms. Therefore, when a doctor says to a patient that it would helpful if he or she got some guidance and motivation from a health coach, that recommendation goes a long way. The patient is more likely to take action and sign on.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by UPMC Health Plan