COVID-19 has put a tremendous amount of pressure on the healthcare industry and has placed an immediate emphasis on employee health. The pandemic has taught us important lessons about how we can better address health concerns before the presence of a crisis, namely in handling chronic and underlying conditions.
We quickly learned with COVID-19 that those with chronic conditions are not only more vulnerable to contracting the virus, they also are at higher-risk of suffering severe complications. It is evident that we need to better identify and treat those with chronic conditions. And, as a significant number of the population suffers from chronic and underlying conditions, it’s a group that requires immediate attention. Data from the Kaiser Family Foundation1 has shown approximately 29.2 million adults in the U.S. between the ages of 18-59 have an underlying medical condition such as heart disease, COPD, obesity or diabetes.
Below are high-priority steps following the trend of using data to improve employee health and reduce hospitalizations.
The first step in addressing chronic conditions is through early detection. If conditions can be caught in the early stages, there is a better opportunity to begin treatment before the individual progresses to the high-risk category. Health data is key in early detection and is best collected by utilizing two methods:
When biometric and HRA data are combined, it provides a more precise picture of an individual’s overall health. Because most people receive their health benefits through their employer, it’s the optimal starting point. By implementing health strategies at the employer level, there is more opportunity to detect and address medical issues before they become a bigger issue.
Now the data must be communicated and acted upon. The data collected from biometric screening and HRAs should be provided to employees through a personalized health portal that defines strategies for health improvement. These strategies may include:
Changing Personal Behavior: Once a health condition is identified, the individual is provided with recommendations and resources for addressing the issue. This may include weight loss assistance, referrals to smoking cessation programs or a recommendation to schedule an appointment with a physician.
Health Coaching: Many individuals don’t know where to start when they’ve been diagnosed with a chronic condition. A health coach will monitor and track the progress of an individual’s condition and provide corrective guidance along the way.
Metrics-Based Incentives: Whether in the form of compensation, points, paid time off or gifts, incentives motivate individuals to participate and succeed in company-sponsored health initiatives.
The data are aggregated from changes in behavior, health coaching sessions and incentive participation to track an employee’s health journey and determine their progress. Not only will this information help employees determine whether further modifications and interventions are needed, it will also help the employer get an updated look at the health of his/her employee population.
The data-driven technology is far-reaching in improving employee health and helping employers reduce premium costs. Employer-specific data are combined with hospital and health system resources to provide population specific interventions. The result is healthier employees and reduced costs for the employer.
In unprecedented ways, employers are taking charge and making employee health an important part of their culture. In partnership with local hospitals, employers gain the data, analysis, tools and resources necessary to enhance employee health, mitigate risk and positively impact health benefit expenses.
1Kaiser Family Foundation, How Many Adults Are at Risk of Serious Illness If Infected with Coronavirus?, April 2020