Focus on ‘well care’ turns to health workers
Focus on ‘well care’ turns to health workers
Health system targets risk factors
In a futuristic paradigm, health care is not sick care. It is a continuum that provides acute care, rehabilitation and wellness, and one that encompasses both hospital patients and employees.
That is the vision behind the “Be Well” employee wellness program at Akron (OH) General Health System and its patient health care and wellness centers called LifeStyles. Akron General is promoting a model of health care that seeks to keep patients out of hospitals and encourages employees to get and stay well.
While the Akron General “well-care” model predates the current health care reform, it provides an answer to some of today’s health care challenges, says president and CEO Thomas “Tim” Stover, MD, MBA. “Everybody is starting to realize that we can’t pay for all the sick folks. There just isn’t enough health care money and providers,” he says. “There has to be a change in the way we look at health care and I think this is one of the fundamental changes that have to occur.”
Meanwhile, Akron General is also remaking aspects of the hospital to promote healthy lifestyles for employees, patients and visitors. Healthy snacks have replaced junk food in vending machines, and the food service has been revamped. Healthy items in the cafeteria will be more reasonably priced to add an incentive to make the better choice.
Akron General is a nicotine-free campus, and the health system does not hire new employees who test positive for nicotine.
This year, the American Heart Association named Akron General a Gold level “Fit-Friendly Worksite” because of its employee wellness initiative.
From sickness to wellness
Akron General’s LifeStyles centers are the centerpiece of the well-care concept. Located in three suburban campuses as well as at the urban Akron General Medical Center, they provide a nexus of health care services, including an emergency department, radiology lab, outpatient surgery, and physician offices.
“It’s all about helping people get well and stay well in a safe environment,” says Doug Ribley, MS, vice president of health and wellness services.
The LifeStyles center also has a fitness and health education component that incorporates physical therapy, cardiac rehabilitation, and chronic disease prevention. Athletic trainers and nutritionists work alongside physical therapists, exercise physiologists, and cardiopulmonary rehabilitation nurses. The flagship LifeStyles center has 9,000 members.
“We’re after a different segment that would never go to a [traditional fitness] facility,” says Stover. “The goal was to have non-well people working out next to well people.”
Akron General launched health and wellness centers in the 1990s, but only recently brought the focus more sharply toward employee wellness. Employees who use the LifeStyles centers 12 times a month for 12 consecutive months receive a 50% rebate on the cost of membership.
Incentives to get healthy
But most importantly, the Be Well employee wellness program provides financial incentives for the system’s 5,000 employees to meet targets on four key measures: body mass index, LDL cholesterol, blood pressure and nicotine/smoking status.
Employees earn points for taking a health risk assessment and for meeting certain goals. With those points, employees can gain an annual discount of up to $250 on a PPO plan or $850 in a health savings account for those on a high-deductible plan. Comparable savings are available for spouses. About 2,000 employees signed up to participate in the first two years.
Be Well also actively helps employees meet those goals. Employees have free access to health coaches. They also can join Litestyles, a chronic disease risk reduction program that includes a twice-weekly meeting with a physical trainer, meetings with a nutritionist, and weekly education sessions.
“It’s for anyone who either wants to maintain health or improve their health by reducing risk,” says Ribley.
It’s too soon to know what impact the Be Well program will have, but based on research related to health promotion, Stover expects to see reduced health care costs (the health system is self-insured), reduced absenteeism, and improved health status of employees. The LifeStyles program has showed success in other areas. For example, coronary artery bypass patients who completed cardiac rehab and stayed with the LifeStyles program were half as likely to need another bypass compared with those who did cardiac rehab only, says Stover.
Meanwhile, Akron General is offering its employee wellness model to other employers and its well-care model to other communities. Chronic disease prevention is an imperative nationwide, Stover says.
“In five to 10 years, there will not be a major health care system that does not have a wellness [focus] or well-care aspect,” he predicts.In a futuristic paradigm, health care is not sick care. It is a continuum that provides acute care, rehabilitation and wellness, and one that encompasses both hospital patients and employees.
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