The nonprofit Rand Corporation has a new report out looking at the effectiveness of workplace wellness programs that’s been making its way around the healthcare world. The report, Workplace Wellness Programs Study, was mandated by the Affordable Care Act, a tenet of which allows employers to reward employees who participate in workplace wellness programs with subsidies equal to 30 percent of the cost of insurance premiums, or about $1,620 annually per worker.

Some observers are looking at the report as a blow to the worksite wellness industry because the study’s authors found that worksite wellness programs have only a modest effect on getting employees to become healthier and reducing medical costs.

We won’t dispute the findings, which came from an analysis of wellness programs from about 600 businesses with at least 50 employees, but wanted to share our response to some of the salient points arguing against the effectiveness of worksite healthcare programs.

First and foremost, our model was founded on the principle that wellness is not enough. Data analyzed by Dr. Dee Edington, one of the foremost leaders in population health management, and his colleagues at the Health Management Research Center indicates that wellness programs alone have shown to have limited effectiveness in increasing overall health status, increasing productivity, and decreasing healthcare costs. So in this case, we would agree with the Rand report. To see changes occur, companies need to create a solution that integrates prevention, primary and acute care services. Part of Marathon Health’s population health management solution is the creation of a Medical Home@Work™ care management process at the worksite health center. Components of the MedicalHome@Work include:

  • Preventative and primary care services
  • Referral management and tracking
  • Care coordination with the PCP or will act as
    PCP
  • Community provider and health services
    integration
  • Patient education
  • Monitoring patient condition
  • Follow-up care
  • Care gap analysis

The report states that healthcare savings from workplace wellness programs were not statistically significant, but hedges in its final conclusion.

“Our estimates of wellness program effects on health care cost are lower than most results reported in the
literature, but we caution that our approach estimated the isolated effect of lifestyle management interventions, whereas many published studies captured the effect of an employer’s overall approach to health and wellness,” the report states.

Marathon Health determines savings based on our overall approach to health and wellness. We’re confident in our estimations that our total population health management model will produce a hard dollar ROI of 3:1 over three years. So much so that we guarantee it. We adhere to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s Triple Aim initiative. Our company and our staff performance are measured across three dimensions that we go at risk for:

• Improving the patient experience (quality and satisfaction)

• Improving the health of populations

• Reducing the per capita cost of health care

The Rand Report also concludes that “Consistent with prior research, we find that lifestyle management interventions as part of workplace wellness programs can reduce risk factors, such as smoking, and increase healthy behaviors, such as exercise.”

This is essentially the Marathon Health model. Whether a patient comes in for a sore throat, seasonal allergies, or a complex chronic health condition, Marathon Health’s model approaches each person holistically and provides the tools for them to self-manage their health.

That’s our take. There’s a lot to digest in the report.

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