Ensuring Strategic & Sustainable Health Initiatives Podcast, Part One
For Your Benefits
For Your Benefits
Ensuring Strategic & Sustainable Health Initiatives (Part Two)
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Ensuring Strategic & Sustainable Health Initiatives (Part Two)

In the second episode of our two-part series, we continue our conversation with Kristin Meschler and Cary Seager of Assured Partners about the Ten Core Keys to Health and Productivity.

They discuss how to ensure sustainable health initiatives, including:

  • How culture can affect employer health and wellbeing efforts
  • Why it’s important to communicate the company’s business goals to leadership
  • How to align safety initiatives with a health program
  • How to encourage employers to use analytics to drive strategy and outcomes.

If you missed part one of our discussion, click here to listen.

If you’d like to learn how WellOnMyWay can be an integral part of your company’s health initiatives, let us know!

In This Podcast

Kristin Meschler, Ensuring Strategic & Sustainable Health Initiatives Podcast

Kristin Meschler

Kristin Meschler specializes in wellness and employer health & productivity solutions at AssuredPartners. Kristin brings more than ten years of experience to AssuredPartners, with a background in corporate wellness, working with groups of all sizes to improve the overall health of their employees. Kristin supports AssuredPartners by creating and implementing cutting-edge strategies and tactics for employers with the goal of bending the trend in healthcare costs, Rx and worker’s compensation claims while improving quality of life for all employees.

Cary Seager, Ensuring Strategic & Sustainable Health Initiatives Podcast

Cary Seager

Cary Seager is the Regional Director of Health & Productivity at AssuredPartners. Cary consults with middle and large market clients’ needs for health and wellness to create organized and proven strategic wellness plans that deliver employer and employee satisfaction, behavior change, and ultimately drive a downward trend in medical, Rx and worker’s compensation claims.

Amy Utterback:

Welcome back to For Your Benefits, this podcast is presented by SentryHealth, developers of WellOnMyWay, an integrated health solution for employers of all sizes. My name is Amy Utterback. I’m the Director of Market Development here at SentryHealth.

In this episode, we’re continuing our conversation with Kristin Meschler and Cary Seager, of the Assured Partners Health and Productivity Team. They’re talking about the ten core keys of health and productivity and why they’re vital to building strategic and sustainable health and wellbeing programs in your workplace. Today, they’re sharing more great tips, so let’s get back to the conversation with Kristin and Carrie.

Cultural and Environmental Integration

Amy Utterback:

I’d like to talk a little bit about the importance of recognizing cultural and environmental integration. Many would argue that is one of the most pivotal components of a truly successful program. So, what is your philosophy? How have you seen culture either help or hinder health and wellbeing efforts?

Cary Seager:

Kristin and I say the ten core keys are all equally important. But if there’s one that’s just a smidgen more important, if I’m allowed to say it, that is creating culture.

Amy Utterback:

You can pick a favorite.

Cary Seager:

Yeah, thank you, but it’s also the most difficult because it requires attention at every level of the business.

Let me give you an example of one of what I consider my best clients in terms of workplace health and wellness. So, this organization, the owners meet formally every year to review their health and wellness efforts. They have employed an outside nurse, who is a health coach and visits their 12 sites, twice a month. This coach has done an amazing job of building relationships and trust among the employees. She has proven to assist in not only improving biometric numbers, the whole, as we think of it, firstly, but also assisting in other areas like substance abuse and major life events that have occurred with some of the employees, like suicides in the family. And they even had a murder on the premises several years ago and trying to deploy some emergency mental health action right then, was easy when they already had a coach on-site, who was trained and had a relationship with the employees.

I meet with her once a month, and touch base to make sure she understands the health plan benefits so that she can help direct care. And this is greatly improved proper plan utilization and also the use of all those free carrier wellness perks.

Additionally, the company offers healthy food, they send out regular wellness communications, they host an annual biometric screening, they do flu shots, mobile mammograms, blood donation, and just cover about everything. They’ve had companywide challenges. They do seminars occasionally. They’ve even offered fitness classes. They have a points program in place that rewards employee who have in range numbers or they’ve worked with the health coach and that they’ve had certain preventive visits. They also do a really good job leaning on all their resources to help them with their wellbeing initiatives.

Me, for example, at AssuredPartners, I’m working with them on going and really help them as much as possible with their strategy. They lean on their health coach to help with sustainable health initiatives and even their health insurance carrier. And we’ve even tapped into the health insurance carrier who provides a health fund to help reimburse some of the health coaching expenses. So, with this client, if any employee in the company was quizzed and asked, does your employer care about your health, they would firmly respond. Yes, if that employee was asked if the company has tools to improve the health, whether it be physical or mental, they also would firmly respond, yes. I’m proud of what this company has done, they’re a great model for employers everywhere.

Kristin Meschler:

And let me add in there, because I think that’s such a fundamental thing, that Cary was just talking about when she referenced, if you asked an employee this, what would they say? I think that’s a really telling piece of the culture. And again, it gets back to all the other core keys we’re talking about and why they’re so important, communication, surveying, assessment, all that good stuff.

But Cary also talked about mental health. And of course, right now, I think that’s top of mind for every employer. I just spoke at a conference earlier this year and they did a very large study, which was essentially surveying employers and employees across the country. And what they found was that over 70% of employers had noted that mental health was a key strategy for them, that they truly believed that it was important and that they needed to invest in it and were actively trying to make a larger investment in it. Yet when they surveyed employees, 40% of those employees said that they did not feel like their employer cared about their mental well-being beyond its impact on their productivity, on the job. So, I think what that tells us is, we know that employers are thinking about this all the time and we know that this is an important initiative for them.

But then I think as an employer, you must ask yourself, do your employees see it that way? Do they feel all the things that you’re doing from a cultural standpoint? And so, when Cary talks about that, I think it’s important to know, do your employees feel and see what it is that you’re doing? Because if they don’t, then all the investments that you’re making, unfortunately, are not hitting your target the way you want them to.

Amy Utterback:

Yeah, it ties to so many of the things that we’re talking about today, communication and so on down the list.

Business Goals

Amy Utterback: We don’t often see employers that include wellness in their business goals. I mean, I know I think that they should. And I know that you think that they should. So, can you tell us a little bit about why that’s important?

Kristin Meschler:

Simply put, medical plan costs, worker safety, productivity, presenteeism, recruitment, and retention of talent impact the bottom line. Every single one of those have an impact on the bottom line. And we know that health and wellness can positively impact each and every one of those categories. That means that the well-being of our employees directly correlates to the organizational goals and therefore really must align with them.

The fact of the matter is high-performing companies communicate their business goals to their leadership and in many cases to their employees. And wellness really should function the same way. Think about it this way, if you asked your leadership team today what production goals were, would they know?  Or even think about it in terms of your employee base, if you asked any of your employees what production goals were, would they know? Likely the answer is yes, they absolutely would. But if you asked them what the goals for the wellness initiative were, would they have an answer to that? And I think that is a perfect illustration of why it’s so extremely important that health and wellness are tied in with those business goals.

Sustainable Safety Initiatives

Amy Utterback:

Something else that’s very important is, of course, safety. You know, for many organizations, and particularly I know you guys have mentioned some clients of yours that are in manufacturing, especially for those clients. But again, for everyone, safety is so important. You believe that safety and wellness can and should align. So, tell me about that and how you’re helping your clients to pull those things together.

Cary Seager:

Let me start off by telling you about a study, that Hero, a nonprofit organization, wellness survey they recently did. They researched 20,000 workers, obese workers, workers in general, and noted that obese workers had two times the number of workers compensation claims. Their medical costs were seven times higher, and they had 13 times more lost days of work, from work injury and illness. They also found that smokers were 40% more likely to have work injury. Those statistics so clearly show that there’s a direct correlation between safety and wellness. Often our client safety and wellness committees are the same, the same team. When they are separate, they work together for the common cause, improve health of the population.

Kristin Meschler:

Yeah, and what I will say is I think this works well, specifically in our manufacturing segments. And to get even more specific than that, I would even say, like in the trucking industry, but really any group where safety is already a top leadership or organizational initiative. And I’ll also say, not to throw men under the bus, but as we know, especially male-dominated industries can be hard sometimes to adopt sustainable health initiatives in the traditional sense. And so sometimes if we’ve got a strong safety initiative in place, what a great opportunity to just align our wellness initiatives directly with it.

We’ve already got a strong culture that’s built. We’ve likely already got leadership engagement. I mean, literally, we’ll go down the list of all the core keys that we’ve already talked about and likely those already exist within the safety culture. So now this presents a prime opportunity for us just to incorporate wellness into that.

I’ll give you an example. We worked with a trucking group who had in place a performance platform for performance and safety. Team members earned points for making safe trips and for other different performance metrics that they had. And it was so easy for us to just incorporate wellness into that and just start adding wellness activities to that platform. It was already an activity platform with built-in rewards. So, for instance, they earned gift cards as they got to certain achievements and markers.

And it was just such a great fit for us to do that. And we didn’t have to create the wheel or create a new identity, just phase directly into what we were doing. And in fact, it was the safety director that kind of headed up a lot of these initiatives for us and incorporated them into their safety training workshops. I mean, it was kind of a perfect fit. It was a great way to do it.

Amy Utterback:

That’s so great to be fluid in your organization and look for those opportunities. That’s a great insight there.

Data Analytics in Sustainable Health Initiatives

Amy Utterback:

I know that here at SentryHealth, we utilize data as an integral component of our integrated health solution that we call WellOnMyWay.  We are using data to drive the program placement as well as to work on engagement efforts and to help our clients to develop and refine their overall strategies. So how do you guys encourage employers to use analytics?

Kristin Meschler:

Probably the exact same way. Everything you were saying I was shaking my head because I’m like, “Yes, that’s really the exact approach that we take as well.” When we’re working with employers, we lean on analytics, I would say for two primary reasons. Number one is strategy development and number two is overall evaluation of our efforts.

Evaluation is a critical component and for that reason, it actually is its own core key. I know we’ll talk more about that as well, but in terms of how we use analytics to drive strategy, first it’s important to understand what the data is, that we’re leveraging, and then we place it into these two different buckets.

The first bucket would be that clinical and demographic detail, which is what we’re using to actually make sure that the specific programs that we’re pushing out, the initiatives, align with the needs of the population. And it really allows us to kind of better target our efforts. Obviously, from a demographic standpoint, we’re talking about our employee demographics, what’s the actual work that they are doing? What’s the work environment look like? All of that is important for us to understand.

Probably the most primary example of that is an employee who’s sitting at a computer all day versus someone who’s working on a line all day, away from a computer or really any technology. I have some clients that don’t even allow phones out at the job. So that makes a really big difference in terms of what we can do and how we can do it. But even from an organizational standpoint, just understanding the industry and understanding the intricacies involved in that.

But it’s also assessments and screening. Perfect example is biometric and health assessment data, that’s obviously a good benchmark that we try to look at. But claims data, and I know Amy, SentryHealth is really keyed in with that type of data as well, to really understand what are we seeing within the population in terms of opportunities for clinical involvement, maybe targeted outreach for specific programs? What’s the utilization for basic preventative screenings and again, does that then help us identify specific goals for the program and the specific programs that we want to push out to our team members?

But as Cary said, it’s also workers’ comp and safety. I think those are also key metrics to look at absenteeism, retention, recruitment, we’ve talked about it a lot already during this conversation. But being able to get that full view of a population, that’s really what helps us drive strategy. I would even say beyond that, it’s that clinical and demographic piece.

But then comes the employee interest detail. And again, I think so often it gets overlooked. But just as we talked about earlier, in terms of what’s your employee perception, I think it’s so critical that we make sure that we’re really taking a pulse and figuring out what’s important to our employees, what is it that they want to accomplish. And from there, that can also help drive strategy too.  There are lots of different ways to do this through, you know, focus groups, committee feedback, again getting back to the committee and why they’re such an integral part of what we’re doing.

But I would even venture to say I’m seeing surveys done differently now, employers are starting to ask important questions in these surveys. It’s not just would you be interested in a step challenge? Obviously, those types of questions should definitely be included. But I’m starting to see groups asking questions about what I’ve heard referred to as the unmentionables.

I was actually listening to a podcast, and they referred to it as the unmentionables, which is, you know, historically, employers that are afraid of asking personal questions. We want to stay out of that. We want to stay in our lane and, you know, stay out of people’s personal lives. But guess what? And I think Cary mentioned this earlier, oftentimes our employees are spending more time on the job than they are at home. So, the fact of the matter is, this is personal, and I think there is a way to ask and have it be meaningful for the employee.

A perfect example of that would be, groups that have asked about what are some of the challenges in your daily life that might prevent you from participating in some of these programs? Is it transportation? Is it childcare or is it financial? Is it legal? And again, it’s general. You’re not asking someone to give you personal information per say. But I have had clients where they’ve said that when they get that feedback about, transportation, that their having a hard time getting somewhere. Well, gosh, is that something we’re maybe an employer can help? Is that something that maybe we can offer additionally, if there’s enough people, that it makes sense. And now suddenly the simple survey has really bridged some gaps.

So, I think you do have to be strategic about how you do it, but it can be extremely effective when it’s done, right.

Amy Utterback:

Exactually, so often you don’t know, if you’re not asking, right?

Cary Seager:

Yes, and that is something I learned recently with a client. We did a survey and I think an entire department must have gotten together and chatted about this response. But the question was something along the lines of, is there anything that needs to be changed about the workplace environment? And they all responded that they thought the company needed a sauna.

Amy Utterback:

Well, I second that, I’m going to add that to my survey.

Measuring ROI and VOI

Amy Utterback:

We’re going to kind of loop back around, as we are starting to kind of finish up here, to a topic that I know that we’ve covered on this podcast before, but I’m interested to hear your take on return on investment.

You know, measuring the return from your health and wellness program can be tricky. And leadership, of course, wants to make sure that the solutions that they have in place are working. But I feel like you must look beyond the traditional ROI measures, like strictly reducing health care costs, of course, that something everybody wants to do. But how do you suggest that employers evaluate the effectiveness of their health and wellbeing programs, in today’s world?

Cary Seager:

You’re right, we totally agree. It’s more than just ROI. And honestly, ROI doesn’t come up too often in many of our conversations, because by the time Kris and I are pulled in to work on a client, they’re doing so because they already know it’s the right thing to do and not only to put downward pressure on claims, but to foster a culture of well-being that makes their place of employment enjoyable and a place where the employees are more productive. However, we firmly believe that reporting and accountability is extremely important to our jobs and what we’re trying to do for our clients.

Kristin and I track anything and everything we can. So, for example, some of our employers are fully insured with a carrier and they have little reporting that’s available. But we will often still be able to track year over year participation in programming, preventive utilization, and biometrics if there is an onsite screening event or if physician forms are used. And when a company is partially self-funded, we can report on even more, such as preventable conditions. We can predict the direction of future claims and even show the benefits of wellness program on safety initiatives and absenteeism.

Cary Seager:

Rather than ROI, we often use the term grade card. How are we doing in certain areas and where is there room for improvement? Usually what we’re doing here is pulling out cohort data and this is when we’re able to look at the data, for the people who have been in the wellness program for year and we remove any new hires or terms, who may skew the success of the program in one way or another.

So, for example, if someone healthy leaves the company or an unhealthy person is hired, we don’t want that to negatively reflect on our report card. But using the cohort population, we can define success even when the population is a year or two or three years older. We can see that the out-of-range biometrics are down, preventive utilization is up, prescriptions are down and so forth.

Lastly, under this topic, Kristin mentions surveys. That’s another great way to assess the effectiveness of the programs. We recommend conducting these annually to test the temperature of the employee base in terms of their needs and interests when it comes to wellness programming.

Value on Investment

 Kristin Meschler:

You mentioned that we’re kind of shifting to this new view of ROI and maybe moving away from ROI and talking a little bit more about what’s the value of the investment?

Amy Utterback:

Exactly!

Kristin Meschler:

And I think Cary hit on that. And there’s so many ways that we can measure that aspect of it. You know, we’ve been able to do some great analyses and I’ll be honest, both for fully insured and self-funded groups. Obviously, for fully insured groups, that looks a little bit different. But oftentimes we can create different types of cohorts.

Cary really illustrated how we can do that from a biometric standpoint or a health assessment standpoint. But we’ve even been able to create some cohorts and align that data with claims data.

So, again, getting back to how we utilize claims in medical data, maybe we’re breaking out the cohort into engaged versus not engaged. Again, once we define what is engaged, it gets back to earlier the conversation about goal setting, once we know what that is, we can then kind of split up into different cohorts there as well. Now we can have this, engaged population, align that with maybe different medical data sets. The preventative utilization, you know, maybe management of certain clinical or chronic conditions. But now we can also then look at it in terms of some of those more value-based pieces.

I mentioned earlier that absenteeism, in health care organizations, is a big motivator for them. We were able to create an analysis where we looked at engaged members versus not engaged by absenteeism data. And in fact, that was probably the area where we felt like we had the most success, because even after we did a three-year evaluation of absenteeism, what we saw was that divide widened, meaning our engaged population was experiencing far less unscheduled absenteeism. Whereas we were seeing the non-engaged population, not only did they experience more unscheduled absenteeism, but those rates increased over a three-year period.

So, you know, there’s lots of different ways that we can come at this evaluation piece. But it truly is so important and again, really harkens back to all the other core keys that we were talking about. You must know where you want to go, what your goals are, what’s important to you. And then it’s a matter of figuring out, how do we measure that? But again, seeing how all these different keys align.

I think that’s why we have really placed value on these 10 core keys, because we see it work. And time and time again, those high performing groups, we’re checking off these boxes, so to speak, and they’re in place because it really does make a difference.

Amy Utterback:

Well, I think the evaluation part is so key, Kristin, because you know, it’s not necessarily a destination, which I think you kind of touched on earlier. You know, even your folks with great engagement, there’s always something else to be looking at. And that’s part of what the evaluation really helps you to do, is to continue to set ongoing goals.

Never settle for we’ve graduated. Right?  Wellness is a journey, not a destination.

Kristin Meschler:

Exactly.

Amy Utterback:

Well, guys, this has been such a great conversation. I want to really thank Kristin and Cary for your time and for sharing your conversation. And I really appreciate the insights and tips that you shared with our listeners.

Kristin Meschler:

This has been so much fun. We love it. We’ve enjoyed the conversation so much and would be very happy to join you again for another conversation.

Amy Utterback:

Well, that is going to do it for today’s episode For Your Benefits. Thank you all for joining us.

And if you like what you heard today, don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast. If you’d like to learn more about SentryHealth or WellOnMyWay, visit our website at www.sentryhealth.com. See you next time!

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