IoT
IoT
Healthcare // Analytics
Commentary
9/12/2014
11:30 AM
Rich Williams
Rich Williams
Commentary
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3 Ways To Improve Employee Health, Reduce Costs

Chances are 10% of your employees are generating 70% of your company's healthcare costs. Analytics and partnerships can improve their health and reduce your expenses.

10 Technologies Changing Diabetes Care
10 Technologies Changing Diabetes Care
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

You've likely heard the old adage, "How do you eat an elephant?" The answer: "One bite at a time." The saying also applies to managing and improving the health of an employee population.

As healthcare costs continue to rise, employers -- especially those offering self-funded plans -- are examining their role and the extent of their involvement in the health of individuals within their company. It's widely known that improved health outcomes ultimately lead to decreased medical costs, and everyone agrees more can be done to move the needle. But the question I hear most from employers is, "How can I actually accomplish this?"

Access to data is just one important element of the equation. Data is only good if it's used to identify risk and manage and measure initiatives meant to improve the health of a defined population, down to the individual person level.

Drilling down and focusing on the individual is critical. While each organization is unique, when taking steps to improve employee health the following three strategies are consistently successful.

1. Focus on the 10%
Typically, between 5% and 10% of any given population spends 70% to 80% of healthcare dollars. Often, one or more chronic diseases affect this segment, putting them at high risk for developing other conditions, increasing the likelihood they're seeing multiple doctors and taking (or perhaps not taking) prescribed medications.

[Should cost reduction be your primary goal? See IT-Enhanced Care Coordination Really Works.]

Many corporate wellness programs focus on an entire employee population, and the people who participate are not the ones responsible for spending most of the company's healthcare dollars. Employers expect big results by engaging all, but identifying and supporting the high-risk, high-cost group of employees is most imperative and will reap the biggest returns. Using analytics technology that focuses on multiple risk factors including behaviors, you can identify the group currently spending the most dollars, as well as the individuals predicted to become high risk and high cost. Simply looking at financial characteristics will not be enough.

2. Designate a liaison
Nurse navigators can serve as single points of contact to guide the health needs of employees and their families. Dedicated to assisting individuals in understanding the intricacies of their healthcare-related needs, establishing an onsite nursing contact allows for the creation of a trusted relationship. Navigators increase engagement because they coach and counsel, having true-to-life conversations tailoring everything they do for each individual to meet specific needs.

Engagement through nurse navigators can have a significant impact on the bottom line. For one employer, nurse navigation with its high-risk employees (which was voluntary for employees) reduced an historical 40% year-over-year increase in medical costs to an 8% decrease for high-risk, high-cost employees and dependents. Without nurse navigation, that upward trend would have continued. Nurse navigators find these participants through detailed analytics relative to diagnosis, cost, and behavior and can manage and track them via real-time portals. Look for a platform that combines individual analysis with the ability to customize, update, and track each individual's program and progress from beginning to end. Patients can connect via portals or apps that make it easy for the individual to keep track of progress, and nurse navigators can connect face-to-face, through a visual system such as FaceTime or sometimes on the phone. Personal contact is a key element for success.

Navigators also streamline processes and improve efficiency. By managing health risk, they also handle an employer's financial risk. With the right data at their fingertips, they can see not only diagnoses but also behaviors -- how many doctors a person sees and the prescriptions they fill, including any that might cause dangerous drug interactions. This information gives navigators a better picture of what is happening, and they can have face-to-face conversations about what is occurring. It's not uncommon for a high-risk employee with multiple chronic conditions to have 15 unique providers and nine or more unique prescribing doctors, or to use three different pharmacies. With approval, they can reach out to doctors to address gaps in care, or at minimum supply reports to employees to share with their doctors at their next visits.

3. Set expectations and establish good partnerships
Employers are increasingly interested in being involved with a provider that can help manage care for their employees and dependents based on evidence-based analytics. Providers are a great resource for nurse navigation -- clinical care is what they do best -- and what has worked well is approaching those providers with a set of expectations related to how costs can be managed and specific targets for health outcomes.

With the right relationships, expectations, and data, everyone wins. Employers can manage risk and save money by reducing medical and pharmacy costs. Employees are healthier and get the personal support they need in managing their healthcare, which can be overwhelming, especially for those with multiple chronic conditions like diabetes, asthma, or congestive heart failure. Physicians like it because they get information they're not able to see anywhere else. Hospitals and health systems get to build relationships with individual patients, provide a valuable service for the employer, and ultimately grow their volumes and market share.

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An industry veteran with more than 35 years experience in the healthcare field, Rich Williams holds the position of Principal with Advanced Plan for Health. Founded in 2004, Advanced Plan for Health combines data mining, technology, and healthcare industry ... View Full Bio
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Gary_EL
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Gary_EL,
User Rank: Ninja
9/27/2014 | 9:14:15 PM
Re: The Simplest Solution
The same way you fire people for domestic violence or for failing drug tests.
shamika
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shamika,
User Rank: Ninja
9/27/2014 | 9:12:24 PM
Re: The Simplest Solution
@ Gary_EL, seems very interesting. However did you manage to fire people who were reluctant to these exercises? what about the labor low?
shamika
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shamika,
User Rank: Ninja
9/27/2014 | 9:09:25 PM
Re: Mental Health - Health Care
@shawn69 I agree with you, if you don't have a good mental health you will not be a good fit for work. However is there a way that we can measure the mental health and take corrective actions?
progman2000
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progman2000,
User Rank: Ninja
9/14/2014 | 10:33:07 AM
Re: The Simplest Solution
Gary, I agree with you, and I don't know that there is anything that we can really do about it.

I work for a small software company.  We had a development meeting last week, which started with boxes of chocolate donuts and progressed to lunch ordered in which was cheese and pepperoni pizza.  I am a practicing vegan and an obsessive marathoner, so I participated in none of that.  But unfortunately most of my coworkers are unfit, overweight types, which is sadly the American norm for a computer saddled desk jockey.

In our case I know a cardio room & shower would make zero difference - these guys wouldn't use it, although I bet it would help shave off 5 minutes from my marathon time...
Gary_EL
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Gary_EL,
User Rank: Ninja
9/13/2014 | 10:47:24 PM
The Simplest Solution
And it has nothing to do with tech. The reason why it's always the same people is that those individuals refuse to exercise, and they refuse to stop smoking. Employers can be pretty heavy-handed when it comes to drug testing, so why shouldn't they be just as ruthless in dealing with smokers and fatties? Smoking is slow suicide, and VERY EXPENSIVE suicide at that. And, if someone is 5'2" and weighs 185 lbs, he or she will certainly need to take more sick days. Those sick days are required for a variety of diseases, but always relate back to being FAT.


I don't know how to cure smoking, but I know how to cure obesity. The workplace must include a cardio room and a shower room. At lunchtime, the obese should be required to do 1/2 hour of exercise. If you can fire people for refusing to urinate in a cup, you can also fire them for refusing to control their weight. I'm tired of paying for their sloth.
Shawn69
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Shawn69,
User Rank: Apprentice
9/13/2014 | 8:30:04 AM
Mental Health - Health Care
Due to "some irresponsible employers" contributing to the "mental health demise" of its employees(turning a blind eye to workplace bullying - a subject and act needing immediate resolution especially today), it would be great to see how mental health factors into the "health care" formulas. Mental health leads to better physical health.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
9/12/2014 | 9:49:31 PM
Complicated issue
Lots of good suggestions here-- I'm a big believer that analytics could have a profound impact on healthcare. But suggestion 1 seems prone to invasive policies, though suggestion 2 notes the potential for opt-in programs, which would somewhat mitigate potential for employer abuse. But I have to wonder-- why don't we put more effort into the real reasons behind rising medical costs? Arbitrary costs differences from different providers, ethically questionable practices among insurers and pharmaceutical companies, and so on-- it seems like the root of the problem is much deeper than the employee-employer relationship.
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