Feature Article - November/December 2016

Healthy Motivations

How Wellness Initiatives Can Lead to Financial Fitness

By Rick Dandes

Here to Stay

The best practices, Ozer said, "are to make sure wellness programs are focused on engaging people in a positive way—to be perceived as helping them achieve their goals as opposed to being judgmental and punitive—and provide incentives and rewards for achieving small steps, such as enrolling and participating in day-to-day activities, which are 'leading indicators' of success, versus just outcomes such as weight loss, which are lagging indicators. Wellness programs also need to be designed as long-term initiatives that become institutionalized and constantly reinforced to change behaviors, not just short-term promotions."

Wellness programs are still a hot topic and will continue to be in the future, Ozer said. "But they remain elusive in their ability to prove engagement and ROI. Health and wellness experts and corporate practitioners are continuously working on linking participation in wellness programs with overall engagement, but few formal studies have been done. Continuing measurement and research studies will prove the effectiveness, benefits and ROI of wellness programs and when this is conclusive, they will really take off."

It is important that a company sponsoring wellness programs finds a partner who really understands it, Ryan added. "Rewards are a critical component of a successful wellness program, but there are other pillars such as biometric assessments, there is communication, and education. All are equally important and if you can deliver all of those things in a cohesive manner, then your program is going to be successful. Otherwise, what you are doing is just throwing a reward at wellness. You are calling it wellness and talking about specific behaviors, but you are not taking that holistic approach that I think is so important to making sure that it works."

"As we move forward, incentives will be at the core of everything done in health care," Hall said. "And it will be people in all situations, those that are pre-diabetic, or those with weight control issues, and specific ailments." If you can somehow manage the risk around those patients, and engage them in incentive program protocols, you should be able to reduce cost of care. Incentives is one of the leading ways to do that, and the health care system is starting to recognize it."

But wellness incentive data analysis has a ways to go. "I do think the future is that they are administered and managed in a consolidated environment where they become a bigger part of the employee-employer relationship. And I see analytics being attached to them," Ryan said.

When you consider any type of incentive program, make sure you can look at the impact on a very diagnostic level, to understand where the opportunities for improvement might be; to monitor some of the basic measures you are going to get about whether or not people are participating, people are understanding, or dropping out of the program. Is there some type of correlation between the drop-off and their location, and is that consistent with all employees in that location?

"The ability to pinpoint activity, to understand its root causes and take it down to a very granular level and to do all that through analytics is really something that the wellness initiatives are going to catch up to," Ryan predicted. "Right now they are not there because a lot of organizations aren't taking that kind of approach. They are in the infancy stages, when it comes to managing wellness, and I think if they were to take the same type of deliberate, strategic process bolstered by analytical insights, I think they'd be much more effective."

Hall agreed with Ryan. "We are moving into the world of big data," he said. "And if you are not starting now getting at that type of data, you need to start thinking about it. Begin by finding ways to capture and understand trends and then leverage it into your program. We need to be smarter not only about how we are administrating it, incrementally, but also track the disbursement of how those funds are used to improve health."