How Employers Can Help Workers and Save Dollars with Healthy Employee Habits

This is a post by Newtopia CEO Jeff Ruby, originally posted on Forbes.  

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown how vulnerable many of us are — particularly those with chronic health conditions and noncommunicable diseases. It’s especially troubling since many of these health conditions can be treated with early intervention. Instead of addressing potential issues with preventive care, patients often only receive diagnostic treatment from providers after problems have started to arise.

I believe this pattern is a product of market incentivization. After all, the most lucrative medical treatments are delivered when health problems are most severe. The problems with this approach are obvious: It not only comes at the expense of individuals’ well-being but also puts a massive cost burden on health insurers and employers.

My company, a habit-change provider, focuses on preventing and slowing chronic diseases. Our work with large corporations has given me a front-row seat to the expensive impact of late-stage care. Many self-insured companies and payers already find it challenging to navigate current healthcare costs. From my perspective, without a more sustainable system in place, an increase in chronic conditions could be devastating.

Recognition of this issue has put greater emphasis on prevention, and it’s driving a shift toward value-based care. The pandemic has helped accelerate the process. Yet, effecting meaningful behavior changes across the workforce with traditional employee wellness approaches doesn’t always inspire significant engagement, let alone impact. As a result, many risk-bearing organizations are turning to habit-change providers.

Habit-change providers can help proactively change the trajectory of chronic disease development in at-risk employees. Providers start by learning about at-risk individuals — socially, behaviorally and genetically. They then leverage that insight to create meaningful experiences that combine virtual care from personal health coaches, digital tools, connected devices and actionable insights from genetic testing to help individuals develop and maintain better nutrition, exercise and behavioral well-being habits.

Being one of these providers myself, I know that building positive, sustainable health habits across a workforce isn’t easy. A bit of art and science are involved, but it’s certainly achievable and can be cost-effective. Below are some tips on how leaders can help their employees develop healthier lifestyle habits:

Look at the whole person. It’s long past time to break down the barrier between physical, mental and emotional health, so, at a minimum, make sure your company’s health plan covers mental healthcare.

Well-being perks such as massages and meditation classes can help with stress and anxiety, but it’s important to address the root causes as well. This might mean providing financial fitness and caregiving resources, as well as ensuring employees have the chance to unplug regularly. Enhancing your employees’ mental and emotional well-being can not only help them focus better in the office but also enable them to be more successful in implementing new, healthier lifestyle habits that will pay off down the road.

Take a one-size-fits-one approach. Often, weight-loss or lifestyle intervention programs take a one-size-fits-all curriculum-based approach, and engagement usually drops off quickly among all but the most highly self-motivated. Since every individual has different risk factors, objectives, existing habits and personal preferences, just providing generic information is not very effective.

The keys to sustainable engagement and lasting results are an individualized experience and a strong human connection to ensure accountability and motivation. Healthcare providers who offer value-based care can help individuals identify what habit changes they need to focus on, but, depending on their specific situation, they will likely benefit from consistent ongoing guidance from a nutritionist, a coach or a counselor, for example, to help them set realistic goals and make sure they stay on target.

Consider leveraging technology. Telehealth can be a convenient complement to in-person care, and your health insurance should continue to cover it beyond the pandemic.

High-touch virtual coaching can also help nurture the connections that motivate and inspire people on their journey to improved health, while technology tools such as apps that can automatically upload data from fitness trackers and smart scales, for example, can save time and boost participation in weight-loss and wellness programs.

Make healthy choices easier. It’s human nature to follow the path of least resistance, so look for ways to make it easier for your employees to stay on track as they develop better habits. Can you put healthy snacks in the vending machine? Can you provide showers so employees can bike to work or run at lunch? Can you reward teams or celebrate milestones in ways that don’t always involve food and drink? Can you decrease stress by actively encouraging employees to stay off email outside work hours?

A series of small nudges over time can make a difference in establishing healthy habits.

Promoting Prevention Through Sustainable Behavior Change

Whether your company joins forces with a habit-change provider, works within a more traditional value-based healthcare context or develops its own wellness program, you can help your team create sustainable lifestyle habits that can change lives and reduce the cost of healthcare.


 

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