Healthcare must lead wellness change

By Zack Budryk

In the end, the healthcare system in general is trending in a direction that makes attention to employee wellness vital. "We're seeing a continued trend of people who are just getting unhealthier, and I think we're in a situation now where people are realizing that if they don't start taking care of their own health, then they're really going to end up having a lifestyle where they're sick a good amount of time," Kashman said.

The movement reflects the general changes in the industry as well, experts said. 

"Healthcare reform, for a hospital setting, our reimbursement is changing, and the nature of our reimbursement is changing," Cheri A. Miller, M.S., director of wellness services at the Christ Hospital Health Network, told FierceHealthcare. "We have to be more efficient with our employees as well as our dollars, as well as our business."

Additionally, Kashman said insurers face higher care-delivery costs, the majority of which are specific to preventable health issues. "There needs to be some shared responsibility in terms of the cost of taking care of people whose health is getting worse … I think it's people who've been looking at themselves in the mirror and taking more personal accountability for their own health," he said.

"It's interesting that corporate wellness is now falling into the hospital system network, because if you think about it, hospitals are trained to take care of the sick," Miller added. "They're not really trained to take care of the well, with the exception of our primary care practices, which are now being bought up by healthcare systems, so now they do have that proponent of preventativeness that we haven't always had … until we went to those kind of networking models."

An August survey from Optum Resource Center indicates employee wellness programs will increasingly become a fixture in the healthcare sector. Nearly 90 percent of respondents said wellness programs are either important or very important to their overall benefits, while a separate survey found 78 percent of companies around the world support the programs.

Another survey indicates employee engagement is a vital part of establishing a successful wellness program. "The links between a high level of engagement and business benefits are clear," Virgin Pulse CEO Chris Boyce said in that survey. "Recent research shows a highly engaged workforce drives profitability, productivity and customer ratings, while reducing shrinkage, turnover and absenteeism."

Failure to engage employees has consequences. Such programs often fail precisely because a company simply offers the wellness program but makes no effort to let employees know about it or the benefits of participating. Gallup polls found that while more than 85 percent of large employers offer wellness programs, only 60 percent of workers know about them, and of those, only 40 percent actually participate.

"I think we are seeing a big push nationwide for hospitals to be leaders of change in creating a culture of health," said Medical University of South Carolina Director of Health Promotion Susan L. Johnson, Ph.D. "Unfortunately, we often have the unhealthiest workforces. Before we can help others change their health habits we must learn to do it ourselves."

Healthcare must lead wellness change