Healthcare Industry Can Learn From Other Sectors

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , October 12, 2009

High-performing employers that are most aggressively addressing rising healthcare costs plan to expand the use of employee health risk assessments, wellness programs, on-site biometric screening, promotion of healthy foods, and access to retail clinics.

People are uncomfortable with the idea that employers are taking a more and more aggressive role in the health of employees. How far will this go? When does the incentive turn to punishment for employees who can't meet their personal health metrics? There is an inherent friction between the rights of the individual and the legitimate concerns of the company as it tried to contain out-of-control healthcare costs.

"It is a really good point that employers have to be extremely careful with how far they go with this," Olson says. "Most employers are fairly cautious about what they do and how they structure it and they are careful that it is more inclusive than exclusive. If you got into a program and for some reason you didn't reach some goals, they encourage you to try and try again. It's about trying to change behavior and it's not easy to change behavior. To try to get people to motivated to keep trying to do the right thing."

Within five years, Olson says he expects to see more aggressive biometric screenings for data on body mass, blood pressure, blood sugar, and measures for behaviors like exercise, as electronic medical records facilitate patient connectivity, all of which will bring the privacy debate to the fore. "It's a fine line. It goes back to how intrusive are employers going to be," he says. It's clear that wellness programs are not a fad. In fact, these programs will be around as long as this nation's workforce gets older, fatter, and sicker. They will become more sophisticated and more effective with each year.

It's hard to deny that the wellness movement is motivated primarily by money. So what! In this case, the profit motive of the employer is aligned with the well-being of the employee. A successful wellness program means everybody wins. Privacy concerns are legitimate, but they can be overcome. Wellness programs are an encouraging trend born of necessity.

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John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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