Within corporate America, employee wellness programs have been popular solutions to the escalation of healthcare costs across all sectors of the economy. According to the most recent (2012) Employer Health Benefits Survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust, 63 percent of employers offering health benefits also offer at least one type of wellness activity, such as weight loss programs, gym membership discounts, biometric screenings or personal health coaching.
Large firms – those with 200 or more workers – are even more likely to offer a wellness program than small firms; fully 94 percent offer one or more health-related activities. When asked about the effectiveness of wellness programs, 73 percent of employers offering at least one activity reported they were effective in improving the health of their firm’s employees, while 52 percent said that wellness programs were reducing their company’s healthcare costs.
It is no wonder, then, that employers in western Pennsylvania and across the country are increasingly interested in ways to keep their workers healthy. The latest strategy to engage employees in health improvement is offering tools they can use on their own time, at their own pace, when they are at their most motivated. Population health portals customized for each company’s employees give more than a passing nod to Americans’ fascination with all things web-based. They empower employees to take charge of their health, and enable employers to incentivize them for doing so.
Although health portals have been around for a while, tying them in with employer wellness programming is new. Forward-thinking health organizations are seeing hospital-branded portals as a way to forge closer relationships with employers and their workers, as well as promote their services to a captive audience at the point when they are thinking about their health. It’s a concept that is extremely timely, according to the Pew Research Center. According to the Pew’s first study on health tracking, conducted in September 2012 as part of the Internet & American Life Project, 72 percent of Internet users say they looked online for health information within the past year. Even more significant, 60 percent of U.S. adults say they track their weight, diet or exercise routine; one-third track health indicators or symptoms like blood pressure, blood sugar, headaches or sleep patterns.
This is the first national survey measuring health data tracking, which has been shown in clinical studies to improved outcomes, particularly among people trying to lose weight or manage a chronic condition. The Pew health tracking survey also found that:
- 46 percent of trackers state this activity has changed their overall approach to maintaining their health, or the health of someone for whom they provide care.
- 40 percent attest that tracking has led them to ask a doctor new questions or to get a second opinion from another doctor.
- 34 percent of trackers say it has affected a decision about how to treat an illness or condition.
Clearly, online health portals are the wave of the future as consumers increasingly turn to web-based tools to help them manage their health. Employers can capitalize on this trend by making portals available to their employees, allowing them to control content, incentivize employees to take better care of themselves and potentially mitigate future healthcare cost increases.
Hospitals who make their own branded health portals available to employers have distinct competitive advantages in the marketplace. These websites help employers lower their healthcare costs, which builds greater loyalty – critical when businesses make healthcare “buy” decisions. When it comes to the employees who use them, hospital-branded portals keep the organization’s presence in front of the consumer 24/7 and allow them to promote programs and services, as well as maintain top-of-mind awareness. As employees are increasingly compelled to shoulder a bigger share of their healthcare costs, consumer preference is becoming even more important. And, of course, as the Affordable Care Act increases providers’ accountability for preventing chronic conditions, these hospitals will already have the technological infrastructure and workforce health initiatives in place to help people better manage their health.
Pearson Talbert is president and CEO of Aegis Health Group. For more information, visit www.aegisgroup.com.