July 15, 2013
Best practice in wellness: Educate employees to take responsibility and make better choices

As part of the statewide Indiana University Health system with extensive healthcare expertise and facilities, IU Health Bloomington (IUHB) is well positioned to look out for its own when it comes to wellness.

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“Our programs have been in place 15 years,” says Karen Danielson, manager of worksite wellness at IUHB, which was a winner of this year’s Well Workplace awards competition “We recognized early on that we have a responsibility to our employees as a healthcare provider to recognize that prevention and wellness are important to our community and to our employees.”

The IUHB program, known as “Live Well,” is built around the idea that employees must be responsible and accountable for their own health. It provides education, instruction, and access. Notes Danielson, “We have a philosophy that we are going to educate people and give them the education to make better choices.”

One example is the hospital system’s approach to its cafeteria. In addition to traditional offerings, daily healthy plates are offered at favorable prices. So, for example, you might see glazed salmon and a fresh green vegetable (all under about 400 calories) for less than you would pay for a burger.

Return on investment

In the early years, there was not a great emphasis on return on investment (ROI). “There was an empirical understanding and acceptance that when people take care of themselves and are given resources and support, it is going to make a long-term difference in health and in health plan cost,” she explains.

The focus has been on what the program will do for individuals and what it will achieve for the organization, which is a nonprofit.

For employees, the impact of poor health can include everything from higher insurance copays and deductibles to the cost of lost wages and family stress resulting from illness. On an organizational level, all employees are affected by poor health through increases in the cost of health plans and premiums.

In recent years, the program has worked harder to measure sick days, turnover, presenteeism, and the cost of illness. These metrics, as well as those that track the reduction in health risk, have been quite favorable.

One size does not fit all

Live Well participants complete a health risk assessment that includes biometric data such as blood pressure, glucose, and body mass index. It also captures information about lifestyle, sleep patterns, stress, and nutrition and exercise habits.

The information is used to segment the population by health risks and status. They are directed to appropriate programs, but only if they have indicated that they wish to be contacted. For example, if a new prediabetes class is being offered, program managers will e-mail or phone those with high blood sugar and other contributing factors to let them know about the offering.

One important segment is those who are basically healthy but are starting to show signs of changes, such as a first diagnosis or new prescription. “They are creeping out of the ‘well’ group and are very motivated,” says Danielson.

The largest segment is the 80 percent of employees who are healthy and use about 20 percent of health plan dollars. The goal for this group is to maintain their good health status, says Danielson. They can take advantage of a variety of health-maintenance programs, including:

  • HeartMath, a stress-reduction program that addresses the physiology of stress;
  • A 3-month challenge to reduce diabetes was launched with a group walk led by the organization’s CEO;
  • "Minutes to Win It," a competitive program co-sponsored with the city of Bloomington to encourage people to walk, garden, cycle, play sports, and swim;
  • Caring Caucus, a work/life balance program;
  • Healthy nutrition challenges that pit departments against one another; and
  • Classes such as Zumba, yoga, and Pilates®.


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