[Case study] Biometric Screening Boosts Participation in Corporate Wellness Programs
Jan 12, 2012
Media Contact: David Baum, Director of Communications, BioIQ
Midsize Engineering Firm Makes Biometric Testing Easy with Consumer-Friendly Tests for Diabetes and Heart Disease
Two thirds of all U.S. companies offer wellness programs that include smoking cessation programs, nutrition advice and gym memberships. What's lacking in these programs is hard biometric data that employees can use as a yardstick to measure improvement. Many physicians recommend an A1c or Fasting Glucose test to screen for diabetes and a complete cholesterol panel to reveal an individual's risk for heart disease.
Consider Wilson & Company, a midsize company offering a comprehensive palette of design, engineering and architecture services. The Albuquerque, New Mexico-based company employs 500 engineers, architects and support staff and has 18 offices across nine states in the U.S. Wilson & Company is encouraging biometric screenings, health risk assessments, and health coaching as part of a multi-year wellness program that encourages a culture of health and productivity for its employees.
“We knew we had some medical issues within our population,” admits Karen Lefevre, human resources manager for the professional services company. “By emphasizing prevention and wellness, we predicted that we could lower costs for everyone.”
Counting the Cost of Runaway Claims
Wilson & Company is self-insured, which means the company pays for its medical claims. Thus management was shocked three years ago when a series of large claims increased overall medical costs by 40 percent.
“It was time to gain insight into the health of our population,” Lefevre recalls. “Knowing baseline statistics allows us to focus our wellness program on helping our employees make healthier lifestyle choices. Our message to employees is ‘you can’t change what you don’t know’. Biometric data helps achieve this goal.”
So began a wellness program that includes annual biometric screening in conjunction with a wellness website and periodic health challenges that motivate employees to get fit, improve their diets, and lose weight. The program is now in its third year, and many participants are seeing improvements in their health.
“Engineers prefer information they can quantify,” points out Lefevre. “If I can say, ‘62% of us are overweight,’ or ‘30% of us have high cholesterol,’ it becomes obvious where the problems lie.”
Many employees said they were too busy to go to the doctor or visit a lab for routine blood screenings. So Wilson & Company brought the lab to them: Lefevre contracted with BioIQ to distribute self-collection biometric test kits to its workforce, with an emphasis on testing for diabetes and heart disease. The HR team visits each office to promote the wellness program during the open enrollment period. They bring test kits with them and hand them out to staff members and spouses on the medical plan. Participants can opt to be tested on site or they can complete the test kit at home at their convenience.
Building a Cohesive Program
Wilson & Company recognizes the importance of convenience and flexibility to maximize employee participation in its wellness program. A good biometric screening program should offer several methods for gathering biometric data from employees and dependents: through home test kits, at onsite screening events, via local labs, and through physician visits. Regardless of which method people choose, they should enjoy a cohesive interface for ordering tests, scheduling appointments, receiving reminders, and viewing results, with intuitive graphs to monitor year-over-year trends.
Ideally, the screening provider should supply a technology platform that coordinates these various screening methods, uploads the results to personal health records, and integrates the data with other wellness initiatives and health plans. Participants should be able to call a health coach if they need help understanding their lab results.
Once the screening website is online, a good program will be guided by the screening vendor and driven by the participants, with minimal involvement from the HR staff. Participants sign up, order tests, receive reminders, and obtain lab results via secure, online personal health dashboards. They can also complete an online health risk assessment to identify risk factors and put their test results into a personalized context.
Throughout the program, HR managers receive updates on program participation rates. At the culmination of the program they should receive an aggregate report that sums up the health of the population. A complete report will reveal which risk factors are most prevalent within the member population so management can make corresponding adjustments to the health care plan.
A Valid ROI
If the screening program uncovers even one undiagnosed case of diabetes or heart disease, it has probably paid for itself. Given the high incidence of undiagnosed conditions in the general population, that’s a likely scenario. According to a recent study conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 25 percent of America’s workforce has cardiovascular disease, 26 percent tested positive for high blood pressure, 30 percent suffer from high cholesterol, 38 percent are overweight and 6 percent are diabetic.
In Wilson’s case, about half of the people completed a home test kit at their leisure. The other half opted to complete the test onsite. As an inducement to participate, management is offering an escalating series of incentives for multi-year participants.
“We are very interested in discovering year-to-year trends in the population, so we reward people accordingly,” Lefevre explains. “We have received lots of positive feedback from our employees, who thank the company for caring about their health. Many employees have told us that the roll-out of the wellness program was the push they needed to start making healthier lifestyle choices.”
In addition to completing the biometric test, Wilson & Company encouraged all participants to take an online health risk assessment (HRA). In conjunction with the lab results, this questionnaire helps quantify risk factors associated with diabetes and heart disease.
Results that Matter
For many of Wilson’s participants, the data they gleaned from the biometric testing program has been an eye-opening experience. For example, one employee learned he had a high glucose count and faced the prospect of daily insulin injections. By improving his diet and exercising regularly, he was able to bring his glucose levels down—without the injections. Another participant discovered he had a total cholesterol level of 285. By taking medication, improving his diet and exercising regularly, he got his cholesterol down to 150. “This person wasn’t even aware of the problem before taking the test,” says Lefevre. “His levels are now down and he is off the medication.”
While these are personal victories for the people involved, ultimately everybody in the company benefits. Biometric testing programs have proven their ability to increase overall wellness participation, provide employers with valuable aggregate health data, and make knowledgeable decisions about the health care needs of their employee populations.
“Our health care costs are down significantly this year,” concludes Lefevre, “and this is the first time in six years that we did not have to increase employee health premiums.”
About the Author
David Baum is Director of Communications at BioIQ, a healthcare IT company that is reshaping wellness by providing employers with high-engagement health screening services coupled with actionable reporting, data integration and management services.