The Employer’s Guide Book: 5 Population Health Solutions for a Productive Workforce.

Abhinav Shashank
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From an employer's viewpoint, healthcare costs turn up as the second-largest expense after employee wages. On average, employee absenteeism and poor health cost employers around $530 billion dollars a year. Forestalling these issues requires employers to create efficient benefits package for their employees, and understand their employee health journey at each step.

1. Understanding The Percent Of Employees At High-risk

Prior to the era of value-based care, employees received less proactive care. Employees would only visit a provider after a few symptoms showed up. However, employers need to focus on the story narrated by the risk factors. According to the American Medical Association, few major chronic conditions cost employers billions of dollars. These conditions are Low-back and neck pain ($57.2 billion), High blood pressure ($46.6 billion), High cholesterol ($41.9 billion), Depression ( $30.8 billion) and Urinary disease ($30.2 billion).

Both employers and employees need to adopt proactive approaches so that these costs can be managed more efficiently. Risk stratification, in this regard, can help employers identify the exact number of employees in need of proactive care to lower their risk of developing a chronic illness. Understanding the risk of employee population will also empower employers to better negotiate contracts and quality incentives with payers. Proactive care will help employees avert the risk of emergency room visits, improves overall health, and will also prevent more expensive conditions from developing.

2. Recognizing Additional Factors Impacting Employee Health

The major concerns for employees are workplace stress and burnouts. According to a recent Gallop study, 23% of employees experience burnout and the healthcare spendings are approximately $190 billion a year. 

Managing population health is crucial for employers as the responsibility for health outcomes is increasingly being shared among all healthcare stakeholders. It involves identifying and incentivizing activities that promote and improve the well-being of their employees. Generally, US employers rely on generic wellness programs that do not account for individual differences in health status and overall health goals. Apart from this, employers must also understand the impact of non-clinical factors impacting employee health such as lifestyle factors like smoking and drinking, socioeconomic factors like employment, education, and income, physical elements like air and water quality among others. These factors must be considered while devising care plans for the employees.

3. Scrutinizing The Skipped Routine Checkups And Appointments

Most employers lack mechanisms to track whether employees are taking proactive steps to improve their health. Preventive healthcare can help employees set and follow-through with fitness and nutritional goals for example. However, more than 44 percent of employees avoid regular checkups. These employees also include the ones with valid employer-sponsored medical insurance. 

Skipping routine checkups is one major reason as to why most ailments get detected after the symptoms become more evident and lead to higher care costs. Hence, the study of employee population health can help employers recognize the people in greater need of right preventive care.

4. Predicting Employee Readmittance 

Although there is no accurate data for private health insurance, readmissions are a major factor that cost Medicare about $26 billion annually. Most employees are readmitted because they lack clarity on the type of medication they have to consume and the time to consume the same. Inadequate follow-up care post-discharge is another significant reason that leads employees back to hospitals. Often, miscommunication to primary care about the course of post-discharge treatment and low patient engagement owing to insufficient health literacy is the challenge in this regard.

In these cases, the cost of hospital care outweighs out-patient visits. Among the crucial workforce health metrics, employers should ensure that employees have easy access to post-discharge care. To manage the hefty care costs arising due to readmissions, employers can work to ensure that employees receive effective outpatient care and both understand and engage with post-discharge instructions.

5. Understanding and Achieving Population Health Management Goals

With Value-Based Care (VBC), providers are increasingly receiving performance-based incentives rather than simply fees for specific services. Targeted population health management ideally helps providers and payers meet common objectives and can also help employers improve healthcare outcomes and reduce costs. Employers ought to establish wellness programs that strengthen employees’ relationships with outpatient providers. This can include

conducting smoking or drinking cessation programs and discouraging tobacco use, and encouraging measures to ameliorate for the Social Determinants of Health among, for example.

The Road Ahead

Employers should not satisfy themselves with working once a year with a benefits specialist; rather, they ought to take an active role in using population health data to drive changes in the healthcare system. They need to focus on improving the experience of their employees, so they don’t have to run from pillar to post seeking answers to basic healthcare questions. Once employers know what bothers employees the most and how their healthcare expenditures are faring, a course correction is only a step away. 

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