Group incentives achieve greater employee wellness success

As hospitals look to implement employee wellness programs, they should take heed that employees lose weight more successfully under company wellness plans that incentivize group rather than individual weight loss, suggests a study published Tuesday in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The study compared results between a program that paid obese individuals $100 per month for meeting of exceeding weight-loss goals, and one that split $500 per month among a group of five. Within the group, if one or more people didn't meet their goals for the month, those who did meet goals received more money.

After the weigh-ins, participants received an automated message noting their earnings, or what they would have earned had they been successful, according to an announcement from the University of Michigan Health System, which conducted the research with the Ann Arbor VA Healthcare System.

Those in the group weight-loss program lost nearly three times more weight than those working on their own. They also maintained more of their loss three months after the incentives ended.

The findings have "important implications for both policymakers and the employers" who are considering offering" incentives for health-related behavior modification, lead author Jeffrey T. Kullgren, M.D., said in a statement.

The findings also could provide a path to success for hospital employers disappointed with a recent study in the journal Health Affairs finding wellness programs do not appear to lower a company's overall healthcare costs.

That study looked at a wellness program at a St. Louis-based healthcare system, which provided discounted premiums for its most generous health insurance plan to employees who completed a health risk assessment, signed a pledge promising to eat well and exercise regularly, and enrolled in a smoking cessation program if they smoked, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

Hospitalizations fell significantly for targeted conditions, but not across the board. In the end, the hospital system saved no money, the study found.

On the other hand, insurers can reap financial rewards from some targeted wellness programs. UnitedHealth, for example, recently said healthcare costs for members participating in its diabetes program rose 4 percent more slowly than among a control group of non-participants.

To learn more:
- read the study abstract
- here's the announcement