What are the benefits of a wellness portal? Today’s employers are all too familiar with the budgetary strain and administrative burden caused by rising health care costs. From medical claims and pharmacy claims to absenteeism and presentism, there are a wide range of problems associated with an unhealthy workforce.
However, despite the ubiquity of the pain point, the preferred solutions aimed at curbing these rising costs are not so universally understood. While many employers and benefits brokers are still turning to traditional cost shifting and benefits restricting measures—which generally only produce short-term cost containment at the expense of coverage and care—informed population health managers are beginning to pivot toward a more pro-active and preventative approach: Wellness.
Defined broadly, wellness is the daily pursuit of a healthy lifestyle; and has become a key piece of the broader trend in healthcare: treating the causes of disease, rather than the symptoms. To promote daily engagement with wellness, the preventative effort is largely driven by the providers of health care coverage—namely employers, insurance brokers, hospital systems, and wellness companies. These organizations, working from the perspective of population health, interface daily with their members, and are therefore able to encourage engagement and create change in a way that direct care providers, like physicians, often cannot.
This effort is driven by population health managers, whose primary vehicle for delivering a wellness initiative is the workplace wellness program; and the ultimate tool used in the administration of a workplace wellness program is the wellness portal.
While there are many benefits to the utilization of a wellness portal—from both an administrative and a participant perspective—the purpose of a portal is to house and centralize the many components of a wellness program, and to provide the corresponding reporting and analytics. By integrating and organizing a broad range of information and services—ranging from personal health records and health risk assessments, to educational content and wellness challenges—a wellness portal provides its users and administrators with a powerful one-stop-shop for all things health and wellness.
The benefits of such a tool are many, but perhaps the most obvious is the cost-saving value of a wellness portal.
Because a healthier workforce means reduced medical and pharmacy claims, and lower insurance premiums, a wellness portal tends to mean cost-savings for self-insured employers, insurance companies, and third party administrators/benefits brokers.
Some portals, in addition to their role in improving health, can help analyze spending patterns and health trends, and can therefore help point out opportunities for additional savings. Examples include the cost of medication non-compliance, the cost of spouses/dependents, the lost time and cost of treatable diseases and conditions, the cost of work related versus non-work related injuries, the cost of medical procedures performed across different geographic locations, the cost reduction after wellness program implementation, etc.
Further, there is a tremendous difference in the productivity of a healthy versus an unhealthy population. Absenteeism, defined as “a habitual pattern of absence from a duty or obligation,” is unfortunately a very common trend among unhealthy workforces nationwide across nearly all industries. However, when the cause of the absences is avoidable—particularly in the case of preventable illnesses and poorly managed diseases—a health intervention or wellness initiative can have a massive impact, and provide a significant return on investment. Especially when efficiently organized and administered through a wellness portal.
Similarly, presenteeism, a trend that has gained a lot of attention from healthcare experts in recent years, can be directly addressed by implementing an employee wellness portal. Presenteeism is defined by the Harvard Business Review as “workers’ being on the job but, because of illness or other medical conditions, not fully functioning.” Many estimates, including those by the HBR, assert that presenteeism is actually significantly more costly than its infamous counterpart, absenteeism—though it’s often harder to detect. Fortunately, like absenteeism, presenteeism is a treatable problem, and wellness has become the preferred prescription.
However, wellness programs and health portals don’t just cut costs and increase productivity for the organization. There are a wide array of benefits afforded to corporate administrators and individual portal users, as well.
For administrators, who must plan wellness programs around whatever wellness data they have available, wellness portals are a revolution. Not only is live portal data available real-time 24/7, but historical data and trend reports are as well. Further, unlike with spreadsheets, email, and paper reports, health information stored in a wellness portal is centralized, analyzed, and stored securely in an encrypted format. This allows for an unprecedented level of access, efficiency, and information security, as well as for a depth of analysis and clarity of information that would be otherwise impossible.
Wellness programs often call for the collection of massive amounts of data, which can quickly become unmanageable, and is nearly impossible to organize and interpret by hand. However, with the use of a wellness portal, that information can be quickly consolidated into aggregate reports, and made immediately actionable using integrated targeted messaging, and a suite of other wellness tools. This not only saves an administrator time, effort, and anguish, but allows for better informed wellness decisions, and more targeted wellness interventions.
When wellness program design is driven by actual user data, rather than national averages or industry trends, engagement and impact spike. Wellness program participants remain interested in personalized educational content and targeted health management programs delivered through their portal, and remain engaged with the gamified, interactive, and ever-evolving user interface of their wellness portal. This combination of interest and engagement inevitably leads to improved health decisions and self-directed lifestyle changes, which begin to impact an organization’s overall culture of wellness.
Such a culture of wellness within an organization can promote individual responsibility and interest in one’s health, but it cannot actively manage personal health. An integrated wellness portal, however, can help.
Using tools like the personal health record and secure document storage, a wellness portal empowers its users to take control of their own health and wellness information. Daily trackers, challenges, and incentive programs encourage users to actively engage with their wellness, while UI elements, gamification, targeted educational content, and personalized health coaching help drive motivation and long term change.
Overall, by incorporating a broad range of tools and analytics, wellness portals empower employees to actively manage their health, allow administrators to maximize the impact of their wellness initiatives, and enable organizations cut costs and promote a culture of wellness.