Strategies for success in the managed care model

Because seniors tend to account for a high proportion of a population's health care costs, successful wellness programming for retirees can be particularly effective in the managed care environment. The following list of wellness strategies is excerpted with permission from Health Management: Optimal Approaches for Managing the Health of Defined Populations, written by Larry S. Chapman, MPH, and published by Summex Corp. Although they specifically address the managed care model, many of these strategies are equally applicable in workplaces with other types of health care coverage.

Communicate through a newsletter. The newsletter should contain topical content and practical suggestions, all geared to a retiree's lifestyle. The newsletter should be sent to the retiree's home. Make sure that any seasonal move with a new address is recorded in the mail list database.

Expand employee programming. Expand younger member programming so that seniors and their spouses can participate comfortably. Medical self-care workshops are a particularly beneficial activity for seniors.

Welcome the involvement of spouses of retirees. By encouraging their involvement in worksite-based programming, you are likely to increase the number of retired employees who participate. If program notices can be sent with wellness newsletters so that the chances of spouses seeing them in advance of the session are increased, it is likely more retirees and their spouses will attend.

Make it a social event. Usually the provision of refreshments and some relaxed time before, during, or after the programs will provide a social opportunity. It is likely that seniors will know each other to some degree, and by providing opportunities to renew friendships, you can add an attractive aspect to your wellness program.

Address age-related matters. Common concerns include chronic digestive disease, low-budget food preparation, cooking tips for one- or two-person families, consumer tips to save on health care expenses, prevention of osteoporosis, sleep disorders, stress reduction tips for more sedentary individuals, walking activities, vitamin supplements for the aged, cancer prevention diets, adapting to weather and seasonal changes, and arthritis.

Be sensitive to the aging process. This should include a sensitivity to the unique physical, emotional and psychological attributes of retirees. Do not encourage the perpetuation of traditional assumptions about aging; for example, regular physical activity should become part of the expected norms.

Emphasize medical self-care. Medical self-care programs are usually of great interest, particularly when a medical self-care text designed specifically for seniors is used. These programs can also include consumer health topics such as tips for shopping for prescription drugs, vision appliances, durable medical goods, dental care, and podiatric care.

Educate about Medicare. These programs are designed to help seniors become wiser health consumers and are therefore an important supplement to your health plan.

Use surveys to communicate with seniors. Develop an annual retiree wellness survey that asks questions about selected health risk behavior and interest in program options and wellness-related informational topics. This helps convey a sense of inclusion and value.

Encourage support groups for specific areas. The types of groups could include weight management, hypertension control, maintaining independence or coping with the loss of a spouse. These groups work better with trained and gifted facilitators.Conduct screening that is age- and risk-specific for seniors. The recommendations contained in the U.S. Preventive Health Services Task Force's Guide to Clinical Preventive Services should be used to help structure the testing protocols. It can be ordered by calling (800) 638-0672, or sending a fax to (800) 447-8438. The second edition costs approximately $30.

Communicate the value of making changes to seniors. By communicating research findings, recommendations, and examples of successful change by seniors, it is possible to counter the general sense that it is "too late" to get personal benefit from wellness-oriented activities by the time individuals are in retirement.

Enlist seniors as volunteers in implementing the program. By encouraging seniors to participate as volunteers in helping implement activities, it is possible to get them involved and help them become participants.

Support advocacy efforts for retirees and seniors. By actively supporting these programs, you can strengthen the relationship between retirees and the plan - particularly if the advocacy groups are concerned about health-related issues. Informational advocacy meetings can be piggybacked onto wellness program activity.

Provide a problem-solving perspective for retiree programs. Try to identify prevalent, common problems experienced by seniors and address the problem with helpful hints. For example, if seniors are confused about how your health plan works with Medicare, provide an informational meeting to discuss the issues.

Provide personalized feedback and communications to seniors. Using first names in periodic contact will help program acceptance and effectiveness over time, as relationships are established and nurtured.