Groups Offer Guidance on Biometric Health Screenings

Design screenings with targeted goals; evaluate for effectiveness and engagement

By Stephen Miller, CEBS October 25, 2013

Three national health organizations have published guidance for worksite wellness programs that use risk assessments and biometric screenings to collect health information from employees.

The Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO), the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, and the Care Continuum Alliance collaborated on a joint consensus statement titled “Biometric Health Screening for Employers,” published in the October 2013 issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

With the increasing popularity of employer wellness programs, the inclusion of biometric screenings is on the rise. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation report, more than 55 percent of large U.S. employers offered an onsite biometric screening in 2012. During a biometric screening measurements such as blood pressure, weight and cholesterol are taken and used to track changes in employees’ health over time, as a component of health-management and wellness programs.

“Biometric screenings, combined with a review of the results with a health educator and personal goal setting, can enhance an individual’s knowledge of their health status as well as possible health conditions and issues,” said Rebecca Kelly, director of health promotion and wellness at The University of Alabama and one of the authors of the consensus statement. “It is a tool to enhance the understanding of health while providing the motivation and monitoring needed to improve health.”

“Employers can use de-identified aggregate data to better define and design their well-being programs and health plan benefits to meet the unique needs of their employees,” added Fred Goldstein, interim executive director of the Care Continuum Alliance.

Screening Procedures

The joint consensus statement provides the following advice on screening procedures:

Fasting. When conducting fasting screenings, it is important to do them at the beginning of employees’ shifts. For example, screenings of daytime workers should be scheduled early in the morning and be completed before lunch. Generally, these screenings are done within a four-hour window, to limit the time employees need to fast. Employers are also encouraged to provide refreshments (juice and light snacks) after a fasting-screening event.

Privacy. When screening a small number of people, it is best to use private rooms or offices. When this isn’t possible and a lot of people are to be screened, large meeting rooms or spaces can be divided to create visual privacy. Screening personnel should refrain from verbalizing test results and instead point to them once recorded.

Event flow. The overall screening flow is also important for a successful event. Generally, the flow includes registration, the screening itself, the review of results, and any post-screening activities.

A Comprehensive Approach

Biometric screenings succeed when they are “part of a comprehensive health management program, prioritizing the health and well-being of employees, specifically designed with targeted goals, and evaluated for effectiveness and engagement,” the authors state.

In the 2012 annual report for the HERO Employee Health Management Best Practice Scorecard, conducted in collaboration with Mercer, survey responses from more than 600 employers indicated that companies offering biometric screenings in the context of a comprehensive workplace wellness program that fosters a supportive culture, leadership support and strong employee communication realized better health-risk improvements and had lower health care cost increases than organizations that offered biometric screenings alone.

Evaluation Guidelines

The joint consensus statement recommends evaluating five screening components:

Process. How effectively and efficiently were the screenings implemented?

Participation. How many employees (what percentage) were screened?

Satisfaction. What was the level of employee satisfaction?

Impact. How did the screenings affect the overall health management program?

Outcomes. How effectively did the screenings drive participation in available health management programs?

In 2012 the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine published a similar joint consensus statement, “Guidance for a Reasonably Designed, Employer-Sponsored Wellness Program Using Outcomes-Based Incentives.” That guidance was intended to help employers that use goal-based financial incentives in their wellness programs to improve health and lower costs while protecting employees from discrimination and unaffordable coverage.

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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