Making wellness programs personal
An estimated 50% to 75% of employers offer some kind of wellness program to their workers. The industry's estimated worth is $6 billion in the U.S. The popularity of wellness programs partly stems from the Affordable Care Act, which ties financial incentives and penalties to the programs.
But how can employers and health plans motivate people to actually use wellness programs to improve their health and well-being? Joel Spoonheim, director of health promotion at HealthPartners—an integrated delivery system based in Bloomington, Minn., with 1.5 million medical and dental plan members—is banking that personalizing the programs to fit individual needs is the answer.
"People expect (wellness programs) to be hyper-relevant to them," he said.
And research backs that up. Welltok, a tech company founded in 2009 that customizes wellness programs through online experiences, found that 37% of 1,000 full-time employees working for large companies that offered wellness programs didn't participate in them because they didn't find the program personally relevant.
So HealthPartners last week partnered with Welltok. HealthPartners' member data, which comes from claims and health risk assessments, will be fed into Welltok's platform.
HealthPartners data includes information that determines whether members are vulnerable to a chronic condition or if they are worried about paying medical bills. HealthPartners offers members who complete a health assessment retail gift cards or cash.
That's especially important since the Welltok survey showed more than 90% of respondents would engage in healthier behaviors if they were rewarded, including almost all of respondents younger than 35.
For employers and insurers—and even hospitals, which are being held more and more responsible for preventing readmissions—the rewards are plentiful as well. A 2016 study by RAND Corp. of Fortune 100 employer's wellness programs found that managing diseases saved $136 per member, per month and a 30% reduction in hospital admissions.
Welltok's own database includes the personal health and financial information of 270 million Americans. Based on basic information such as age, address and income, Welltok matches members to certain offerings such as a local gym or a finance coach.
In addition, Welltok surveys new users, asking questions about their interests, concerns and goals in the wellness program. This can address a variety of health and well-being concerns, such as sleep issues or stress. Based on these survey responses, the platform suggests educational articles, organizations or group activities that may be helpful to members.
Encouraging weight loss is also a huge component of the platform. Plan members who are concerned about weight gain can be set up with a health coach who can guide them through a weight loss plan. Welltok employs health coaches, but HealthPartners can also partner members with its own coaches. The platform also allows users to sync data from other devices such as Fitbits so the program is more integrated to their daily life and routine.
HealthPartners also sees the partnership with Welltok as an opportunity to provide more transparency on service costs. For example, the platform compares the cost of an average emergency room visit at various hospitals. This is especially beneficial for members who worry about affordable healthcare, Spoonheim said.
Terms of the partnership between HealthPartners and Welltok were not disclosed. But HealthPartners plans to begin rolling out the new platform to about 157,000 eligible individual and small employer plan members next month. The network expects 200,000 will be enrolled by 2018, and it will extend it to large commercial group markets that same year.
Members are being told about the offering through mail, email and when they call HealthPartners with benefit questions. Participants can access the service by logging into HealthPartners' online portal. Spoonheim said it was important the platform could be used on smartphones so it would be more convenient for members to use.
HealthPartners is hoping that more-effective wellness programs will lead to better health overall for its plan members, Spoonheim said. "Our goal is to improve health outcomes for the populations we serve through a more comprehensive and holistic approach," he added.
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