By Tony Bodak, Vice President of Business Process Improvement
For employers fresh off open enrollment season, 2017 presents a chance to address some of the issues that weren’t addressed in 2016’s benefits structure. Don’t underestimate the power that a well-designed, well-executed wellness program can deliver in overall benefits strategy. And never underestimate the importance of the right data approach in wellness program design and execution. Here are five vital practices that we have learned from over eight years of implementing wellness plans:
1. First, clearly articulate your program goals. Bravo has learned by designing and administering thousands of different wellness programs that every employer’s situation is unique. Unfortunately, there is a habit in our industry for employers to accept a standard set of goals from their provider—or worse, to operate without program goals. Your wellness vendor should help you articulate the results you want from your program; not tell you what the goals should be.
What does it mean to clearly articulate the goals? Organizations that do this well put their goals in the language of metrics—SMART goals. Some examples:
- Measure baseline health risks by end of third quarter.
- Operate a breakeven program over the calendar year.
- Achieve 2017 screening participation of 80 percent.
- Reduce high-risk blood pressures by half by end of the program year.
2. Design the program to produce the right data (and the right results). Too often, employers get to the end of their programs and scramble madly to gather evidence to judge success. Inevitably, they come up with some good data, along with a heavy mix of anecdotes and gut feelings. This is not a recipe for strong program evaluations or decision-making. Good news: It doesn’t have to be this way. For example, if you want to run a break-even program, you can map out all the relevant financial data before the first participant engages, and set yourself up to collect it. With the right approach to goal-setting, together with mindful data design, you will see a much clearer view of reality.
Do not be distracted by measures that don’t tightly match your particular set of goals. Wellness technology is everywhere. There are literally hundreds of different apps, wearables, programs, classes and challenges to explore in the market today. Each serves its own purpose, but we sometimes find that companies can easily be distracted by data showing the USAGE of these tools and not the actual impact they generate.
The number of people using a portal, signing up for a class or tracking steps is not nearly as important as the health improvement those tools can help facilitate. Do not allow yourself to be satisfied ONLY by data like:
- # of people using the portal
- # of people syncing a device
- # of people currently in a challenge
- # of recipes downloaded
- # of wellness articles read, and so on
All of these data points are valuable to a certain extent because they show that the tools are being used and valued by your people. However, if your goals are to reduce health risks and control the benefits costs trend, those numbers aren’t enough. You need to be answering the following:
- Are individuals who utilize the engagement portal more likely to improve their health?
- Are healthy people using our wellness resources or are they inspiring behavior change among those who need help most?
- What level of coaching is being utilized most and is it helping people reduce their risk level?
- What do we see in terms of health improvement, year-over-year?
3. Assess the program against the goals.
- Hitting goals is great. Celebrate those.
- Recognizing misses is critical.
- Misses are fuel for better decisions—data to suggest wise course corrections.
- Make sure the assessment goes deep enough to make the misses visible.
- Be wary of a wellness partner that gives you a full-sunshine view of the results. That view deprives you of worthy opportunities to improve the program.
- Many places to look for the misses:
- High participation, but are they the right people?
- Health risks low, but going the wrong direction.
- Health risks stable in the population as a whole, but lots of new cases.
- Underperforming program elements.
- Likewise, it’s important to recognize the successes behind the misses. Leading indicators may be going the right direction, even when the “main measures” haven’t responded to the program yet. For example, health claims due to cardiovascular disease may be higher than your goal, but the prevalence of high-risk blood pressure readings may be down significantly. Acknowledging that progress can help maintain momentum behind a healthy long-term strategy—and help you avoid changing course or giving up too soon.
4. Consider bottom-up analysis to uncover new opportunities.
- Once you’ve finished looking back at the prior program’s successes and misses, it’s time to prepare for the next one.
- While the targeted analytical approach described so far is the best way to assess the extent to which a program has met expectations, stepping out of the program’s core measures can bring powerful new perspective.
- Broader analysis can help guide you to new program opportunities and goals. Many of our clients who have achieved tremendous risk reduction in one area (e.g. nicotine use) have changed their focus to maintain that success and work more aggressively in another area (e.g. diabetes risk).
- This kind of broad analysis can be incredibly time consuming and potentially misleading. A trusted partner with experience in situations like yours can add great power to the exercise.
- Bravo has helped design and administer thousands of unique programs for hundreds of distinct employers, in a wide range of industries and competitive situations.
5. Be ready to enhance or change offerings in order to respond to the needs of your team. Wellness is as much to do with the strength of the individual as it is the strength of your culture. If people aren’t participating or you aren’t seeing progress, then changes need to be made. Don’t be afraid to alter your plan in order to move the needle to engage the right people.
If data is used to accurately uncover areas for improvement, then the most important step is to evolve and enhance the offerings provided. For instance, if your data shows that BMI is a prevalent issue that doesn’t seem to be improving, redirect resources to provide high-risk coaching or programs like Weight Watchers. If more resources aren’t an option, consider changing the plan design to have BMI goals carry more weight.
The key takeaway here is that having detailed data won’t cause your environment to change. It’s what you learn through the data that gives you the opportunity to enhance what you provide your people. There is always room to improve. Take a look at our newly designed health engagement portal and health coaching solutions. These are great engagement and interventions resources. But they serve a greater purpose.
In our experience, mindful design of program measures and data, having access to data, and leveraging the expertise to interpret that data is critical in turning wellness into a solution for benefits. Design well. Listen to the story your data is telling. Adjust. Repeat. Following this track will help you make smarter decisions on your wellness initiatives in 2017.