Improving Employee Engagement While Lowering Healthcare Costs

This is part of a special advertising section featuring case studies offering solutions to benefits challenges.

Ochsner Health System is a nonprofit multi-specialty healthcare system composed of eight hospitals and 38 clinics located throughout Louisiana. Since 2003, Ochsner had been monitoring its rising healthcare costs and the health of its rapidly growing workforce.

As Ochsner expanded, it became apparent that it needed a more integrated and accessible wellness solution to replace its homegrown manual program. Since Ochsner is self-insured, engaging employees around taking accountability for their own health in partnership with the company is a top strategic priority. The key was aligning the medical-plan premiums in favor of those who participated in the wellness initiative.

In December 2008, Ochsner engaged Virgin Pulse, a leading provider of employee-health programs and technologies that engage employees in good health.

Ochsner found the Virgin Pulse program's easy-to-use activity-tracking devices, biometric-measurement stations and online platform provided employees with a better way to capture their daily activity and key health measures in a more accurate and verifiable way. The program also enabled employees to monitor their progress, and provided a variety of fun and rewarding activities designed to drive ongoing participation.

Ochsner employed a multi-pronged communications approach to educate employees about the new program and accelerate participation. In addition to visiting the different satellite clinics with an information table situated in high-traffic areas, such as foyers and cafeterias, Ochsner also created a section dedicated to Virgin Pulse on Ochweb, its internal website. Here, Ochsner provided weekly tips on how to join the program and how to earn points.

"We were blown away by the participation," says Dorothy Cain, system coordinator for Ochsner's employee-wellness program. "In a few months, we had doubled participation rates from the previous year, and today we have nearly 90 percent of our eligible workforce participating in the program."

With significant incentives in place and a campaign designed to get as many of its eligible employees as possible to participate in the Virgin Pulse program, Ochsner's participation rate skyrocketed to 78 percent of all eligible employees within just three months of the program launch.

In addition, more than 38 percent of enrolled employees qualified for premium discounts in 2012. Fifty-seven percent of participants who have taken their biometrics have improved their blood pressure, 30 percent have reduced their body-fat percentage and 24 percent have improved their body-mass index. Culturally speaking, Virgin Pulse has provided a foundation for changes: a smoke-free campus, revamped cafeterias and healthier vending-machine options.

In terms of cost savings, Ochsner observed a $3 million decrease in employee-only medical claims after the program's first year. Although national healthcare costs have increased at an average of 9 percent, Ochsner's costs have remained flat. Ochsner anticipates future prescription-cost savings, as employees get healthier and lessen their reliance on, or eliminate, medications.

Much of the Virgin Pulse program's continued success at Ochsner can be attributed to its evolution. As the needs of Ochsner and its employees changed, so did the program's design. After its initial success, the Virgin Pulse team worked hand in hand with Ochsner's HR and wellness leaders to adapt the program to their changing business needs and optimize the program design to continue enhancing employee engagement.

"Our Virgin Pulse program is finally the system-wide wellness program we always wanted, and we are thrilled with the results," says Cain. "We have been able to help our employees stay healthy while putting more money in their pockets and lowering our overall healthcare costs."

Innovation is a key strategy at Ochsner. The Virgin Pulse program and Ochsner's creative HR and wellness teams are making a difference in the quality of life for employees, and that leads to better employee engagement, patient satisfaction and loyalty.


Organization Name: Ochsner Health System

Headquarters: New Orleans

Primary Business: Healthcare

Benefits Challenge: Find a better approach to help employees track and measure their physical activity and substantiate participation and health improvements, get high employee participation and excite employees by making programs as far-reaching as possible.



Jun 17, 2014
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