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Individualized Care Key for Employer-Sponsored Wellness Programs

The survey revealed that 80 percent of patients would be more motivated in individualized employer-sponsored wellness programs.

wellness program

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- Employers are falling short on offering comprehensive and useful patient wellness programs, often turning to broad company initiatives instead of implementing the individualized programs patients say they want, according to a new Welltok survey.

Although not necessarily providers themselves, employers play a key role in driving patient health and wellness. Over 60 percent of respondents said they depend on their employer for any aspect of their health, but primarily the financial components, the survey found.

In fact, employers are the number one providers of health insurance, with 49 percent of adults receiving payer coverage their employer contracts, according to separate data from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Employers also play a critical role in hosting wellness programs, or programs aimed at helping individuals live a healthy lifestyle and that ideally prevent adverse health events or chronic illness.

But traditional wellness programs, such as fitness and nutrition challenges or smoking cessation programs, aren’t working for patients, the survey of 1,000 full-time employees showed. Instead of hosting broad, company-wide initiatives, employers may consider more individualized wellness programming.

Eighty-four percent of respondents said their employer wellness programs are one-size-fits-all, meaning they pertain to nearly the entire company patient population. These types of programs may be helpful for creating a culture of health, but are often of little use for patients who want to make relevant changes to their lifestyles.

Fifty-six percent of employees said they have received irrelevant health and wellness information, which in turn wastes their time, the survey added. However, 80 percent of employees said receiving more personalized health information and recommendations would motivate healthy behavior change.

Employers are falling short in supporting their patients in their own health, the survey continued. Although 67 percent of employers said they plan to expand their employee wellness programs in the next three to five years, respondents cited areas for immediate improvement.

Only 16 percent of respondents said they know where to find all of the health resources that are available to them, showing that these individuals need better patient navigation services and that employees need to make resources more usable.

Additionally, employers are doing little about mitigating work-related stress. Sixty-four percent of respondents said work is a cause of stress for them. This is especially true of women and middle-aged workers, the survey authors said.

More than half of millennial employees indicated they would leave a job because of a high-stress environment. Only 33 percent of respondents said their employer offers a stress management program.

These survey results suggest a more holistic, employee-centric healthcare strategy moving forward. Again, employers are not clinicians or payers. However, they do play a role in patient wellness, and as such will need to evolve with industry tends for more patient-centered care.

“These findings validate what we are seeing industry-wide. Today's employees are placing a premium on simplicity, convenience, and personalization,” Brian Marcotte, CEO and president of the National Business Group on Health, said in a statement about the Welltok survey. “To meet these demands and truly move the needle on increasing the health and productivity of their workforce, we are seeing more employers move to a more holistic wellbeing platform.”

Separate data has suggested that employer wellness programs have work to do. An oft-cited 2013 study from the RAND Corporation revealed that very few patients actually take the steps to complete a wellness program and reap the program’s benefits, regardless of whether the program was hosted by an employer or payer.

In addition to offering individualized wellness programs, employers looking to improve patient engagement may look to technology-enabled programs, improve their marketing, make activities convenient, and offer desirable incentives (often cash totaling more than $50, studies show).

As the push for patient wellness continues, it will take a collaborative effort between clinicians, payers, and employers to support patients. Wellness programs present one opportunity for driving healthy behavior change in patients, so long as program hosts design relevant initiatives that truly help healthcare consumers.

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