Getting to the root of the problem helps wellness programs thrive


We have reported a lot about wellness programs--how they are increasingly becoming more popular, how they help lower healthcare costs and how they boost consumers' overall health.

And despite the fact that we have written about the various ways wellness programs can incentivize employees to participate, I don't think we have really tapped into the underlying cause of consumers' health problems and their hesitancy to participate in or engage with their employers' wellness programs. Until now.

Some wellness experts say cash is the answer. Others say tangible rewards are better. But I think they're all missing the point. "Instead of throwing more money into incentives, we need to work with individuals to tap into their values, help them understand why they want to change and then give them tools to succeed," Alan Kohll, founder and CEO of TotalWellness in Omaha, Nebraska, recently told LifeHealthPro.

The way to ensure that wellness programs thrive (read: save money, keep people healthier) is to find the root of each person's healthcare problem. Simply motivating them to lose 20 pounds is great in the short-term, but since most people regain weight they lost, it does nothing for long-term health and well-being. And it certainly doesn't make a worthwhile dent in rising medical costs. The real question that must be answered is why each consumer is overeating in the first place.

What's more, wellness programs requiring consumers to complete health assessments often provide no incentive for consumers to continue focusing on their health and wellbeing. For example, my husband's company offers its employees lower deductibles when they fill out a health questionnaire and undergo a few routine blood and health-related tests. Always on the lookout for a good deal, my husband happily completed the assessment and tests, and we're now saving several thousand dollars a year on our health plan's deductible.

But that's where the company's wellness program ended. There has been no communication with my husband about how to sign up with a health coach to address ongoing medical issues. And there's no additional incentive to exercise at a local gym through a discounted membership. Although my husband is healthy, exercises and eats well, not all of his coworkers do the same. So his company is missing out on the opportunity to motivate those folks through its wellness program to a more healthful lifestyle, which could eventually save them money while also boosting employee morale at work.

After all, "when employees are healthy, they feel good," Kohll said. "They're more motivated and less stressed, which is great for the bottom line. Healthy employees translate into a variety of benefits for employers."

But even if wellness programs provide a method for consumers to really tap into the underlying blocks to their health issues, insurers and companies must regularly reevaluate their initiatives. That includes assessing the specific needs of the company's employee population so that the wellness program can be tailored to its unique culture.

"All companies need to determine what it is they really need, what the desired outcome is (improving employee health, reducing health care costs, attracting talent) and what their employees perceive as added value," Harriet Aaronson, associate vice president for Corporate Health & Wellness at The Hartford, said in the article. 

I would highly recommend that my husband's employer reassess its wellness program to more proactively compel its employees to live a healthier lifestyle. Given that it employs thousands of people, the company potentially could be saving a substantial amount of money while improving its employees' quality of life. - Dina (@HealthPayer)

Related Articles:
Tailor wellness programs to company's culture
How to create compelling incentives for wellness programs
Innovation is key to wellness program success
Big companies, insurers urge uptake in wellness programs