Finding The Dollars, Cents and Sense of Wellness Programs

bandaid-fingerThe subject of health assessments came up with a client who is struggling with the impacts of an aging workforce.  It is an issue for companies all over the country. The key is to identify health problems and ensure that workers are not performing duties that put them at risk.  It is causing this client to consider physical assessments as an ongoing fit-for-duty tool, rather than just part of a post-offer, pre-employment physical.  Why?  I can tell you personal experience that the knees of a 50-something can be a lot less forgiving than the knees of a 20-something.

Which all brings up the subject of wellness programs.   They have gained a lot of support in recent years, but many question whether they are worth the money companies spend on them.  One earlier study said companies lose 50 cents per employee per month on wellness programs.

However, a new study that looks at 10 years of data says the right program can save companies a lot of money.  The study, reported by the Harvard Business Review, was done by the Rand Corporation and looks at data from a Fortune 100 company’s wellness program. The key apparently is to separate lifestyle management, focusing on smoking, obesity, and other health risks, and disease management, focusing on the population of workers who already have chronic disease or physical problems.

The study looked at one company’s program, a combination of lifestyle and disease management.  It found that the program was successful overall, but the real savings came from the disease management aspects that actually kept workers out of the hospital.  While the lifestyle portion did help with worker absenteeism and other positives, the actual return on investment was generated by addressing the workers who were most at risk of serious medical problems.  The lifestyle management returned about 50 cents for every dollar invested, so in other words, it lost 50 cents per worker. But disease management returned $3.80 for every dollar invested.

Why?  Because the savings from preventing hospitalization, followup treatment at disability payments are so high and the program has a direct impact on outcomes.  And it is not restricted to a small portion of the workforce.  In the Rand study, 13% of the workers fell under the disease management program.

That is not to say that lifestyle management is not a good thing.  Reducing smoking in younger workers cuts cancer rates at some point in the future.  Today’s weightless may prevent tomorrow’s diabetes.  But let’s face it – most lifestyle management means persuading workers to change their ways and most of us don’t want to change, so the long-term impact depends on our willingness to change.

What goes into a disease management program?  Well, the first step is helping identify workers who are at risk. The next part is encouraging them to follow their agreed treatment program, such as reminding them to take their prescribed medications or communicating gaps in care, such as missed lab tests, to their physicians.

The occupational health connection – Care for workers who have been injured or suffered a medical crisis on the job works on much the same principal.  CORE Health Networks, for example, offers post-incident injury management that provides an early intervention to determine the best initial course of treatment.  Then trained RNs can follow up with the worker to make sure that the treatment was effective and that they are going to doctors appointments or getting lab tests done. It is a cost-effective way to make sure that the types of incidents that can cost companies the most and can cost workers income are handled effectively.  We also administer return-to-work and fit-for-duty policies to identify and address occupational health issues.  For more information contact us at



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