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These 4 common mistakes can doom your direct-to-employer wellness program

September 19, 2017

    Employers are increasingly turning to providers for help in controlling health care costs. Keeping employees healthy through workplace wellness programs is a key strategy for doing so—83% of large employers offer a program, and 16% of all employers plan to implement one in the next two years.

    These programs can lower employer health care costs, improve workforce health, and bring providers direct and indirect revenue by introducing a number of privately-insured patients to the system. But programs face a common obstacle in fulfilling their potential: 40% of workers with access to a workplace wellness program aren't aware of it, and of those aware, less than half choose to participate. And for wellness programs to actually deliver on partnership goals, they must garner adequate participation.

    Read on to learn how planners can proactively design their direct-to-employer wellness program to avoid four common pitfalls:

    1. Confusing employees with too many options

    Wellness program services range from nutrition counseling to stress management and diabetes coaching, so only certain offerings will be relevant for each employee. While customizing is important, research shows that offering too many options tends to overwhelm and discourage employees from participating. Instead of offering a menu of options, use data to customize services at the employee level. For example, Carolinas HealthCare System's HEALTHWORKS program analyzes employer claims data to create custom employee health action plans that track progress towards individualized goals. Providers offering similarly customized programs have seen up to 95% participation, nearly double the average national rate.

    2. Hiding the system brand

    Digital wellness services such as employer wellness portals (where employees track their health, fitness, or nutrition progress) are often whitelabeled under the employer's brand. This, however, can dissuade utilization: 75% of workers are willing to share self-collected health data with a health care provider, compared with just 9% who would do so with their employer. Planners should maintain and emphasize the system's brand on digital wellness services to signal credibility.

    3. Keeping services at a distance

    Convenience is a major participation incentive: Studies show that being able to participate in wellness during working hours is one of the strongest motivators toward program engagement. Make services convenient by providing dedicated appointment windows at clinics near the worksite so that employees can step away from work and meet with a provider with minimal wait time. Similarly, offer no-travel wellness services virtually. Over a third of consumers who took part in our Virtual Visit Consumer Choice Survey said they would see a provider virtually for coaching on smoking cessation or weight loss.

    4. Withholding meaningful incentives

    Most employers offer incentives for employees to engage in wellness services. Financial incentives can increase participation by 20%, but in order to make best use of funds, incentives must be both reasonable and convincing. Larger incentives ($200-$400) can be necessary to encourage big behavior change–such as quitting smoking— while smaller, more frequent rewards have been shown to motivate participants to meet monthly weight targets. Encourage employer partners to work with their legal counsel to ensure financial incentives comply with ACA provisions regulating program design, eligibility, and maximum reward.


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