Improve your bottom line: Sell business on the benefits of wellness

Program should focus on community outreach, employee health

Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC, was handed a great opportunity in 1996. The facility was one of 20 in North and South Carolina solicited by the Duke Endowment to apply for grant money to create an internal employee wellness program. In addition, the medical center was to sell the program to companies if the program turned out to be a success. The grant stipulated that a system be included to track absenteeism, turnover, and health care costs to determine if the wellness program affected an organization’s bottom line.

"We had been offering wellness programs for years out of employee health, but we didn’t have an organized group of individuals to run it until we had the grant-funded monies. We hired staff and trade marked our name, which is Action Health," says Gina Streed, RN, MBA, COHN-S, manager of employee health and wellness at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. As a result, the wellness programs in the employee health department were moved to Action Health.

All 10,000 employees at the medical center were invited to enroll in a program run by Action Health called Excel. Those who registered were given health risk appraisals that included testing for such risk factors as high cholesterol. They also were asked to sign a consent form for the release of their health care cost data from their HMO. (For more information on how to get employees to sign up for wellness programs, see article, p. 146.)

Excel members meet quarterly with a counselor to set goals. For example, if they need to bring their cholesterol down 20 points, the counselor will help them develop an action plan. To help them reach their goals, the medical center offers weight and stress management classes as well as lunch-and-learn sessions on a variety of topics.

With the plan refined, the medical center is now selling Excel to businesses at a 32% mark-up. (To learn more about educational offerings to help employees achieve health goals, see article, p. 147.)

Although the grant money gave Wake Forest the funding to fine-tune its wellness program, all medical facilities can market prevention and wellness programs to businesses. Experts say marketing of wellness programs represents a golden opportunity to be reimbursed for patient education efforts.

"Typically today, most companies are really examining the high-cost benefit areas," says Nancy Hicks, MBA, CCP, director of Business Health and Benefits Services at Riverside Health System in Newport News, VA. A healthy employee is a safer employee, which will lower workers’ compensation and health care costs, she says.

Because highly personalized wellness programs have been a part of Riverside’s internal employee health program since 1995, there exists proof that these interventions have an impact on health care costs. Sixty-four percent of participants have reduced claims since 1995.

Fifty-two percent of participants experienced no claims as of June 30, 1998, vs. 21.3% in 1995. Only 8% of the participants are in the "high risk" categories, vs. 16% in 1995. Sound data like these provide a good selling point, says Hicks.

Program integrates various services

To make the package more appealing to businesses, Riverside Health System offers an array of services from which an employer can choose. They include workers’ compensation, wellness programs, drug- and alcohol-free workplace programs, physical examinations, work-site consultations, and employee assistance programs (EAPs). These services usually are managed by a variety of departments within an employer site, but Riverside has integrated them. "We recognized that prevention and wellness are at the foundation of a healthy workplace, and an integrating care manager has the ability to manage care and help manage costs," says Hicks.

One major company contracted with the health system for every service except EAP. As a result, Riverside is staffing an on-site clinic with well care managers and physicians who manage workers’ compensation and drug testing programs, as well as implementing a personalized wellness program.

The personal wellness program includes a health profile of each employee in the company as a basis for establishing goals. The well care manager, typically a nurse, works with each employee on an individual basis to improve his or her health status.

"We’re moving to become a total health and productivity partner to employers. We are not just providing services, but providing solutions to help employers achieve the maximum level of productivity within the workplace," says Hicks.

While the goal of employee prevention and wellness programs may be similar, the marketing approach varies depending on the health care facility. Offering a selection of programs at varying prices is the marketing strategy Aurora, IL-based Provena Mercy Center is testing on the public before it approaches businesses with its wellness program called HealthTrek.

People can come to the hospital for a health appraisal for $29. The appraisal consists of filling out a questionnaire that covers such areas as nutrition, exercise, and safety issues such as use of safety belts.

Software generates health report

Each person also is screened for cholesterol levels, body fat composition, blood pressure, pulse, flexibility, and upper-body strength. The information is entered into a computer and a report is issued using a software program, explains Laura Valdez, RN, MPH, clinical coordinator for HealthTrek. People must return for their report, and at that time they sit down with a nurse to discuss areas for improvement and what they need to do to lower their risk.

Other options include adding a visit with the dietitian for a nutritional assessment to the health appraisal for a total cost of $55. Also, people can choose to return for follow-up sessions at six- and 18-month intervals to see if their health status has improved and to discuss with a nurse ways to further improve their health. The total cost for this option is $85.

The price for all the options, including a complex assessment that includes an endurance test, exercise and lung function test, and additional flexibility tests, is $125.

Those who have selected the programs that have return visits at six and 18 months are issued membership cards for HealthTrek. Members receive discount rates at local fitness centers and for workshops held at the hospital, such as weight control, smoking cessation, and stress management.

Tailoring programs to a company’s employees is another good selling point, says Streed. Although employers must pay for each employee’s health risk appraisal, the medical center provides a free needs and interest survey of the employees.

All this information is analyzed to determine what the overall health risk factors and concerns of the employees are so the program can be tailored to their needs. "At our medical center, 70% of our employees are females, so we have a lot of programs that focus on female health," explains Streed.

The 170 clients in the Corporate Care program at New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City signed up for such basic services as ambulance dispatch and physician referral, but wellness programs offered for an additional fee help to meet clients’ needs.

Wellness offerings include on-site immunization clinics, screenings, health fairs, and lectures conducted by qualified hospital medical staff. Lecture topics have included a series on nutrition covering stress and eating, eating on the run, eating in New York restaurants, and why people crave carbohydrates.

Keep up with companies’ interests

It’s important to keep abreast of what topics companies are interested in, says Mary A. Susnjara, MS, executive registry/corporate care systems corporate services for New York Presbyterian Hospital. "We react to the needs of the company, and I also do a lot of reading of such publications as the Wall Street Journal," she says. Five or six years ago, for example, Lyme disease was in the forefront of health news and a popular topic.

Corporations pay $250 an hour for the educational programs, but it takes more than determining what topics are popular to get them to book. Flyers designed in-house on a computer are sent to clients once a month listing all the wellness services.

Every three months, a flyer highlighting the newest programs is mailed. As fall approaches, a flyer suggesting companies get ready for the flu season is sent with information gleaned from the Internet stating that if a company had its employees immunized, there would be fewer days lost at the workplace from flu-related illnesses. "We’re very proactive in getting out the information on what people should be doing," says Susnjara.


For more information on marketing wellness programs to corporations, contact:

Shelley Dacey, Assistant General Manager, The Sports Barn, 301 Market St., Chattanooga, TN 37402. Telephone: (423) 266-1125. Fax: (423) 756-3710. E-mail:

Nancy Hicks, MBA, CCP, Director, Business Health and Benefits Services, Riverside Health System, 610 Thimble Shoals Blvd., Building 5, Suite 511, Newport News, VA 23606. Telephone: (757) 594-4444. Fax: (757) 594-4447. E-mail:

Gina Streed, RN, MBA, COHN-S, Manager, Employee Health and Wellness, Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, Medical Center Blvd., Winston-Salem, NC 27157. Telephone: (336) 716-2195. Fax: (336) 716-6127. E-mail:

Mary A. Susnjara, MS, Executive Registry/Corporate Care Systems Corporate Services, New York Presby ter ian Hospital, 525 East 68th St., Box 114, New York, NY 10021. Telephone: (212) 472-5412. Fax: (212) 297-4577. E-mail: Web site:

Laura Valdez, RN, MPH, Clinical Coordinator of Health Trek, Provena Mercy Center, 1325 North Highland Ave., Aurora, IL 60506. Telephone:(630) 801-5501. Fax: (630) 801-3127. E-mail: