3 Reasons Wellness Programs Fail

Chelsea Rice, for HealthLeaders Media , June 17, 2013

Despite the concerted effort of employers, industry consultants, and fitness app makers, unhealthy employee behaviors don't seem to be changing. Workplace wellness is a hot trend, but employers are struggling to find real value.

Employers, motivated to lower healthcare costs, think of wellness programs as a "soft" strategy that employees want and like. But too often, employers overlook the pitfalls that can lead to serious revenue losses. Three important gaps come to mind:  

1. Poor data tracking
Healthcare has a reputation for dragging its feet when it comes to using data to inform and drive change. With regard to employee wellness, the story hasn't changed. 

Healthcare costs are expected to average $11,188 per employee, a 6.3% increase this year. Despite the concerted effort of employers, industry consultants, and fitness app makers, unhealthy employee behaviors don't seem to be changing.  

For example, a recent RAND report shows that of those employees eligible to participate, only  

  • 21% participated in programs to improve fitness,
  • 7% participated in smoking cessation programs, and
  • 10% participated in weight or obesity management programs

Although the report suggests that participation in wellness initiatives demonstrates positive changes in employee health and wellness, those numbers are pretty low. Lower still is the number of pounds lost in those weight management programs.  

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4 comments on "3 Reasons Wellness Programs Fail"

Thomas Lang (6/19/2013 at 8:20 AM)
Wellness, as a concept is too broadly defined. "Fitness" as well. Here is the formula and the solution for both the data deficiencies and the behavioral change challenges at least with regard to the health benefits of regular exercise. Establish a heart-rate monitored exercise program which involves physician involvement and oversight. Heart-rate monitored exercise solves the data integrity and collection problem. Physician involvement provides for a greater degree of patient compliance and correlation of the reported "exercise" data against other health indicators / vital signs in the medical record. What's the standard [INVALID] the physical activity guidelines posted on the HHS website. We've developed a program which includes an exercise reporting database which allows us to report "quantified" exercise by patients to the physician. Each patient is provided a score which measures their "monitored" exercise over a 30-45 day exercise period against the standards (150 minutes/week of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity or a weighted average of the 2). Moderate exercise is 50-70% of maximum heart rate and vigorous exercise is 71% or greater of maximum heart rate. The patients and their physicians who are involved in the program are reporting and documenting in their medical record their "physical activity." As the program is centralized in the primary care physician's office[INVALID]it also provides the nexus to correlate claims data from the insurer. As "health contingent wellness programs" gain traction as an insurance premium offset for "results-driven" healthy behavior, we have the solution.

Ray Mitchell (6/19/2013 at 6:54 AM)
There was no mention of specific products that measure EE. What are the names and model numbers of some reliable foot based activity monitors? I understand that insole pressure monitors are an important part of accurate EE measurement. What are some commercially available insole monitors?

Joe Hodgson (6/18/2013 at 9:43 AM)
Historically, companies and we, as a society,view wellness initiatives, like weight loss, as an individual problem and programs are generally designed from a portrait/bootstrap mentality. Wellness behaviors require a cultural change within an organization. Without fostering a supportive wellness culture among all employees and leaders, results are likely to be less than stellar. Add to the mix the fact that most companies embrace wellness as a way to contain health costs rather than embracing positive lifestyle behaviors and engagement among employees and you have a very mixed message.




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