Marathon Health brought nearly 200 clients, benefits consultants, industry experts and ambassadors together for its 10th annual employer health conference Engage 2022. Austin, Texas, was the perfect backdrop and our goal was simple: reunite, deepen our relationships, network with new and old friends, learn some new employer health strategies, and have a lot of fun along the way. We managed to accomplish all of this and so much more.
The four-day conference was jam-packed with popular sessions that included a kick-off from Marathon Health CEO Jeff Wells, MD, which celebrated HR leaders as the often-overlooked heroes of the last two years. Attendees also learned strategies for driving engagement with an employee health center, the importance of offering behavioral health services at work, a better way to drive quality referrals, best practices for returning to the office and employee retention tips.
Five-time #1 best-selling author and motivational speaker Eric Qualman, who has performed in over 55 countries, gave a high-energy keynote that creatively challenged us to think a little differently about the problems we’re trying to solve in the workplace. “Things don’t happen to you; they happen for you,” was an oft-quoted takeaway for many. Attendees also enjoyed several industry breakout sessions to share ideas and best practices.
Engage 2022 wouldn’t be complete without some time to relax, get to know each other and have fun. Attendees enjoyed an opening reception and dinner, a 5K run/walk, cooking class, graffiti art class, wine tour, LBJ Presidential Library visit, indoor skydiving and golf. We said our goodbyes with a bang that included a client awards ceremony, dinner and a festival showcasing local musicians and bands, dancing, record spin art and more!
What Attendees Had to Say about Engage 2022
“Unique, wide selection [of activities], liked the option to stay onsite or go and explore something local to Austin. It was a great way to connect with other clients and ambassadors.”
“Every consideration had been thought out in advance. The content was all good; the location, activities and food were great!”
“Conference was full of good content. Engagement and connectivity were outstanding.”
“It was an amazing experience. I learned a great deal.”
Check out some of the highlights below
Engage 2022 Welcome
Jeff Wells, MD, CEO and Co-Founder of Marathon Health
In the last couple of years, during the pandemic, we’ve all seen more disruption and impact than at any other time in our lives. Just like many others across the country, HR leaders have stepped up in an unbelievable way, demonstrating quietly what it means to be a hero during these difficult times.
HR leaders have also faced the toughest labor market and urgent shifts in business models requiring massive change management to address stress, burnout, and health and safety concerns, just to name a few. “The selflessness, the sacrifice and the resiliency of everyone here has been nothing short of amazing,” said Jeff Wells, CEO, and Co-Founder of Marathon Health, during the welcome ceremony at Engage 2022. “So, on behalf of the Marathon Health team, I have to give a heartfelt thank you.”
Jeff noted the importance of every person in the room for stepping up to improve the lives and health of employees across the U.S. And he mentioned the importance of why Marathon Health always puts our team at the forefront. “We believe if we put our ambassadors first and care for them directly, they’ll be in a position to better care for patients — your employees and their families,” he said.
Marathon Health’s strategy for the future continues to focus on improving healthcare and creating stronger partnerships with our clients. That begins with passionately focusing on fixing a broken healthcare system. “Purpose matters. We’re inspired to transform lives, the members we serve, and we do that one patient at a time,” Jeff said.
Marathon Health exists to impact lives, and it’s the same reason so many of our clients work in human resources and as benefits consultants. “We all want people to have less pain, increased confidence, more energy, and to put employees in a position to deepen their relationships so they have more meaning and purpose in their lives,” Jeff said.
Countless stories show the impact we’re all making on employee health, too. Throughout the entire Engage conference, everyone spoke about those lives we touch. Norm, for example, hadn’t seen a doctor in years and discovered prostate cancer early by having an annual physical at Marathon Health. Dorothy got the support she needed to get her blood pressure under control. And Angela quit smoking and found alternative ways to manage her stress.
“This is what inspires our team,” Jeff says. “This is why we get out of bed in the morning. There are many more individuals whose stories have yet to be written and why we partner with you.”
The Roadmap: Human-Centered Design
Venkat Chittoor, Chief Product and Technology Officer
Dr. Levi Rizk, Marathon Health Physician
With so many changes and so many moving parts constantly happening around us, it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of the things that will never change: 1) Healthcare is about people and trusting relationships, and 2) Marathon Health’s vision is still to transform millions of lives for the better, one patient at a time.
We know the traditional healthcare system offers an experience that results in poor outcomes and unmet needs. It can be expensive, fragmented and difficult to navigate. “But those of you who are here today already know this, and you are already a part of creating an amazing patient experience, improving health outcomes, lowering costs, and empowering world-class healthcare providers,” said Venkat Chittoor, Chief Technology and Product Officer, who discussed the roadmap of Marathon Health’s future at Engage 2022.
Great patient experiences don’t happen by accident. To continue to deliver a better patient experience to improve the health and quality of life for every member, Venkat shared how Marathon Health is shifting its entire service, product and technology offerings to align with a human-centered design perspective.
“Every aspect of the member journey is being examined to ensure every part of our members’ experience drives the health outcomes that matter most to our patients,” Venkat said. “Transformation and patient experience cannot happen without the patient being the center of how we define success.”
Dr. Levi Rizk, a Marathon Health physician, shared how many patients are used to transactional healthcare and described some common examples. He said that a patient may go to their doctor, get his medication adjusted, and live the rest of his life with a chronic condition like high blood pressure.
“Most people don’t receive the education they should get when they receive a diagnosis,” Levi said, noting that some behavioral health changes, along with a little guidance and support from a healthcare provider, could help the patient lower his blood pressure and get off medication altogether.
With transformational healthcare, rather than transactional, Venkat says, we’re putting patients at the forefront to help them feel connected to his or her health goals and the behavioral changes they want to make. “We’re developing a defined care plan that’s centered around each patient to improve lives.”
Strategies for Driving Engagement
Jennifer Lowry, Senior Director of Member Engagement, Marathon Health
Erik Bustillo, Registered Dietitian and Health Coach, Marathon Health
Kyle Lambes, Client Advocate, Marathon Health
Beverly Ambrosio, PHRP, Benefits & Wellness Manager, City of Plantation, Florida
Angel Meadows, Manager of Clinic Programs, Tyson Foods
Incorporating health center services like Marathon Health might be a great step in the right direction to improve employee health. Employers, however, will only see utilization of a health center if they can get employees in the front door.
Over the years, Marathon Health has been looking at data to understand the key drivers of engagement. “This starts with leadership support,” says Jenny Lowry, Marathon Health’s Member Engagement Senior Director. “Each of you in this room is key for communicating to your employees or members the value of the services Marathon Health provides. It’s talking the talk, walking the walk, whether at new hire orientations or in leadership town halls. It’s also allowing members to use the health center while they’re at work.”
Jenny explained that employer incentive programs with the right design can encourage members to visit the health centers, resulting in long-term healthier behavior changes. Beverly Ambrosio, Benefits & Wellness Manager at the City of Plantation, has an engagement rate of 96% with employees using Marathon Health. Their incentive program is the key to driving engagement, she said.
Beverly said every wellness activity a team member completes earns a point. Those activities might include receiving an annual physical, participating in health coaching, or a wellness challenge. “When employees get five points, they can get a $75 gift card. And then, when they reach 10 points, they can get another $75 gift card. They also get a discount on their insurance premium.”
Care teams at the health centers also reach out to members to invite them to use the health centers and visit the employees at their job sites to help build relationships with employees.
Tyson Foods, for example, has many barriers they had to overcome to get employees engaged, said Angel Meadows, Manager of Clinic Programs at Tyson. Their employees are in rural areas, speak 26 different languages and are from a wide range of cultures from different countries. Many of its employees don’t have emails, don’t know their phone numbers, or don’t have the money to get healthcare. Tyson has broken down barriers by doing flyer promotions to drive engagement; they have media boards at plant locations and weekly meet and greets with the care team to engrain themselves into the Tyson community.
“We also started open houses,” Angel says. “One of the aha moments for me was when our team walked into the clinic during the open house, and they were like, ‘wow, this is so nice,’ and they asked, ‘Is this for us?’ This IS for our teams and their spouses. The plant leadership cooked for the team members and their families at the open house. The employees were line dancing in the parking lot. It was just an amazing day. It just brought that community piece back home to us.”
The Evolution, Adoption and Impact of Behavioral Health Services
Erin Thase, National Director Behavioral Health
Silvia Madrigal, Regional Clinical Leader
Nan Mann, Benefits Wellness Program Manager, City of Charlotte
Anne Hopkins, Director, Benefits & Wellness, CHG
Today, mental illness impacts 1 in 4 Americans. Most employers recognize that mental health conditions— from depression and anxiety to alcohol misuse and drug abuse — drive up costs while decreasing productivity.
Different types of programming can be implemented to help increase our clients’ well-being. “It’s about a behavioral health specialist using their expertise in building relationships with their patients to figure out their needs and help them make positive progress in their lives,” said Erin Thase, National Director of Behavioral Health at Marathon Health.
By offering behavioral health services, employers are increasing access to care. Erin explained the high demand for behavioral health services and the long waiting lists making it difficult for employees to get the care they need when they need it most. “We offer patient-centered evidence-based and outcomes-based therapy for individuals, couples and families, and provide compassion, empathy and support to help individuals create opportunities for a positive meaning in their life,” she said.
Behavioral health services help treat anxiety, depression, trauma, grief and loneliness, mood disorders, eating disorders, relationship challenges, stress, substance misuse and more.
CHG Healthcare, a temporary provider staffing organization, began offering behavioral health services to its employees in 2017 through Marathon Health and now offers it in 5 locations. Anne Hopkins, Director, Benefits & Wellness, CHG, said the service has been critical during times of crisis from employee deaths, an earthquake, layoffs and the pandemic.
“During the pandemic, we made a huge shift to virtual behavioral health,” Anne told the crowd. “And although our in-person utilization went down with the health centers, our behavioral health utilization increased. The Marathon Health behavioral health team saw 321 patients during that time. It was just incredible.”
The City of Charlotte began offering behavioral health services in 2019 and now offers 5 behavioral health specialists through Marathon Health. “We saw a 108% increase in the utilization of behavioral health services from 2020 to 2021,” said Nan Mann, Benefits Wellness Program Manager for the City of Charlotte, who shared some of their employee success stories. “Offering behavioral health is just the right thing to do for our employees.”
Pierce Graham-Jones, EVP of Growth & Strategy
Nick Reber, Founder and CEO, Garner Health
Erin Stahl, Director of Member Relations
Shelly Towns, Chief Marketing Officer, Marathon Health
There’s enormous variation in the cost and quality of healthcare. And although there are healthcare transparency tools, many employees just don’t remember to use them when choosing a healthcare provider or service. “Transparency tools typically have less than a 10 percent utilization rate,” said Pierce Graham-Jones, EVP of Growth & Strategy at Marathon Health, during the event.
Erin Stahl, Director of Member Relations at Marathon Health, explained how a new approach closes the gap and helps employees get the follow-up care they need. A team of referral coordinators at Marathon Health reviews cost and quality data and provides members with the best options at the best price when they need specialty care or services.
“Our process is designed to take as much burden off the patient as possible,” Erin said. “We contact the patient, learn what’s important to them for the referral, and talk to them about their option that meets their criteria, and we’ll schedule the appointment. You can hear the delight in the voices of our patients. And 60% of our patients complete their referrals. It is a closed-loop process and helps prevent fallout.”
The referral team also has access to high-quality data through Marathon Health’s partnership with Garner Health. Nick Reber, founder and CEO of Garner Health, said a carrier’s website and transparency tools are based on very small subsets of data. Garner, however, leverages 500+ proprietary specialty-specific measures.
“We knew we could take a big step forward in navigation and employee engagement, and making sure members understood who the best providers are at the best cost,” Nick said. “We put our data in the hands of Marathon Health to drive better referrals. The referral coordinators take that data and can tell the member the reasons for choosing Dr. Jones. For example, Dr. Jones follows the best medical practices for your condition, has really accurate diagnosis and has good health outcomes with her patients.”
Marathon Health Networks
Chad Ashcraft, Executive Vice President Growth & Expansion, Marathon Health
Levi Rizk, Physician, Marathon Health
Matt Mikolajewski, Senior Benefits Consultant, ADVICS North America
Jeffrey Brown, Chief Policy and Labor Relations Officer, IndyGo
During Engage 2022, you could feel the excitement as the panel talked about the Marathon Health Network model. Chad shared how they are integrating those physical Network centers with their virtual channel to engage more people, impact more lives, and introduce the Network health centers in more markets around the country.
A lot of people hear Network and lump it in with “near-site health centers,” but it’s a totally different setup, Chad explained. The only similarity really is that both are shared among a variety of employers. But unlike a traditional near-site, with the Marathon Health Network, there’s no dependency amongst the various employers. “If Employer A decides to leave, Employer B does not bear the burden of increased cost or decreased services, providers or operating hours,” Chad said.
Marathon Health currently has the Network model open in seven markets with more coming in 2023 and beyond. They piloted the Network model with the City of Indianapolis back in 2014. Today, they’re open in Indianapolis (2014), Charlotte (2016), Cincinnati (2019), Columbus (2020), Las Vegas (2021), Orlando (2021) and Salt Lake City (which just opened in August 2022). Marathon Health has been refining this model since 2014, Chad said, and has figured out what’s required to do this well for employer partners.
One of the biggest advantages to the Network model is that it’s a great option for employers with a highly distributed workforce across one market or several. Think municipalities, school districts, professional service companies with a lot of work-from-home employees, etc. It’s also great for employers with a small workforce where an onsite just doesn’t make sense.
The Network has proven to drive higher engagement among dependents and spouses because the health centers are located in popular shopping centers around town. “Our goal as we scale the individual markets is to have a health center within a 10-minute drive of work and home for 90% of the working population,” Chad said.
Seventy-two of Marathon Health’s current clients have Network access today, either exclusively or along with an onsite or virtual model. About 75% of those clients have Network only access, and a growing segment has chosen our virtual Anywhere access for their remote populations. “Anywhere has become especially popular amongst our existing clients who are adding it as a channel to engage remote populations, or they are expanding access to their employees who already visit an onsite or Network health center,” Chad said.
Marathon Health often opens a new market with two to three health centers and then adds more to a city as employer demand increases. For example, Marathon has one health center open in Salt Lake City and seven in Indianapolis, their most mature Network market. “Early adopters have the opportunity to help us decide where to locate an initial center as well as influence future builds, so that’s a great reason to come on early,” Chad told the crowd.
In the case of employers who have onsite, virtual and/or Network access, all of Marathon Health’s care teams work out of one EHR so member records are accessible regardless of where the visit takes place. That visibility really expands the scope of what the providers can do with the practice. They have the medical history, they know the medications, specialty referrals, and they’re trained on the employer’s incentive program…they know a lot more about the patient and can serve more of the needs. Plus, it’s a better experience for the member. Contrast that with the typical telehealth provider and they simply don’t get that 360-view, so they can’t do as much. “They’re relegated to transactional health care, which we all know doesn’t move the needle with regards to cost or outcomes at the end of the day,” Chad said.
Two Network clients on the panel shared their experience
Jeff Brown is with the Indianapolis Public Transportation Corporation, commonly referred to as IndyGo. “We’re the largest public transportation agency in Indiana with about 850 employees, many of which are drivers and then we have mechanics, those that take care of our facilities and our corporate team. And our workforce is also subject to a wellness plan, so there are various requirements that employees need to meet throughout the year. The majority of our employees drive. They’re sitting in the seat of a bus for eight hours or longer. The primary health concerns we see among our employees are diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular and hypertension.
We had an onsite health center for 12 years, but a couple of years ago, we put out an RFP to seek a new clinic provider. [Couple reasons for that] one, is if an employee was sick, they had to drive all the way into our corporate office to use the clinic and sometimes they’re commuting a significant distance. We were also looking for a fresh start and to build a new partnership. And what was really attractive about Marathon is that not only could they provide the onsite clinic, but we also gained access to the seven Network health centers around Indianapolis. We compared those locations to where our employees lived and it lined up really well.
That extra access really gave our employees an opportunity to have convenience and efficiency, and that was extremely attractive. And their virtual offering was actually very important to us. We launched in March of this year, and so far our transition has gone very well. It’s been a great improvement for our workforce.
The clinic is a way to help us bring our claims down. And I think with the Network access, the convenience factor is huge for employees. Because now they don’t have to come all the way to the corporate office on an off day. They can simply go to the location that’s closest to their home.
With Marathon, we have a much broader, fuller complement of services. And because of those common health concerns that I mentioned, having the health coaches has really been a tremendous benefit because we need that engagement. And the prior of doing that, um, so had that onsite presence of health coach was really great. It’s really a night and day comparison to what we previously had.”
Matt Mikolajewski with ADVICS, a Japanese-owned brake manufacturer with three manufacturing sites in Georgia, Indiana and Ohio, and a corporate presence in Ohio, shared their experience with the Network health centers, too.
“Our Indiana site had a clinic, so we knew the benefits and when I came board almost seven years ago, I was tasked with getting one in Ohio because that’s where the majority of our population is – about 1,000 team members. Honestly, we looked at six or seven different types of onsite and near-site models; some from smaller companies, some from big companies, and we were really excited about the options.
Originally we were focused on opening an onsite health center and about two weeks before we were making our decision, our benefits consultant called and said, ‘Hey, these folks from Marathon Health are coming down and they want to talk about the clinic. At that point, we knew what type of service we wanted, and the more we heard the Marathon story, the more I got excited. Hearing Jeff (CEO) talk about the model and why he got into the business…I was like this guy’s living it, and he’s been in the health industry. They’re really trying to make a difference. So that’s what sold me.
So we selected Marathon, and what’s really cool about it is that we got to decide where we wanted to put the first Network health center in Cincinnati. Every day driving to work, I knew where I wanted that clinic to go. So because we were first adopters, it allowed our team members to have a first location very close to work. We’ve since expanded to flu shots on-site, a wellness program support and occupational health services.
And then I started catching on that the more employers Marathon gets, the more clinics we get. And so I got excited about that because we have folks that live north of the city that aren’t necessarily close to work, which would then expand our role to use spouses that are close to their homes. So that really got me pumped up to motivate other employers to join. Cause again, that only helps ADVICS and our team members, and selfishly we want them to have easy access and not necessarily have to be close to work.”
Exploring Healthcare Industry Trends
Rosa De La Torre, VP of Clinical Leadership
Terry Layman, MD, SVP, Corporate Medical Director
Heather Weeks, VP of Product Transformation
Disruption and change were recurring themes across Marathon Health’s Engage 2022 conference. For the final session, the presenters explored the latest changes and emerging trends impacting the industry — from the rise of virtual visits and digital health technology to legislative changes impacting reproductive care.
The pandemic accelerated the adoption of digital health solutions, which continue to gain popularity as they support remote workers and meet patient demand. Heather Weeks, VP of Product Transformation at Marathon Health, mentioned a study that found 76% of patients who participated in a virtual visit in the last year prefer to receive care virtually going forward.
“The good news is it’s having a positive impact on health equity for historically underserved populations,” Heather said. “It’s also making a bigger impact on overall solutions around integration and continuity of care.”
Heather talked about the explosion of digital health solutions, including at-home testing, remote monitoring for chronic conditions and wearable technology.
“It’s our goal to evaluate what’s out there and incorporate the appropriate solutions into our own offerings, so we can help with simplification and drive a positive experience for our members,” Heather said.
Mentioning how he “geeks out” over technology, Dr. Terry Layman, Corporate Medical Director for Marathon Health, expanded on the increasing popularity of the at-home health tech trend. He noted the wide range of products, from at-home tests for cervical, colorectal and breast cancer to a self-test that claims to detect more than 50 different types of cancers.
However, he mentioned how many products use misleading marketing to overstate their effectiveness, and he warned both clinical staff and employers to do their due diligence before adopting these tools.
“We know at-home is the new thing, right? A lot of people are at home, they’re being marketed to and they’re doing a lot of these self-tests,” Dr. Layman said. “We want to be helpful. There’s no cost to come and talk to us about their viability.”
Rosa De La Torre, VP of Clinical Leadership at Marathon Health, also talked about the pressures healthcare providers face navigating a patchwork of state abortion laws, the uncertainty of reproductive healthcare in the U.S. and how Marathon Health plans work with employers to expand access for patients who seek reproductive services.
“Our providers are concerned that women now face an increased number of barriers to access,” Rosa said. “We’re watching closely to see how it’s going to impact overall family planning and access to those services.”
Rosa emphasized how HR leaders need to communicate any 2023 benefit changes to their Marathon Health care teams so they can utilize available resources and ensure women understand all of their options regarding reproductive care.
“Our first and highest priority is to make sure our clinical teams feel empowered and understand the resources available to them and their patients so they can have those discussions about pre-conceptual counseling and educate women on their family planning options,” Rosa said.
Together, we’re transforming lives and excited for the healthcare journey ahead. Thank you to everyone who joined us at Engage 2022. We’ll see you next year!