How to develop a comprehensive health and productivity strategy Featured

8:01pm EDT October 31, 2011
How to develop a comprehensive health and productivity strategy

Today’s leading companies are developing business strategies to address rising medical costs and improve the health and productivity of their work force.

An overarching health and productivity strategy breaks down traditional silo benefits programs, which allows for a more comprehensive management of an employee’s health. Companies benefit from healthy and productive employees, while providing employees with the services necessary to take control and impact their quality of life.

“Very few companies have an effective strategy to comprehensively manage health and wellness across all benefit lines,” says Melissa Dunn, senior director, sales and marketing at UPMC WorkPartners. “When comprehensively managed, today’s business leaders can address and impact rising medical costs and unscheduled time away in the workplace.”

Smart Business spoke with Dunn about the need for a comprehensive health and productivity strategy and why it makes sense for employers.

What is a health and productivity strategy?

It is a holistic and integrated approach to addressing health and productivity issues that impact an organization’s performance. It’s a strategy that achieves cost savings for employers, and not by rationing care or reducing benefits. Rather, savings are achieved by looking across all care provided to an employee and then coordinating that care to identify health trends and create programs to positively impact these trends. This not only benefits the employer, it also improves the overall health of employees.

Studies have shown that unhealthy lifestyle behaviors drive 50 to 75 percent of poor health and the associated costs. In turn, those lifestyle behaviors drive 41 percent of short-term disability costs, 24 percent of workers’ compensation costs, 29 percent of the cost of absences and 38 percent of medical and pharmacy costs. But all too often, an employer wrestles with those costs in silos, resulting in excess expenditures and underwhelming results.

An integrated, total health management strategy links the resources a company offers to employees, which are often already in place — including leave management, short-term disability, employee assistance programs, wellness, health coaching and more — to take a proactive approach to addressing health and productivity issues.

How can an employer bring this all together?

Seeing the connections between programs and how each program can impact an employee at a time when assistance is needed most is critical to a successful health and productivity strategy. Employers that provide employees with a 360-degree view of all the benefits and resources available empower employees to access the necessary care and assistance. Employers that have successfully provided an integrated health and productivity solution to employees have engaged with service providers and vendors to not only provide the services but to automatically facilitate the linkage between the services. This approach identifies, engages and impacts more employees and results in improved health and productivity.

Here is a real-life example of how it can work. An employee filed a leave claim to care for her mother. Once the claim was submitted, the employee assistance program contacted her to see if she needed assistance in finding daily care for her mother.

During the conversation with the EAP counselor, the employee acknowledged that she was feeling severely overwhelmed by the burden of her job and her additional family responsibilities. After further discussion, she was referred to a behavioral health counselor to be evaluated. The counselor then referred her to a partnering physician for evaluation and treatment. Through the process, the employee received assistance for her family situation and the right care for her personal health situation. This resulted in the employee returning to work with limited distractions.

Where should employers start to implement an integrated health and productivity strategy?

Many companies offer programs that are critical to a successful health and productivity strategy. However, the problem is that these programs are typically provided in silos, and the siloed approach does not provide the opportunity to connect the programs on behalf of an employee and the issues they face.

An integrated approach breaks down silos and creates crosswalks to receive the services of multiple programs through one source.

How can employers break down program silos?

You can break down these silos by providing an integrated technology platform and service processes that look at individual employees and connect them to the various services available. In-depth data analysis enables collaboration among leave management, employee assistance, employee benefits, workers’ compensation, disease management and other programs to best serve employees.  Collectively, these programs offer employees a wealth of education and services to address issues such as stress, depression, weight management, etc., creating a positive impact on health and productivity for employers.

And when employees are more knowledgeable about their own health, they are more motivated to follow prescribed treatments and better able to achieve goals for a healthier life. An integrated health and productivity strategy provides solutions intended to empower people with the information, tools and support needed to take charge of their health.

To reduce medical trend or disability costs, employers should identify ways to provide these crosswalks, connect people to the services they need and positively impact the health of more people. Through the use of a total health management strategy, you have the ability to identify, find, engage and impact more people than before.

MELISSA DUNN is senior director, sales and marketing for UPMC WorkPartners, which is part of the UPMC Insurance Services Division. Reach her at (412) 454-8380 or dunnmm@upmc.edu.