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Innovations in Wellness: Wellness Metrics

This is one of the Innovations in Wellness selected by editors of Human Resource Executive® magazine.

Friday, April 1, 2011
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Considering the significant bite healthcare costs continue to take out of the bottom line each year, it's no surprise to find employers spending more and more on wellness each year.

What is somewhat surprising is how few companies actually measure the impact of their wellness initiatives -- just 37 percent, according to a recent Buck Consultants' study, Working Well: A Global Survey of Health Promotion and Workplace Wellness Strategies. But experts predict that's inevitably going to change.

David Wolf, director of product management for Alere Health, reports that more and more of his clients are looking for meaningful data. "Data and knowledge are power," he says.

Alere Health, an Atlanta-based provider of healthcare diagnostic solutions, has been working with Rockwell Collins to establish and implement a wellness initiative aimed at slowing down escalating healthcare costs. The initiative started in 2007 with an "assess-your-health" phase, followed by an "act-on-your-health" phase in 2008 and 2009 and an "achieve-healthy-outcomes" phase in 2010.

Through the aggregate data it's collected, Rockwell Collins is now in a much better position to know where to target its investment, says Beth Haley, principal benefits analyst for the Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based defense contractor.

To date, most of the emphasis in wellness measurement has been at the individual level. Does a person quit smoking? Does he or she lose weight? Experts, however, believe the next frontier is to tie that data to the organization's health.

For the first time, says Ron Z. Goetzel, companies are "correlating the organization's health metrics with the individual health metrics to see what the incremental benefits are for the organization."

Goetzel, research professor and director of the Institute for Health and Productivity Studies at Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta, says employers should not only be measuring outcomes, but the structure of the program and whether employees are engaged.

Today, Goetzel says, employers have access to a variety of different instruments that can help them measure the effectiveness of their programs. He cites as examples scorecards produced by Health Enhancement Research Organization, the National Business Group on Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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For best-practice companies, Goetzel suggests HR leaders review the National Health Award winners at The Health Project's website. Last year's winners included Medical Mutual of Ohio, Pfizer Inc. and the Volvo Group.

As is often the case these days, technology is playing an increasingly important role in enabling wellness programs, and the collection and analysis of data -- and many believe that's only going to accelerate.

Eric Zimmerman, chief marketing officer for RedBrick Health, a San Francisco-based provider of wellness tools and services, says his firm is using social-networking tools to increase participation and generate additional data in a joint project at seven Minnesota employers.

As for what lies ahead, Zimmerman advises HR leaders to look outside the world of healthcare.

"Look at how Google is using data to measure what's going on with consumers so they can continually shape what they're delivering ... or the way Pandora is using analytics to shape the music experience," he says. "Those are the models we're looking at [today]."

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