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Building Participation and ROI in an Employee Wellness Program

Chelsea Rice, for HealthLeaders Media, November 19, 2012

Low employee participation has often been the pitfall for company wellness programs. Studies have found that less than a quarter of employees take part.

But just four months after the launch of the wellness program at Swedish Medical Center, a 1462-bed acute care hospital in Seattle, the hospital's Labor Management Committee shared a sparkling cider toast. Through a combination of a targeted communication strategy, a financial incentive, and a collaboration with a healthcare consulting firm, the hospital reached a 91% participation or "engagement" rate with employees.

July marked the deadline by which full-time employees had to have taken their first step toward health and wellness, either by completing an online wellness assessment, visiting their primary care physician, or stopping into the employee wellness clinic. At the beginning of the program, less than half of Swedish employees had a primary care contact .

The financial incentive was really a financial stick: Employees who didn't complete the first program step by July 1 faced a $50-per-month penalty.

"I think it's the natural balance of being reasonable, but the price is high enough that it's noticed," says program manager Mandy LeBlanc. "$50 a month is enough to think, 'Oh wow, that's a significant charge,' and especially in a struggling economy it incentivizes people to go through these reasonable hoops in order to save money."

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