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July 6, 2018

Palmetto Health's 'one-size-fits-all' wellness program wasn't working. Here's how they did better.

Daily Briefing

    July 9 webconference: Learn how leading organizations are personalizing their wellness approaches

    By Jackie Kimmell, Senior Analyst

    Over the past few years, many hospitals and health systems have invested heavily in wellness programs. It's a great idea in theory: High-functioning wellness programs can reduce burnout, increase engagement, and cut insurance costs for employees.

    In practice? Not so much. Many employees feel overwhelmed by the array of wellness options offered by their organization—everything from walking clubs to nutritionist consultations—and can't find the specific resources they need to address their unique problems.

    Consider an overburdened nurse who, after dealing with a traumatic patient encounter, wants a space to recover. She might vaguely remember that her hospital offers a meditation room to help staff recover from tough events. But realistically, her workflow simply doesn't allow her to step away from her day-to-day responsibilities to use it: She has patients to discharge, families to keep informed about their loved ones' care, a physician to track down halfway across the hospital, and more.

    Clearly, this hospital's wellness program—however well-intentioned—isn't fitting the needs of its frontline staff. And that's a problem: According to a Harvard survey, 75% of participants in wellness programs said that they need a personalized, customized approach to wellness to drive their participation.

    How Palmetto Health is customizing its wellness program to each department

    One progressive organization that is confronting this problem head-on is Palmetto Health, a five-hospital health system headquartered in Columbia, South Carolina.

    When leaders at Palmetto found that their existing wellness program wasn't meeting the needs of all employees, they thought critically about how to best customize their programs. They realized that, while a frontline nurse might have very different wellness needs than an oncology director or an IT staffer, the employees within a single department—with similar job functions and environments—tend to face similar stressors and similar barriers to wellness. Therefore, they focused their personalization push at the department level.

    They created an organization-wide program called Wellness at Work, which included an online portal allowing any employee in any department to submit an application for their department to join. They asked each participating department to take a diagnostic assessment which looked at the demographics of the department, their health (measured through an annual health assessment), and employees' needs and preferences. These diagnostics probed all five dimension of wellness: physical, emotional, social, occupational, and environmental needs.

    Then, based on the responses, Palmetto tailored a list of suggested interventions for each department that included:

    1. A description of the intervention;
    2. The dimension of wellness the intervention would improve;
    3. The investment level required to implement the intervention; and
    4. The outcome measure that would help the department measure their success.

    Then, Palmetto worked with each department to select the two to three initiatives which would be most meaningful to them.

    Different departments surfaced very different challenges. In the diagnostic imaging group, for example, employees felt disconnected from patient care and from the organization. As such, their wellness interventions focused on fostering group discussions about how their work was helping patients, as well as allowing them to design their own mission statement about the department's purpose.

    On the other hand, the marketing department staff expressed that they spent too many hours tied to their desks meeting high-priority deadlines. To address this concern, they added exercise spaces to their work area and created sanctioned break times.

    Critically, Palmetto didn't simply present an expansive menu of offerings to each employee and instruct them to figure out what's valuable. Instead, it relied on each department to select the wellness resources they need most.

    While the initiative is still new, Palmetto is checking in with departments after one, three, and six month to assess its effectiveness. Palmetto also plans to measure the quantitative impact of the approach in upcoming engagement surveys.

    Learn more about how to personalize your wellness program

    To learn about Palmetto's approach, and to discover two other case studies on how leading organizations are personalizing their wellness approaches, join us for our upcoming webconference on July 9th, "Supporting Frontline Staff Where They Are."

    Register for Monday's Webconference

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