About Wellness Corporate Solutions

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

RAND Workplace Wellness Study is Supportive

You've probably heard about the report on workplace wellness undertaken by RAND Corp. An early Reuters article -- repeated ad nauseam by other news outlets -- made it sound extremely negative, but you really should read it yourself. You'll see just how misleading these reports were.

Case in point:
In an analysis of the CCA database, when comparing wellness program participants to statistically matched nonparticipants, we find statistically significant and clinically meaningful improvements in exercise frequency, smoking behavior, and weight control, but not cholesterol control. Those improvements are sustainable over an observation period of four years, and our simulation analyses point to cumulative effects with ongoing program participation. However, we caution that our analyses cannot account for unobservable differences between program participants and nonparticipants, such as differential motivation to change behavior.
The emphasis is mine, but the points bear repeating:

Over four years, the study found statically and clinically significant improvements in all areas except cholesterol.

The study did not address boosting employees' readiness to change -- something we know wellness does extremely well.

The most gratifying section of the report for me is the discussion of what makes wellness programs effective. RAND lists five points that we've been talking about (and implementing in our programs) for years:
  1. Effective communication. Successful wellness programs keep employees in the loop from beginning to end.
  2. Engagement opportunities. Programming must be accessible and convenient for the entire population.
  3. Management support. Senior execs must be visibly on board.
  4. Existing resources. Whether it's through a current health plan or community resources, the best programs build on an existing infrastructure.
  5. Evaluation. Great programs solicit employees' feedback and have an attitude of improvement. They aren't afraid to make changes.
The report does mention opportunities for improvement -- particularly around participation rates -- but the news is good overall. If you hear otherwise, don't believe it. Read the report yourself!


Anonymous said...

What about cost-benefit to employer??

Fiona Gathright said...

I'll let the report speak for itself:

"Our estimates of wellness program impact on health care costs are lower than most results reported in the literature, but we caution that our approach estimated the isolated impact of lifestyle management interventions, whereas a majority of published studies captured the overall effect of an employer's approach to health and wellness.

"Although we do not detect statistically significant decreases in cost and use of emergency department and hospital care, the trends in health care costs and use of high cost care for program participants and nonparticipants diverge over time. Therefore, there is reason to believe that reduction in direct medical costs would materialize if employees continued to participate in a wellness program. Lacking access to proprietary information on program cost, we could not estimate the program effect on overall cost of coverage directly but, judging by published data, the programs would become cost neutral after five years."

In short, ROI is difficult to pin down and always will be -- especially when you start to discuss increased productivity, retention, and other metrics that are difficult to measure consistently. But the point here is that wellness programs absolutely do impact health in a positive way.

Brittany Fuino said...

Great points. I especially agree with #4...often times companies want to totally revamp and restructure programs. But effective messages can be delivered within existing channels and still make a big impact