Hospital, corporations partner for wellness

Cost containment, improved health major goals

Employers in the Chicago metro area who don’t have their own wellness program or who wish to augment an existing one, now have a new option: partnering with a local hospital that has health care, screening, education, and rehab programs already in place.

This July, Northwestern Memorial Hospital opened its Corporate Health program, targeted specifically at local businesses. "We looked at employers as a strategic market," explains Donna Clark Kitchen, FACHE, director of Northwestern’s Corporate Health and Lifestyle Management programs. "Since [employers] tend to be purchasers of insurance and health care products, we felt they were a key market to target. Also, if we could be cost-containment partners rather than health care vendors, we could work with employers to look at their health care dollars, and in that way become a solutions source for employers looking to improve health and safety."

Wellness plus prevention

Interestingly, Northwestern began to develop its own internal wellness program, Lifestyle Management, at the same time it began to develop its Corporate Health Program. Thus, the hospital is now able to offer its corporate customers comprehensive wellness and prevention programs — something it couldn’t have done a year ago.

"We had some health promotion programs prior to that time, but in terms of a formalized mission statement, an advisory committee, and a focused effort on program development, that only started last year," says Kitchen. She describes the new Lifestyle Management as "High-quality, cost-effective programs for patients, the community, and our employees, as well as our own medical staff."

Corporate Health, on the other hand, has as its foundation a full range of occupational health services, including executive physicals, rehab, injury treatment, and so forth. (For a complete listing of services provided, see the box, p. 127.) "But we’re still building on the foundation of Lifestyle Management, which is a ‘Lifetime of Health,’" says Kitchen.

The program design was informed by ongoing conversations with the corporate community, says Kitchen. "They were looking for a one-stop shop to coordinate services, streamline billing, and provide strong communications so they could easily track the status of an injured employee. With our whole academic medical center available as a resource, we felt we were in a good position to fulfill those needs."

Ultimately, Kitchen observes, the two programs will be entirely synergistic. "We will be conducting research on our Lifestyle Management program to evaluate the impact of wellness intervention internally with regard to health status, productivity, and health care costs. Then, that research will be applied to the corporate program. They cross over so well."

A customized program

Each program is customized to the specific employer, notes Kitchen. "The key is to come in upfront and see what their identified needs are, and explore ways in which we can help provide the services they need," she says. "We’re not going in and selling all the products we can; we want to match our services to their needs so they can get the most cost-effective health care."

For example, one of the program’s first customers, the Executive Plaza Hotel, only employs the hospital’s injury treatment and rehab services. "We were looking for an establishment that would be able to work closely with us when our employees have an injury," says Monica Wodke, director of human resources.

Wodke says she is pleased with the working relationship she has developed with the hospital staff and doctors. "They work with us to get the employees back [to work] as soon as possible," she says.

Her philosophy (and that of the hospital) is that if employees come back to work — even with restricted duties — they are more motivated to get back to full-time work as soon as possible. "I really feel it helps morale, too," she adds. "When you have to get up and get to work, that’s a motivator. We’re definitely seeing employees getting back to work faster than they used to with similar injuries."

Her insurance company likes the new system too, she says. "They are very thorough with their exams and documentation," she notes. "Within a couple of days of seeing the patient, we receive a two to three-page detailed report — what the health care professionals saw and what happened — which supports what I put on the first report of injury."

Where do I sign?

The model her hospital has established can be duplicated in other cities, says Kitchen. "The focus of partnership is critical for any provider, in any location," she says. "While other programs do exist, it’s important that they pursue the opportunity to focus on service orientation, streamlined billing, and good communications, which is what our local companies said was important to them. The key is to work in partnership with the employers, rather than coming in with a pre-determined package you assume will work in any environment."

[Editor’s Note: For more information, contact: Donna Clark Kitchen, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, 240 East Ontario Street, Suite 450, Chicago, IL 60611-2755. Telephone: (312) 908-7346.]