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Uncommon Knowledge: The Value of Health Assessment Data
Health assessments provide unique and accurate data and foster employee engagement

By Jerry Noyce, Andrew Crighton, M.D., David Anderson, Ph.D,  and Nico Pronk, Ph.D  7/28/2011
 

The health management industry is growing rapidly, and many factors—such as technology, the increased use of social media and health care reform—are driving innovations in helping participants to improve their health. In the midst of all this change, however, the health assessment continues to be an essential and valuable component of a best-practice workplace health management strategy. Here’s why.

Health Assessments Provide Unique Data

The health assessment provides a wealth of data cost-effectively that can be used to tailor the wellness experience to each individual. This includes the participant’s personal health portal, where health assessment data can be used to align content, tools and guidance with the individual’s health risks, health conditions and readiness to change. Individuals can be triaged into program components that are best suited to improving their health based on their risks, conditions, self-efficacy, barriers to change and other relevant data collected in the health assessment.

Except for health conditions, none of this data is available from other sources. Even in the case of health conditions, self-reported data from the health assessment sometimes is more timely than claims data and allows for immediate follow-up and engagement in health-promoting programs. In effect, use of the health assessment creates a teachable moment that is highly conducive to engaging individuals in health improvement programs.

Because of this ability to personalize programs to meet the needs of each individual, research has demonstrated a positive impact on population health and financial outcomes for well-designed programs that incorporate a health assessment with relevant and valued follow-up.

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Research shows the positive impact on population health
and financial outcomes of well-designed programs using
a health assessment with relevant follow-up.
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In addition, research suggests positive health and financial outcomes for those who participate in a health assessment as their entry into a workplace program, while these positive outcomes are often not realized for employees who participate solely in self-selected program elements. For these reasons, experts consider the health assessment to be an essential component of a best-practice population health management strategy.

Health Assessment Data Is Accurate

A substantial body of research extending over three decades documents the overall validity of health assessment data. In practice, there is a high degree of agreement between self-reported health assessment data and objective measures. A 2011 HealthPartners research study reported on the validity of self-reported body weight as compared to directly-measured body weight. The results indicated that the discrepancy between self-reported and measured body weight appears to be relatively small, might be improved through daily self-monitoring using immediate feedback and tele-health technology, and impacts change in body weight negligibly.

A 2010 study of Prudential Financial employees showed a stronger relationship than previous published studies between self-reported data and measured values for overall cholesterol and HDL (i.e., "good cholesterol"). Prudential, a Platinum winner in the 2011 Best Employers for Healthy Lifestyles awards, showed a direct correlation between health risk changes through the health assessment and control over health care spending.

In addition, a 2010 StayWell study shows that health assessment data is nearly as accurate as medical or pharmacy claims data in predicting health care claims costs, making it a very cost-effective tool for targeting the likely highest-cost segment of an employee population. This research indicates that instances of bogus health assessment data¾i.e., employees providing false data on their health assessments¾are isolated and usually the result of flawed implementation strategies.

An Effective Engagement Tool

Health assessments are a valuable tool in the best-practice program model and have been proven effective in reducing health care cost trends and improving population health and productivity. It is important to recognize, however, that the role of the health assessment is not to change health outcomes but to make it possible to target and tailor proactive outreach and behavior change programs.

State-of-the-art health assessments work by allowing wellness program providers to collect data not only about participants’ risks but also about their psychological readiness to change, which is a key element in tailoring a wellness program to be more effective for individuals. When used with an appropriate incentive strategy that encourages behavior change rather than passive participation, the health assessment serves as a valuable entry point to a best-practice program.

When the health assessment process is prefaced by culturally relevant communication, employees generally report a high level of satisfaction with the process. Systematic review findings by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and recommendations from the Task Force on Community Preventive Services indicate that a health assessment with feedback plus health education is a recommended practice based on evidence of effectiveness for a variety of health outcomes.

This positive experience creates a timely teachable moment where health assessment participants are open to an invitation to take the next step in improving their health. This receptivity to further engagement stands in stark contrast to attempts to target employees based on claims or benefit use, which are typically met with suspicion or pushback.

Over the years, using a health assessment as part of a wellness program has become a recognized best practice in workplace health management because it works and provides value. Market leading companies across the U.S. and around the world use health assessments because they provide a level of information and knowledge about employee health that cannot be found anywhere else. These same organizations have realized good results by using the knowledge gleaned from health assessment data to reduce health risks, reduce health care spending and increase productivity.

Jerry Noyce is president and CEO of the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO). Andrew Crighton, M.D., is vice president and chief medical officer at Prudential Financial, where he is responsible for global health, safety and work/life. David Anderson, Ph.D., is senior vice president and chief health officer at StayWell Health Management. He is architect of StayWell’s health assessment model and predictive modeling tool. Nico Pronk, Ph.D., is vice president and health science officer for JourneyWell at HealthPartners. He integrates science-based evidence into health management solutions and conducts research at the HealthPartners Research Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health.

Related SHRM Articles:

Financial Inducements for Health Risk Assessments Are Slippery Slope, SHRM Online Legal Issues, June 2011 

Declining Health of U.S. Works Is Driving Up Employer Costs, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, April 2011

Encouraging Health Risk Assessments? A Few Cautions, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, October 2010

Meeting the Health Risk Assessment Challenge, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, July 2010

Health Risk Assessments, Incentives Help Lower Costs, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, April 2005

Predictive Modeling: Finding the High-Cost Employee, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, April 2005

Related SHRM Video: 

Tom ParryUnderstanding the Full Costs of Health
Data-based behavioral health interventions can reduce absenteeism and increase productivity, says Tom Parry, president of the Integrated Benefits Institute.

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