Data driven: Use risk assessments as guide

You may go to great lengths to achieve good participation in Health Risk Assessments (HRAs), but the data is of no good to you unless you use it.

"Data drives decisions," says Margie Weiss, PhD, CEO and community health advocate at the Weiss Health Group, a Neenah, WI-based consulting company that works with companies and communities on health and wellness. "The HRA is a great tool for providing aggregate data to the employer. This may help to cost-justify health promotion programs and expenditures."

The HRA is one source of data that provides insights into healthcare utilization trends, preponderance of chronic disease, and willingness to change, she says . "Use the results for program planning, as well as evaluation," she advises. Here are some ways to use HRA data:

Determine which areas are of utmost interest to the company.

"For example, if there is a preponderance of smokers, it might mean that smoking cessation programs are important," she says.

If there is a large cohort of employees who are hypertensive or diabetic, on the other hand, then the programmatic planning may shift to managing chronic diseases, says Weiss. Likewise, if a large cohort of the HRA respondents indicate that stress is a major concern, she says, workers may need additional Employee Assistance Program resources or stress management strategies.

Use the results as a reporting tool to management.

"By quantifying company risk, the occupational health and safety staff can use this data to shape programming," she says.

Use the data to develop newsletters.

"Encourage leadership to develop communication strategies that promote healthy, safe, sustainable lifestyles, both within the work environment and at home," says Weiss.

Understand risk levels

Andrew Gold, executive director of global benefits planning at Pitney Bowes in Stamford, CT, says the company just started doing HRAs as part of its 2011 health plans. "We paid a $75 incentive to each employee who took an HRA, with an additional $75 if a covered spouse or domestic partner also participates," he says.

To improve participation, Gold made the HRA easy to complete, and provided it in either online or print formats, whichever employees preferred.

The HRA information is provided to the employee's health plan directly, not to Pitney Bowes, he adds. "The health plan can use the information to identify those employees who need help improving their health, especially those with chronic conditions that are not under control," says Gold.

The health plan reaches out to these employees, to provide coaching and education on how to eat better, be more active and be more compliant with medications and preventive care.

"We expect to use the aggregated, de-identified data to better understand the risk levels of our employees," he says. "We can design wellness programs, as well as disability and in-house clinic programs, to address these conditions."

Data-driven programs

Lisa Burt, manager of employee wellness at Highmark Clinical Client Relations in Camp Hill, PA, says that employees are encouraged to complete a HRA as part of Lifestyle Returns, the company's comprehensive wellness program.

"Through incentivized participation and structured strategic communication, employees are encouraged to participate in appropriate programs based on their HRA results and potential health risk," she says.

HRA information is critical in creating a data-driven wellness program, and is a necessary tool to advance the company's health management strategy.

"HRA data, especially data gathered over multiple years, can guide health professionals to gain insight into trends and how risks may improve or worsen over time," Burt says. "This gives you the ability to recommend appropriate programs based on risk."

A data roadmap

Sandra Cinque, RN, BA, COHN-S/CM, FAAOHN, nurse clinical coordinator for health safety and performance services at GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare in Parsippany, NJ, says that she thinks of the company's annual Health Risk Questionnaires (HRQs) as "my roadmap."

"If 70% of employees at a site smoke, I will have a totally different program there than if only 2% smoke," she says. "With occupational health programs, you want your best bang for the buck."

The HRQs consistently point to three big risk factors: Obesity, inactivity, and stress. "We are all doing more with less," she says. "If I see that employees are inactive at a site, I think about what I can do to increase activity."

A walking treadmill desk was circulated around the building, so that different departments could try it out. "We also did a boot camp, Zumba and salsa lessons during lunch," she says. "I use the HRQs, along with disability management information and customer input, to make an educated decision," she says.

To combat high stress levels in the workplace, Cinque held various initiatives, including a lunch and learn on overcoming burnout. She also offered more fitness activities onsite, to encourage physical activity during work hours.

"In some areas, we have hand-held weights available so people can use them while they're on the phone," she says . "We are also having more walking meetings, instead of going to someone's desk and sitting there."


For more information on Health Risk Assessment data, contact:

Sandra Cinque, RN, BA, COHN-S/CM, FAAOHN, Nurse Clinical Coordinator, Health Safety & Performance Services, GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare, Parsippany, NJ. Phone: (973) 889-2150. Fax: (973) 889-2394. E-mail: