Blogpost

Are Health Analytics the Future of Wellness Programs?

Benjamin Prinzing

Founder and President of Kadalyst

Today's wellness programs still heavily rely on viewing historical data, which forces you to design your health and wellbeing plans by looking through the proverbial rearview mirror. In a time where the focus is on "prevention," this method means we may already be too late.

What if you could look outward through the windshield and see what's ahead, avoid accidents and become the most efficient drivers on this journey to employee health? More importantly, what if possessing such "powers" was the difference between saving a colleague's life and losing someone?

What Are Health Analytics?

Artificial intelligence (AI) has found its way into the healthcare industry, and for good reason. Healthcare providers need technology to help them make better decisions regarding patient care. That's where health analytics plays a vital role, analyzing medical and pharmacy claims, biometric screening data, as well as other sources that provide a level of influence and confidence in the decision making process.

Data scientists have developed sophisticated algorithms, that can now predict within a 95 percent accuracy if someone will visit the Emergency Room within the next 12-months, as well as forecast future healthcare cost drivers. Such tools are now being made available outside "the clinic" and into the hands of employers, health plans, insurance brokers and wellness providers.

Image courtesy of MEDAi - Based on an independent study by Milliman

An independent study across 100 employers, totaling 176,000 employees, set out to determine the accuracy of one such AI too, MedAi. The blue dots represents the predicted healthcare costs and the overlaying pink dots reflect the actual costs incurred. This study demonstrated the accuracy of the forecasting tool to be within a 95 percent certainty.

Think on that for a second. Can you imagine if you knew that Susan in Human Resources was likely going to have a major health event within the next year that would put her in the Emergency Room? Though HIPAA prevents you from knowing this about Susan directly, your health coaching vendor could, potentially, save her life. Pretty amazing, right?

What Can You Do With Health Analytics?

What if you could filter the data on your organization by location, demographics and health condition? You might instantly see that your facility in Wichita, KS has a prevalence of high cholesterol among your male population over age 40, costing you a forecasted amount of $150,000. Plus, 5 percent of those identified will likely be in the Emergency Room within the next year, and 20 percent of them don't currently have a Primary Care Physician (PCP). What could you do armed with this kind of information? The correct answer: a lot!

Image courtesy of Springbuk.com, displaying data filter capabilities that react instantly on the dashboard. Tools like Springbuk allow you to create a focused cohort, so you can monitor groups over time to see if care gaps are being closed and forecasted costs are decreasing.

For example, you could send out mailers to all your male workers about the importance of having a PCP and showcase 3-4 providers in-network within 5-miles of the facility. Your Health Coaching vendor could provide outreach to these employees to discuss ways of decreasing their cholesterol, and your Disease Management vendor could assist in closing care gaps. (And if you don't have vendors, you now have the data to inform your leadership that you need them!)

Health analytics are the future of employee health management, and today's wellness leaders know that in order to make a sustainable impact on employee health—and healthcare costs—they need to be armed with smart intelligence.

Header Photo: Twenty20

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Why Corporate Wellness Programs Aren't for Number Crunchers

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Why Corporate Wellness Programs Aren't for Number Crunchers

The hype around wellness in the workplace has reached critical mass. Corporations that once rolled their eyes at Google's full-time yoga instructors are now doling out annual wellness stipends of their own — paying for more "Namaste" to retain employees and promote overall wellness. And there's no sign the investment will stop anytime soon. According to the RAND Corporation, companies spend a total of $6 billion annually on wellness programs. Google, for example, shells out nearly $13,000 a pop on its nap pods, while Shutterstock offers employees weekly massages that amount to $50 per hour per employee (plus $800 for each massage chair). This isn’t to say it’s always expensive to run these programs — some can be low to no cost. In 2015, RAND found that most organizations plan to invest the same as 2014 (if not more) into corporate wellness programs. But the question remains: Is this a money-wasting fad or a valuable engagement and retention tool? The Employee Engagement Argument With 70 percent of U.S. workers reporting that they feel disengaged in the office, some companies believe wellness programs will reverse the trend. It makes more sense (even monetarily) to try to re-engage disillusioned employees than hunt for new talent. Studies show that disengaged workers are 2.5 times more likely to leave their jobs. One way to keep them is through these programs. "Employees value wellness-related benefits and want to work for companies that support their health-related goals," says David Roddenberry, founder of health-incentive company HealthyWage. To Roddenberry's point, experts have found that the next generation of workers place value in meaningful workplace perks, sometimes choosing a company with a healthy ethos over one that will simply offer them a larger paycheck. A survey from TechnologyAdvice found that 56 percent of people would trade a salary increase for workplace perks, with gym memberships as the second-most requested perk. The Business Case From a business perspective, however, wellness programs can seem like a money-suck as there's no clear — or uniform — way to measure ROI. Some companies opt to measure retention rates after implementing new practices, while others focus on decreased healthcare claims. It's hard to know for certain if Carol in accounting quit smoking because of the new corporate cardio classes, for example, or because her daughter implored her to make the life change — or maybe both. The difficulty, says Roddenberry, arises when companies simply throw money at wellness, but don't implement an actual program (i.e., they don't set goals or have a great answer to the "why" of the investment). Copycat programs and lack of due diligence do not make for successful employee wellness programs. "Incentives are a great example of something that works well in certain contexts, but not others," Roddenberry notes. "Some employers think that you can offer a $200 reward and expect employees to lose weight or quit smoking. Unfortunately, the money alone is not enough. The $200, when administered as part of a well-structured weight loss or smoking cessation game, can drive significant positive lifestyle change." The Takeaway Probably the most extensive employee wellness study to-date is a seven year study of 67,000 PepsiCo employees. While the study found that the beverage behemoth's chronic disease management programs lowered health care costs (lowering hospital visits 29 percent), lifestyle programs proved less successful (for each dollar spent on lifestyle programs, Pepsi lost $.52 in health care costs). The takeaway? Don't invest in a wellness program if your goal is to save money—invest in it if you want to improve company culture and help employees get closer to the ever-elusive "work-life balance." "Unfortunately, too many companies are trying to implement wellness programs with little to no experience or game plan for success," Kinema Fitness president Joshua Love writes on Forbes. "As a result, more programs fail than succeed. The real problem? Corporate wellness cannot be treated as a band-aid, and you definitely won't be able to find it in a fitness app." Ultimately, an investment can't be about returns. It can, however, foster a community of people geared towards a common goal. Better engagement, higher attendance rate, healthier families and talent attraction are all commonly believed to be by-products of a thoughtful wellness program — the question for HR is whether or not you're willing to take that leap of faith. Photo: Shutterstock

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Learning Corner with Jeff Pfeffer: It's Time We Talk About Mental Health at Work

Mental health is finally getting more attention in the working world. In fact in January, the World Economic Forum held meetings in Davos that featured a dedicated mental health track. The goal? Raise awareness of mental health as a global challenge—outside and inside of the workplace. According to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 18% of adults in the U.S. (some 42 million people) have a mental, behavioral or emotional disorder. And a report from Mental Health America found that almost 20 million Americans have a substance abuse problem, while nearly 9 million people (3.8 percent of the population) reported having serious thoughts of suicide. The workplace isn't immune to the challenges of mental health. And as the working world strives to master new, unfamiliar technologies, mental health issues could even be exacerbated by work. What's more, a systematic review of studies of work-related stress estimates costs to be as high as $187 billion, with 70% of the sum coming from lost productivity. I believe that learning and talking about mental health issues at work is a necessary first step to improving mental health in the workplace, and by extension, curbing the enormous costs they create. How Employers Can Do More to Mitigate the Costs of Mental Illness According to The Center for Workplace Mental Health, nearly 7% of full-time workers experienced major depression during the year, with the total economic burden estimated to be about $210 billion per year. Major depression increases absenteeism, presenteeism (reduced productivity) and has direct medical costs. Employers bear a lot of these costs and, therefore, have a role to play in addressing mental health issues—both through the medical benefits they provide and by building cultures of physical and mental health in their workplaces through management practices that promote well-being. In order to get to a place where managers and employees understand the implications of mental health at work, companies should stop treating it as something distinct (and less important) than other forms of illness. They should provide comprehensive mental health coverage as part of their medical benefits, all while working to reduce the stigma. Understanding (and Treating) the Pervasion of Mental Illness at Work In 2008, the U.S. passed a mental health parity law mandating equal medical coverage for mental and physical illness, but big differences in coverage and access remain. One study found that in 2015, behavioral care was between "four to six times more likely to be out-of-network than medical or surgical care," and insurers paid primary care providers 20% more for the same types of care than they paid addiction or mental health specialists. Some of this difference is the result of the stigma associated with mental health problems. A Financial Times reporter recently told me that when doing interviews for a story about mental illness in the C-suite, a board member told her that if the CEO admitted to mental illness, the board would fire that individual. An article about depression in the technology industry noted that admitting to depression could harm company perception and would put obtaining funding at risk. Another contributing factor in the difference in cost and access is the sense that mental illness is not a "real" illness like cancer or heart disease. But that is completely incorrect: As my Stanford colleague Leanne Williams has demonstrated, neuroimaging studies show real changes in the physiology of the brain diagnosed with depression. Making access to care more costly and difficult for insured employees and stigmatizing mental health issues just drives people to try and hide issues and not get care—perpetuating the problems and their associated costs. A Path Forward for Employers and Employees Ultimately, the best way companies can eliminate the stigma around mental health at work is to just start talking about it. EY (formerly Ernst and Young), for example, launched a program called We Care with the goal of educating employees about mental health issues and encouraging them to seek help. The program is also centered around support for colleagues who may be struggling with illness or addiction. More employers should take a similarly proactive approach to get mental health out of the shadows. And once the lines of communication are open, HR departments can (and should) consider offering benefits that provide more accessible mental health care. Mental illness is enormously costly, both to society and employers, yet research advances make the effective treatment of disorders such as anxiety and depression much more possible. For reasons both economic and humane, employers should work to destigmatize mental disorders, increase insurance coverage of treatments and ensure that care uses the best, most recent available evidence. Photo: Creative Commons

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