Do you always fasten your seat belt when you’re in the car? How many servings of fruits and vegetables do you eat in a day? In the last seven days, how often did you exercise for at least 20 minutes a day? Those types of questions are commonly included in a health risk assessment (HRA), a screening tool used to identify and understand health risks.

“A health risk assessment is a way for us to really get to know a patient’s overall health and any risks that are happening in their day-to-day life,” says Silvia Madrigal, Nurse Practitioner and Regional Vice President of Clinical Leadership at Marathon Health. “So, how are they sleeping, what’s their stress level, what do they eat? It’s a great tool for us to have in advance of health coaching visits or annual physicals, so we can start a conversation around those risks and how to mitigate them.”

Incentivizing Employees to Complete HRAs

While companies that understand risks their workforces face can provide more effective interventions, they often receive an incomplete picture. According to an article in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, only 32.3% of employees presented with a health risk assessment in 2019 completed it.

“A way that we encourage participation is by saying, ‘We really want to get to know you better. The more we know about you, the better we can take care of you,’” Madrigal says.

A best practice Madrigal recommends is incentivizing participation, whether through gift cards, insurance premium discounts, or an extra day of PTO. With the data in hand, companies and healthcare providers can get to work supporting their employees and patients.

Improving Patient Care with HRAs

HRAs give providers a deeper look into someone’s life and lifestyle beyond what lab numbers show. Sometimes people feel shame or embarrassment bringing up certain topics with a provider, and the HRA opens the door to a conversation.

“We have questions that really focus on quality of life, purpose, and stress,” says Marathon Health Client Advocate Holly Martin. “Often, when providers go through standard labs, they’re not getting any kind of information like that. And so this is a great way for people to give feedback on how they’re feeling. Providers can use that data for health coaching and helping patients improve areas of life that they don’t typically talk about with a primary care provider.”

The information gleaned through these assessments can also guide treatment plans. “For someone who struggles with weight, these types of questions might uncover underlying causes for weight issues, like lack of access to nutritious foods, stress, or lack of sleep,” Martin says. “It can narrow down cause and effect and how to really work with that patient to make impactful behavior changes.”

When taken annually, medical professionals can analyze trends and discuss those with their patients.

Using Health Risk Assessment Data to Guide Benefits, Programming

While individual responses on HRAs, also called comprehensive health reviews, are anonymous to employers, they often receive aggregate data they can use to inform benefits.

“It gives them an insight into quality of life as they’re looking at their overall benefit packages and different priorities within their organization,” Martin says.

Employers can also plan programming to engage employees in their health and wellness and meet any uncovered needs.

“If an employer sees their population reporting they don’t have access to healthy fruits and vegetables, they might bring in a mobile farmers market,” Madrigal says. “Maybe they have a population with a very high-stress level. That’s a conversation starter for bringing a behavioral health counselor onsite. HRAs really give employers a way to remove barriers that may be preventing employees from functioning at a higher level, or to reinforce good habits they want to see continue.”

Ultimately, HRAs give employers another avenue to gain information about their employee population. “Sometimes we focus so much on labs and biometrics,” Martin says. “We can forget how important some of these other lifestyle categories and risks are to overall health and wellbeing.”

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