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Published on : January 15, 2014

Recipe for an Indubitable Wellness Program

Recipe for an Indubitable Wellness Program

In the face of the economic crisis and all the other gazillion problems at our doorstep workplace wellness may have taken a backseat for the time being. Does it have to be so difficult to make decisions on implementation of wellness programs? I guess not, it’s all about reinventing the space through innovation.

Corporate America loses dollars to the tune of $190 billion every year just on obesity related health care expenses. $190 billion is just the baseline. It’s a no-brainer that prolonged obesity or morbid obesity leads to heart diseases. Heart disease is the biggest killer in the US, every year it kills more Americans than any other disease or any act of violence.

There is a plethora of information related to health and wellness all over the place whether it is print media or the Internet but we as a nation are becoming obese and unhealthy, this trend has led to spiralling health care costs. Health care costs continue to rise at the rate of 8 – 9%. The numbers are staggering when we bring into account the lost productivity (presenteeism) and absenteeism. A study conducted by Aon Hewitt found that there are 8 behaviours that drive 15 chronic medical conditions and these conditions account for 80% of the cost for chronic diseases around the world. The 8 risk behaviours are:

  1. Poor diet
  2. Physical inactivity
  3. Smoking
  4. Lack of health screening
  5. Poor stress management
  6. Poor standard of care
  7. Insufficient sleep
  8. Excessive alcohol consumption

These behaviours lead to 15 chronic diseases:

  1. Diabetes
  2. Coronary Artery Disease
  3. Hypertension
  4. Back pain
  5. Obesity
  6. Cancer
  7. Asthma
  8. Arthritis
  9. Allergies
  10. Sinusitis
  11. Depression
  12. Congestive Heart Failure
  13. Lung Disease (COPD)
  14. Kidney Disease
  15. High Cholesterol

The same report says that employers can save up to $700 per employee if they can focus on and change just 3 out of the 8 risks behaviours.

Insurance companies look at the test results of certain important medical parameters and family history of diseases for underwriting and then produce the insurance premiums dreaded by all the corporates providing health insurance cover to their employees or any individual buying an insurance policy to cover their health related expenses. The corporate executives negotiating these premiums look at these reports and just scratch their heads and wonder what on earth they can do to bring these premiums down. Apparently, regular preventive health checks and implementation of wellness programs are not helping the employers reduce the healthcare costs.

This called for innovation in the preventive healthcare space.If you look at the 8 risk behaviours all of them are modifiable.

Three things that we need to make an indubitable recipe are:

  1. Best quality ingredients
  2. Flawless process
  3. Expertise and experience

How do we cook this dish?

In this case, the ingredients are medical and personal health related data and quality comes from acquiring error free data, because junk in will be junk out. In order to get the best quality data we can use technology to our advantage. We can empower the medical personnel, conducting tests on employees, with mobile devices armed with a web based tool that will have all the validations (medical) built in and this tool will transfer the medical data directly from the mobile units to the cloud. However, clinical data is just one part of the puzzle. The picture will not be complete unless the personal health related data is acquired. To accomplish that there can be a web based questionnaire that will have questions related to the personal health of a person like, lifestyle habits, family medical history and personal medical history, much like a Health Risk Assessment tool but here the individual doesn’t have to input any kind of clinical data like LDL, HDL values. This application will relay the data to the cloud and should be housed with the clinical data.

Now comes the next part that is the most important and complex piece of the process. An analytics engine can be created by marrying evidence based medical science and mathematics. This analytics engine should be hosted on the cloud so that it runs on the clinical and personal health data stored on cloud and churns out some of the most valuable pieces of information both for the individual and the employer.

Through the application of heuristic models on the engine a tool can be provided to the employer (while maintaining the privacy of the employee) that will help him discover the problems and solutions plaguing the health of the employees holistically. The employer will love to see the location specific health problems of the company along with the best possible solutions. The tool should empower the employer with actionable insights.

Wellness programs are being implemented left, right and centre. Value can be added to this process only if the wellness programs have measureable metrics through which the employer can gauge the impact of these focussed wellness programs. This will also give them an in-depth analysis of the ROI of each wellness program. It won’t be possible to go through this process without a solid follow up plan. Measuring the clinical parameters and implementation of the questionnaire biannually will help get deeper insights into the changes brought about by the wellness programs and also gauge whether there has been any reinforced behaviour change among the employees.

When an employer walks towards the negotiation room during insurance premium negotiations a one pager giving him the big picture of where his organization stands in the healthcare vertical will empower him to do the best negotiation of his life.

Tools are ways and means to achieving a goal. Tools will empower an employer to make better decisions but to bring about change the employers have to start digging deeper and look inwards. Ultimately the employer has to take a 360 degrees view of the problem. The employer will see change in the big picture only if each employee changes risk behaviours.In order for the health of an individual to improve, the changes that an individual makes to their lifestyle and other habits have to be:

  • Effective (focused changes)
  • Sustainable (long term)

One approach to getting tangible outcomes:

  • Measurements / Benchmarking
  • Health Analytics
  • Focused Interventions
  • Re-Measurements

The long term goal of any organization should be to bring about a cultural change. Culture cannot be changed in a day or two; it is a slow and gradual process. Every employer armed with the right tool and strategy can bring about a cultural change.  The basis of these tools is measurements, evidence based medical science, analytics, and visualization.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Subhasish Sircar is the Founder & CEO of 360 Health Vectors Pvt. Ltd., in Bangalore, India focused in evidence and analytics based predictive healthcare.  Subhasish is a proven innovator with 15+ years of experience in top global organizations.  Subhasish holds a PhD in Engineering and an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton.