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Onsite Wellness vs. All-Digital Wellness

Jesse Hercules, President & CEO Extracon Science LLC

How to run a better employee wellness program by not doing anything onsite.

What’s a Digital Wellness Program?

Imagine a wellness program that can reach all your employees wherever they live and work.  From your office workers at HQ to your remote workers in their homes and on the road.  Without doing anything onsite. Whether you have 100 employees or 100,000. 

Now, imagine that wellness program also includes everything needed to be effective

       Annual Biometric Screenings

       Incentives for Participation and Outcomes

       Physician Integration

       Biometric Follow-Up

       Apps & Devices

       Fun and Social Lifestyle Programs

       Face-to-Face Health Coaching

       Aggregate reporting

       Health Education & Content

That’s a Digital Wellness Program.  Employers of all sizes are successfully running these programs today.  

What Problems Does It Solve?

A Digital Wellness Program can solve a number of problems for employers:

Employees Left Out:  In many organizations, the wellness program is seen as a perk for the office workers or those at headquarters.  Workers in the field or at remote sites feel left out.

Onsite Screenings are Limited : Onsite screenings aren’t coupled to diagnosis, treatment or medical follow-up.  They don’t cover many of the USPSTF recommendations for prevention.  

Fitness Centers are Limited:   Spending more time at the worksite to go to the fitness center doesn’t fit with family schedules.  And tracking fitness center attendance misses all the activity employees do on their own time – in their own neighborhoods.

Onsite is a Lot of Work:  Managing onsite events, programs and facilities requires a lot of time, effort and budget.

The PCP is left out:  The most important person in the wellness equation is the Employee’s Primary Care Physician.  Going digital lets you include the physician for comprehensive prevention and medical follow-up of biometrics.

Who Should Consider A Digital Wellness Program?

Originally, onsite wellness programs were the only choice – and only large, single-site employers had a wellness program.  

Today, organizations have a choice about what kind of wellness program will work best for them.  Organizations that should consider a Digital Wellness Program include:

       Employers with multiple worksites or smaller worksites that aren’t large enough to support onsite facilities and events. 

       Organizations with employees who work remotely, travel frequently for business, or work from home

       Organizations that have tried the onsite wellness model and have not achieved the results they were looking for. 

       Employers that are struggling to engage their younger employees and tech-savvy employees in the wellness program.

Because of the advantages of today’s Digital Wellness Programs, we see them as an upgrade over the traditional onsite program – a compelling alternative for almost any self-insured employer.

Why Now is the Time

The smartphone revolution has changed the landscape for employee wellness programs.  This year, 85% of employees with health insurance own and carry a smartphone. 

That means that accurate data on physical activity, weight and lifestyle are available - without the employer needing to buy or support any new devices.    Smartphones are also changing Health Coaching – letting the coach and client talk “face to face”, using a video call.

The Affordable Care Act changed the way primary care doctors practice medicine.  It established a standard Annual Wellness Visit where the doctor and patient work together to get the patient up to date on all the USPSTF prevention recommendations.  

It’s now easy to include the employee’s primary care doctor in the wellness program.  Health plans, doctors and patients are all on the same page about what needs to be done, and how it is billed and paid for.

The future is here:  Employers are successfully running Digital Wellness Programs today.  Watch our webinar including a case study.

How to Go Digital – Fitness & Lifestyle

Going digital means you’re using smartphone technology to track physical activity, weight, nutrition and other lifestyle habits.  

Smartphones have an accelerometer sensor built in – the same kind of sensor that’s found in wearable step-tracking devices.   In addition, a clever App will use the dual cameras on the smartphone to track weight as well. 

You’ll want to combine accurate App data with engaging and social Team Challenge programs.   These programs offer the same kind of group support as an onsite fitness class or fitness center – but available 24/7 from any location.

The best practice is to use an App that’s part of your overall wellness portal – not forcing participants to go find a consumer app, get a new ID and Password, and keep it in synch with the wellness program.

We recommend against buying wearable fitness trackers

for your employees.  Employees already own and pay for a smartphone – use the device they already have. 

Learn more in our eBook and Webinar:  Apps vs. Devices in Employee Wellness.   

Advantages of Digital – Fitness & Lifestyle

Be Active Anywhere:  Employees can be active in their own neighborhoods, in the city park, or during an out-of-town trip.  They don’t have to be at the worksite, or at a fitness center.  They don’t have to bring a second set of clothes to work or exercise in front of their co-workers. 

Be Active Anytime:  Employees can be active whenever it’s convenient for them – on the weekends, in the morning, or in the evening.  They don’t have to tie their exercise schedule to their commuting schedule. 

Better Data:   You’re collecting data on how active people are – not just how many times they swipe their badge at the fitness center.  You’re not missing all that great activity employees do when they’re not at your fitness center. 

Better Incentives:  You can offer incentives for those who are getting enough activity, or making progress on their BMI.  In other words, reward results rather than just showing up. 

And because you’re using accurate data, you can finally make your lifestyle incentives big enough to change behavior.

How to Go Digital – for Coaching

Going digital means your participants and their coaches work face-to-face – on a smartphone or tablet. 

Participants can choose the Coach that they want to work with, and schedule their appointment online at a time that works for them.  The scheduler sends a link to their phone, and when they click the link it opens the video call.

Video calling can be secure and HIPAA compliant.  This same technology is used for telemedicine today, with hundreds of thousands of doctor visits occurring via smartphone this year. 

Participants feel empowered when they

choose their coach and schedule their appointment.  It’s the opposite of being interrupted by an inbound phone call. 

Advantages of Digital – for Coaching

Face to face communication is richer and more impactful than a disconnected voice on the phone.  And traditional onsite coaching is expensive, and not convenient for many employees. They are reluctant to have these conversations at work.

Using the smartphone or tablet for a video “face to face” coaching session gives you the richness of an in-person session with the convenience, privacy and low cost of a telephone call. 

More than 40 years of research in communication theory has shown the value of face to face communication.  A famous 1972 study showed that only 7% of the impact of a conversation was because of the words themselves.  38% was voice and tone. 

But 55% of the impact was from

facial expression and body language.

So if you’re voice-only telephonic-only, you’re missing half the conversation.

How to Go Digital – Biometrics & Prevention

Going digital means the wellness program sends employees to their own primary care doctor for an Annual Wellness Visit instead of holding an onsite screening.  

Instead of trying to substitute a screening for a doctor visit, the wellness program is building the right kind of doctor/patient relationship that focuses on prevention.  

Employees will bring an Annual Visit Form to their wellness visit.  The doctors’ office fills out the form an FAXes it to the wellness vendor. 

This form asks about biometric levels, whether the patient is up to date on the USPSTF prevention recommendations, and whether the patient can engage in the physical activity and/or weight loss recommended for most people.  

If the person needs treatment and follow-up for biometrics, or has prevention gaps to close, the doctor notes it on the form.

This is a process that works for doctors and patients.  Across thousands of participants this year, 98% of doctors faxed in the completed forms on the first try.  Most of the rest were resolved after one phone call from the participant.

How to Go Digital – Medical Followup

Going Digital means the wellness program keeps working with the employee’s doctor throughout the year – until all the prevention gaps are closed and all biometric issues are treated and resolved.

Followup Visits – Biometrics:  When the patient goes to their followup visit after treating a biometric issue, they bring a Follow-Up Form.  This form lets the doctor indicate that the participant has been treated and re-tested, and the condition is now under control. 

Followup Visits – Preventive Services:  When the patient goes to a specialist to close a prevention gap – such as a mammogram or colonoscopy – they bring a Follow-Up Form.  This lets the doctor indicate the prevention gap was closed.

Incentives for Prevention and Biometrics:  The wellness program can offer an incentive for participants who are up to date on prevention – or who close those gaps during the year.  The wellness program can have an incentive for those whose biometrics were under control initially – or after treatment and followup.

Instead of an incentive for completing a screening or talking to a coach, the incentive goes to participants who work with their doctor and fix the problem

Advantages of Digital – Biometrics & Prevention

The Annual Wellness Visit combines screening with diagnosis and treatment.  So if there’s a problem with biometrics, the participant walks out with a prescription that will fix the problem.  You can’t get that at an on-site screening!

The Annual Wellness Visit covers everything recommended for prevention – not just the short list of things you can do at a screening.   Common gaps like a tetanus or flu vaccine can be completed at the Wellness Visit. 

Going digital means you can track and incentivize medical follow-up.  Instead of hoping participants will schedule an appointment with their doctor to resolve their blood pressure or get their colonoscopy – you are tracking what happens and rewarding those who work with their doctors. 

Going digital means you don’t have to run any onsite events.  There’s no need to disrupt operations at your hospital, school, factory, or other workplace.  Participants can schedule their visit for the day and time that works for them.  You can do much more with your wellness budget if you’re not using most of it to pay for onsite screenings. 

Summary:  Onsite Wellness vs. All-Digital

The smartphone revolution and the ACA have changed the landscape for lifestyle programs, prevention and primary care.  Now Digital Wellness Programs can be better than their onsite counterparts. 

Digital Wellness Programs use the smartphones in employees’ pockets to accurately measure physical activity, weight and lifestyle. They combine accurate data with engaging programs and significant incentives to create results.  

Digital Wellness Programs send employees to their primary care doctor for an Annual Wellness Visit - to collect biometrics and identify prevention gaps. They also collect data from Follow-Up Visits and offer incentives to make sure biometric problems are resolved and prevention gaps are closed.  

Digital Wellness Programs are the best opportunity for organizations to improve physical activity and lifestyle, get biometric problems resolved, and make sure prevention gaps are closed.  It’s your path to a better program.

Some Questions You Might Ask Yourself

       Do I have worksites that don’t fit the traditional onsite model?  Do I have remote workers who aren’t at a traditional job site?

       Is my program appealing to younger workers and technology-savvy employees?

       Are there employees at my organization who are “left out” of the wellness program because of their work location or schedule?

       Can my employees and health coaches see each other face-to-face? 

       Is my physical activity program based on validated, accurate data?  Or just based on attendance and self-report? 

       Am I doing onsite biometric screenings today?  Do I know if the problems found at the screening were resolved with a doctor?

       How many of my employees are up to date on all the prevention recommendations? 


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