Use data to target your wellness efforts

Employee interest key to success

Every occupational health program requires resources, ranging from tens of thousands of dollars for a fitness center to a few hours spent on educating employees. How do you decide whether these are best invested in a diabetes lunch and learn, a weight loss competition, or otherwise?

"Although occupational health providers have a trusted relationship with the employer, and are critical to maintaining good employee health in general, they are often not included in the planning and implementation of wellness programs," says Bobbie Orsi, MS, RN, CDE, director of occupational health and wellness at Berkshire Health Systems in Pittsfield, MA.

However, no one else understands the specific health risks of the employees in your workplace better than you, says Orsi. Here are some ways to use that information to drive decisions about occupational health programs:

Examine actual expenditures.

"We are always looking at what might affect our expenditures with regard to health care claims, workers' comp claims, and short-term disability pay-out for employees that are paid at 100% when out of work," says Judy A. Garrett, health services manager at Syngenta Crop Protection in Greensboro, NC. "We are self-insured and handle our short-term disability in-house. So all of these would be direct costs to the company."

Predict the participation you'll get.

Determine how likely employees are to participate before launching a program. "When we look at a program, we look at the number of people that it will affect," says Garrett. "Regardless of what we think might be valuable, if there is no interest from the employees, we will probably have poor results."

To gauge interest, employees are surveyed when they attend lunch and learns or participate in an online program. "The impression is given that in order to get points for the program, they need to complete the survey. Most people will do them that way," says Garrett. "We also sometimes do surveys in the clinic, when they register to be seen or at screenings. We get less response with a general e-mail survey, unless we tag on prizes or a raffle drawing."

At Baxter Healthcare in Thousand Oaks, CA, employees were surveyed about what type of wellness program they were most interested in. Based on the findings, occupational health nurse Robin Alegria, RN, COHN-S, says that "we are looking at proposals for an exercise program to be held at the facility. Also, we will schedule four to six lunch and learn sessions for 2010, as well as biometric screening."

In a second survey, Alegria asked employees, "What do you feel are the top three health condition risks for employees at this facility?" "The question was not aimed at asking the employee what their own personal health risks are," she says. "By asking the question in this format, it was felt there would be a more honest response to the survey."

Use all data available to you.

"Conventional occupational health reports focus primarily on injury type and frequency, lost work days, vaccine compliance, and flu immunization rates," says Orsi. "Think more broadly about what information is available to you." To get it, Orsi recommends these three practices:

  • Collect information on body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol, depression, and smoking prevalence at pre-employment or return-to-work visits.
  • Collect health risk data at every employee visit, and enter this into a database.
  • Obtain aggregate data reports to see how the company's smoking prevalence and other health risks compare to national trends.

Armed with this information, Orsi says you now have an opportunity "to recommend and deliver wellness programs focused on key health risks in the population."