5 Ways to Engage Participants in Your Wellness Program

Employee HealthAn employee wellness program is only as effective as it is engaging. Getting employees to actually participate within your wellness program is the first step you’ll need to take towards fostering a healthier workplace atmosphere overall. Here are five ways that you can move towards employee engagement and a successful wellness program.

1. Create Reasonable Goals

Not everyone is going to be able to lose 20 pounds by summer, but everyone can take a walk for five minutes a day. Creating reasonable goals will encourage your employees and make them feel more confident and in charge of their health.

2. Get Your Management on Board

A wellness program that is supported by upper management will be more effective overall. A company’s culture is always driven by those on top. Upper management can also get excited about being a positive role model for their employees.

3. Create a Supportive Culture

Training for a marathon is going to be a lot harder with a bunch of unhealthy snacks cluttering up the break room. When you diet on your own, you need to remove all temptation. The same goes for an employee wellness program. Promoting health throughout the office is a good way to ensure that the system works.

4. Use Incentives Appropriately

While it may seem a little direct, bribery works. Creating rewards and prizes for those that commit to your wellness program is a fantastic way to get more employees involved. The prizes can be as simple as a plaque on the wall or as involved as a day of paid time off. Prizes don’t have to be expensive to make it fun.

5. Listen to Advice

Often, there may be a direct and simple reason why employees aren’t engaged in your existing wellness program. Listening to suggestions and even actively seeking them out can be the best way to discover the incentives that will work and the reasons why the existing system is faltering. Keeping an open mind about employee suggestions can often lead you down avenues you never considered.

When engaging employees in a wellness program it’s important to remember that the goal isn’t only health. A wellness program is also designed to get employees to work together and foster a sense of teamwork.

Affordable Care Act and Tobacco Surcharges: What You Need to Know

The average smoker costs an additional $4,260 per year in direct medical costs and lost productivity according to the CDC.  In an effort to reduce tobacco use and the additional costs related to tobacco use, many insurance companies and employers implement a surcharge to users of tobacco.

What is a surcharge?


A tobacco surcharge is an increase in the premium amount paid by users of tobacco. The surcharge can also be referred to as a tobacco premium or premium differential.

How much is the surcharge?

Current federal law allows health insurance plans and companies to charge tobacco users an additional 20%.

Beginning January 1, 2014 health insurance plans and employers will be able to charge up to 50% more.

Will every state implement a surcharge?

Some states have made it illegal for insurance companies to implement a surcharge. Those states include: California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington D.C.  Employers in these states may still opt to implement a surcharge.

Who is considered to be a “tobacco user?”

A tobacco user is defined as anyone who uses any tobacco product including cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, snuff, pipe tobacco, or hookah, four times per week for the last six months.

What else do I need to know?

Health insurance plans and employers who implement a surcharge are required to offer a reasonable alternative for tobacco users.  If a tobacco user participates in the reasonable alternative program, they will not have to pay the surcharge.  In this case a reasonable alternative is a comprehensive tobacco cessation program.

What should I look for in a tobacco cessation program?

The ultimate goal of the surcharge is to alleviate the country of one of its largest public health concerns. The program you offer is of the utmost importance. You should look for a program from a trusted provider with a long history of success and flexible program options.  The program should provide:

1)      Structure and a proven methodology for quitting.

2)      Telephonic or in-person counseling

3)      Nicotine replacement therapy, either over the counter (patch or gum) or prescription.

The Smokeless® program has helped over 1 million people quit, and stay tobacco free, using the comprehensive approach recommended by the American Lung Association. Learn more about the smokeless program by clicking here.

10 Tips to Enhance Your Wellness Program

American Institute for Preventive Medicine developed a very handy guide called “Wellness On a Shoestring: Over 350 No or Low Cost Activities and Resources to Enhance your Wellness Program.”  They offer it for $34 on the website, which at that price is a steal.  But, they’ve taken 10 of the activities and offer them in this free toolkit.  Go ahead, download it and share the link with all your friends! Download the toolkit here! Free Wellness Toolkit

Why would you use a social health game?

Your kids play so many video games you’re worried they might actually turn into computer-animated creatures. You secretly really love Angry Birds. And now you’re hearing a lot of buzz about the “gamification” of work. You’ve even wondered about introducing a social health game into your wellness program.

What are the benefits? Is it worth the investment? Will people really use it?

We were excited to discuss the promise of games for health as part of CoHealth’s monthly tweet chats — here is the must-read recap. Lots of great questions raised and discussed, lots of assumptions turned on their heads, abundant food for thought.

Afterward my brain was so abuzz that I sat down with Brett Powell,  our Regional VP and the point person for our own online wellness challenges. Together we sketched out a few reasons any wellness manager might want to try out a social health game.


HealthyLife Online Challenge - Cross Canada

Multiple locations? Lots of work-from-homers? Different shifts or schedules? Large company? Small company?

Not a problem with an online wellness program. Employees can participate when it’s convenient for them.

You can do it with specific groups or with everyone in your company. Use an out-of-the-box program or create a custom program that targets your organization’s specific needs. Try one challenge at a time or design a series of challenges over the course of a year.

You could host a comprehensive flight of wellness challenges for weight loss, nutrition, stress management and physical activity, or you could tackle one major problem at a time, like that walking program you’ve always wanted to start.

It sounds cliché, but the sky’s the limit.

Social, social, social

Social everything. Support. Competition. A little friendly pressure. It’s like a lunchtime support group on steroids: it’s 24/7, it reinforces specific actions, and it’s intrinsically motivating to play as a team — and win.

One question raised during the CoHealth chat approached the difference between in-person social support: Is a company recreation league any different or better than the support that you get from an app- or web-based social game?

I personally wondered if concerns about digital privacy might make people more likely to participate in a pick-up soccer game than an imaginary trek across the Great Wall of China, where every step is logged and compared to group progress.

But most gaming tools are anonymous — in our program, you get a pseudonymous username and avatar. And that could make people more, not less, likely to join in. (I know I would be reluctant to join a company sports league because I am so bad at sports.)

After mulling it over, we think old-fashioned social health games — the kind you play in person — reinforce the principles behind online social health games. “Social”  is a time-tested idea. It’s just been re-imagined for new technologies and the way we have adapted our behaviors to those technologies.

It’s fun

It’s that simple. Employees like these games. They actually play them. And that leads to measurable lifestyle change.

Why? Our theory: Health games remove punitive “get healthy or else” directives, like the threat of higher premiums for unhealthy behavior. They empower employees to own their well being and change their lives on their own terms.

We’ve been offering online wellness challenges for over a year, and the response so far has been tremendous. If you’re interested in learning more, feel free to drop us a line. We can even show you how it works if you’re curious.

Game on!

More businesses try to get workers healthier

By Kelley Weiss  | December 4, 2012

As if fitting into your favorite pair of “skinny jeans” isn’t enough…your boss might give you a discount on your health insurance if you do.

It’s a growing trend these days for companies to offer incentives – or the proverbial carrot – to get workers in better shape.

Don Powell is the CEO and president of the American Institute for Preventive Medicine. He advises about 13,000 corporations around the country, including unions and the military, about implementing wellness programs.

Powell says that the majority of businesses today offer some type of wellness program. These can range from having a health fair or flu shot clinic at work to building an on-site gym.

He says what’s driving this is ever-rising health care costs. Worksite wellness programs can translate into fewer sick days and increased productivity. But more importantly it can save businesses money, he says. For some companies Powell says for every dollar they spend on a wellness program, they get back three dollars in return.

Powell says when workplace wellness programs started in the 1980s they usually consisted of a smoking cessation class or a dietician offering tips for healthier eating.

Now, times have changed. He says employers will give out prizes like airline tickets to Hawaii or a mountain bike if you lose weight.

And the Internet is playing an increasing role in these challenges as well. Employees can track their progress online and compare it to their co-workers.

“It could range from drinking more water per day to eating five helpings of fruits and vegetables to climbing Mt. Everest to swimming the English Channel,” Powell says.

Your boss might also give you a discount on your health insurance costs. This can add up to 20 percent of the total cost for your insurance. Under President Obama’s health care law this will increase to 30 percent in 2014.

Powell says bosses are also wising up to the fact that to really save money they have to focus on more than just the employee. He says 70 percent of employers’ health care costs are due to dependents, kids and spouses.

“If you’re only working with worksite wellness with the employee you’re only getting at 30 percent of the problem,” he says. “So allowing dependents or even children to participate in the wellness program is a growing trend.”

That could mean taking your child along to the gym to workout on the company’s dime.

Powell says while carrots are by far more popular, the stick is gaining popularity. The same provision under the federal health care law that allows employers to give workers a 30 percent financial incentive if they get in better shape goes the other way too. If you don’t work at lowering your cholesterol or losing weight you could be paying 30 percent more in penalties come 2014.

AIPM Self-Care Guides Save Lives

Our self-care guides have been extremely effective in lowering health care costs and absenteeism by reducing unnecessary doctor and emergency room visits. In 26 independent studies involving over 15,000 participants, they have demonstrated an average savings of $83.15 per employee in 8.3 months. More importantly, our self-care guides can save lives as evidenced by the stories below. They are representative of the many case histories we receive.


Jeff BilBrey, Bloomfield Hills

1) Lowe’s, Mooresville, NC – Distributed Health at Home® to all employees on their insurance plan.

One Sunday, Dr. Don Powell, President of the American Institute for Preventive Medicine, was in the Lowe’s home improvement store in Bloomfield Hills, MI. Jeff Bilbrey, a sales specialist in the plumbing department, was helping Dr. Powell purchase a new kitchen faucet. Without identifying who he was, Dr. Powell asked Jeff if he remembered receiving a copy of Health at Home® and, if so, had he used it. Jeff replied, “Not only did I use the guide, it saved my life.” Dr. Powell asked him how.

“One evening about 11/2 years ago, I was experiencing stomach pain and vomiting. When the symptoms persisted until the next morning, I used Health at Home® to determine what I should do. The guide stated that with my symptoms, I should see a doctor which I promptly did. My doctor said my body’s systems were shutting down and I was diagnosed with acute pancreatitis. Within one hour, I was hospitalized for the condition and spent 30 days in intensive care. My physician said I would have died had I not been treated when I was. When Dr. Powell identified himself, Jeff said, “Your book saved my life.”

Fairview Employee Minneapolis, MN2)  Fairview Health System, Minneapolis, MN – Distributed Health at Home® to all 20,000 employees.

A nurse who received the guide writes: “I had been experiencing severe abdominal pain. I consulted the Health at Home® self-care book, called the NurseLine, and was advised to go to the Emergency Room. I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Luckily, it was caught early and after surgery and chemo, my prognosis is excellent. I credit the book for helping me decide the right thing to do.”

Kathy Mojet West Bloomfield, MI

3) Great Clips Salon, West Bloomfield, MI Kathy Mojet, a stylist at Great Clips Salon, was experiencing heart palpitations and went to see a physician at a local hospital. The doctor did not feel that Kathy’s situation was serious and sent her home. The next day, Kathy was still experiencing the palpitations.

“I looked in Healthier at Home® to see if this physician was correct with his diagnosis and also the right one for me. After reading the sections on Heart Palpitations and Choosing a Health Care Provider, I realized I did not receive the proper care and went to see another physician. The second doctor diagnosed me with atrial fibrillation and successfully treated me. Had this not occurred, blood clots could have formed in my body and potentially killed me.”

Marijo & Jay Parsons, Sheboygan, WI

4) Aurora Health Care, Milwaukee, WI Distributed Healthier at Home® to all 25,000 employees through their Wellness Works program.

Marijo Parsons, pharmacy supervisor at Aurora Sheboygan Memorial Medical Center, thanks the Healthier at Home® Self-Care Guide, her quick action, and first-rate medical care for helping save her husband’s life.

Marijo’s husband, Jay, felt unusual back pain after laying flooring in the couple’s garage. For relief he took Advil and a hot bath. Unable to sleep that evening, Jay noticed pain in his left shoulder and elbow. He got up, sat in a recliner, and felt better.

On the coffee table was a copy of Healthier at Home®. As Marijo sat up with her husband, she paged through the guide. On page 387, she noticed her husband’s symptoms matched those for a heart attack. Using the self-care/first aid section of the guide, she knew exactly what to do.

“You’d better take an aspirin and we’ll go to the emergency department,” Marijo said. Jay had quadruple bypass surgery the following morning.

Thanks to Marijo’s use of the guide and the excellent care Jay received, he experienced a speedy and complete recovery. Not surprisingly, the Parsons are very thankful for their Healthier at Home® Self-Care Guide. “It was a real lifesaver,” she said.

Ford Employee Dearborn, MI

5) Ford Motor Company, Dearborn, MI – Distributed to employees who attended UAW/Ford health fairs.

“My husband initially ignored the chest pain he was having, but after I read Health at Home®, I insisted he go to the emergency room. At the E.R., he was diagnosed with having a heart attack due to advanced coronary artery disease. A triple bypass operation was performed within the hour. Had my husband not received immediate treatment, he would not be alive today. I credit Health at Home® with saving him.”

What is Medical Self-Care and Why It’s a Win-Win-Win Scenario

The term “Medical Self-Care” can be defined in a variety of fashions but our CEO, Dr. Don Powell (biosketch) put it best when he was asked to define it by the Wellness Council of America (WELCOA) as part of their expert interview series.

“Medical self-care is a series of behaviors that a person engages in when they experience physical or psychological symptoms. Medical self-care enables consumers to make a more informed decision about whether they can treat their symptoms themselves or if they should seek professional medical care. Medical self-care tends to be utilized more for everyday health problems as opposed to chronic conditions. I also distinguish medical self-care from medical consumerism. I view medical consumerism as helping people to better understand and interact with the health care system, rather than what to do for specific symptoms.”

Fundamentally, Medical self-care is a type of wellness program that encourages employees to decide what to do for themselves with or without provider assistance. These various programs are unique in that they are rather inexpensive to provide but the savings they can produce are enormous; such is evidenced by the return on investment (ROI) analysis described in the myriad of journal articles on our website. It’s not uncommon for companies to experience anywhere from a 3:1 to as much as an 11:1 return-on-investment for a medical self-care program.

Additionally, the savings associated with medical self-care tends to be rather immediate in nature. Self-care is unlike a comprehensive wellness program, where we caution employers that they may have to wait two to four years before realizing a cost savings. The cost savings from a medical self-care program begins with the very first time an employee picks up the book and makes an informed decision, such as not going to the ER when they could perhaps wait 12 hours and go to the doctor’s office the next day. So a $788 visit now becomes a $206 visit—that’s $582 saved right at that moment for the employer. Some of the benefits that go along with the implementation of a self-care program are:

  • Reduced Physician and Emergency Room Visits
  • Reduced Health Care Costs
  • Reduced Absenteeism
  • Increased Productivity
  • Increased Patient Satisfaction
  • Increased Patient Empowerment and Self Efficiency

These benefits occur because medical self-care programs teach members/employees and their dependents to become wiser health care consumers. They learn to make better decisions about when to go to the doctor or emergency room (ER) and when they can treat themselves using self-care procedures. One of the unique things about a self-care program is that you don’t have to offer a financial incentive to increase participation. That’s because an employee saving time by not having to wait in a doctor’s office or emergency room and saving money by avoiding a co-payment, are incentives in and of themselves. With no incentive at all, research shows that anywhere from 50 to 75 percent of people will use a self-care book within the first six months of receiving it. Visit our website to learn more about the self-care books and guides that we currently have to offer and how they can be beneficial for your business.

When Dr. Powell was asked – “Given the dramatic increase in health care costs and the emphasis in organizations on escalating costs, more and more people are beginning to pay attention to medical self-care initiatives. How important from your perspective is a medical self-care initiative for the business community?” he responded by stating:

“I think medical self-care should be a core component of any wellness program. There is a variety of data that supports this from a business perspective. For the coming year alone, health care costs are set to increase by eight to nine percent (to about $11,000 per employee). We also know that there’s a great deal of excessive use of the health care system. The latest statistics suggest that at least 30 percent of all doctor visits are unnecessary. According to National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, there were 956 million doctor visits in 2008. So, you’re talking about 287 million unnecessary doctor visits at an average cost of $206 per visit. You also need to take ER visits into account. According to the 2010 National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, there were 124 million ER visits, and it’s estimated that about 55 percent of those are for non-emergent care, at an average cost of $788 per visit. So, when you consider these numbers, that’s a lot of money that could be saved for both employers and employees. Medical self-care is really a win-win-win scenario. When employees avoid unnecessary health care utilization they win because they save time and money on co-pays. The company wins because they’re saving money on health care and absenteeism costs. And lastly, health promotion practitioners and benefits professionals win because they receive a great deal of credit and thanks for implementing the medical self-care program.”

These are some of the reasons why we think medical self-care should be a core component of any wellness program and there is a variety of data to support this from a business perspective. Self-care initiatives should be offered to everyone, not just the 10 to 50 percent who fill out an HRA. Think about this for a moment:  Even if half of your employees never use the book, the other half who do will still product an overall return-on-investment for your organization. Don’t be discouraged that not ever employee uses a book that you’ve spent $6 to $7 on, because the employees who do use the book are likely to save you 3-10 times that amount.

The Advantages of High Touch vs High Tech Self-Care and Wellness Information

The Advantages of High Touch vs High Tech Self-Care and Wellness Information

Organizations have been successful at reducing healthcare costs by helping their employees/members become wiser health care consumers and live a healthier lifestyle.  One effective way to accomplish this is by providing a self-care and wellness guide.  It teaches consumers to make better decisions about what medical symptoms require professional assistance and those that can be treated at home using self-care.  This is in light of the fact that approximately 25% of all doctor visits and 55% of all emergency room visits are deemed to be unnecessary.

A number of organizations, particularly those that provide Consumer Driven Health Care (CDH), are putting self-care and wellness information solely online as a way to reduce costs.  They rationalize that “everybody” uses the internet and it is a low cost way to reach employees/members.  Unfortunately, this view has many flaws.  Not only will the organization reach less than a quarter of its people, but it will not save any money.

Organizations should provide a self-care and wellness guide in print to each employee/member and only use online content as an adjunct to it.  This is the best way for a company to reach the majority of its employees/members and to reduce healthcare costs.

To read the ten facts that reinforce all of this — Please visit http://bit.ly/RdVad5


Six steps to a successful medical self-care program

1. Pick a self-care publication.

Whether it’s a brochure, a booklet, or a full-length book, a self-care publication should answer a few basic questions:

  • Is this a medical emergency?
  • Do I need to see a doctor?
  • Can I treat this myself?
  • How can I treat myself?

A basic family self-care book is appropriate for most employees, but you may want to explore a targeted self-care program for specific populations, such as seniors, pregnant women, students, or members of the military.

2. Host a self-care workshop.

Not surprisingly, a self-care program works best when people actually use their self-care book or booklet. An instructor-led seminar, webinar, or video will orient your employees to the principles of self-care. Workshops on identifying a medical emergency, doctor/patient communication, using a self-care guide or financial wellness can help your employees get the most out of their medical self-care program and encourage them to use their self-care book as a reference tool.

3. Provide a nurse advice line.

A 24-hour nurse advice line — staffed by live, qualified experts — can assess a person’s medical situation and recommend a course of action. Many nurse advice lines also offer an audio library of health topics to provide general reference information.

4. Incorporate online self-care, or self-care software.

Digital self-care has come a long way in a very short time. There are more options available than ever before, from smartphone apps to intranet databases to web-based portals. Health portals can save employees from cyberchondria and provide a reliable source of digital health information. But whatever tool you choose to use, make sure it’s in a format your employees will use (many people still don’t have smartphones — or even computers at home).

5. Promote, promote, promote.

With a medical self-care program, communication is key. Keep medical self-care at employees’ fingertips by tying self-care tips into all of your wellness communications; newsletters, postcards, flyers, paycheck inserts, emails, and fridge magnets. (Here are five more tips for promoting self-care in your wellness efforts.)

6. Evaluate your self-care program.

After 9 months, distribute surveys and ask employees report how often they used self-care materials and whether they were able to avoid a missed day of work or an unnecessary doctor or ER visit. You’ll be able to use this data to calculate your ROI and make adjustments for the next year of your program. This is also a good opportunity to solicit feedback from your employees about how to make your program better.

Contact us for a free medical self-care ROI analysis.

Do you have a medical self-care program at your workforce? What’s working for you?

National Health Observances: March is Nutrition Month

Eating right is an essential component of overall health and well-being. This National Nutrition Month, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics encourages you to Get Your Plate in Shape.

The aim is to encourage all of us to include a balanced selection of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and dairy on our plates every day. After years of education campaigns (and that ever-confusing food pyramid), many of us still remain fuzzy on serving sizes, recommended daily allowances, exactly what “sparingly” means, good vs. bad fats, and where things like sodium and processed sugars really come from (hint: the answer is usually “processed food”).

In 2011, MyPlate replaced the food pyramid -- and provided a simple visual solution to recommended daily nutrition

The added challenge in the workplace? Stressed-out employees who are constantly on the run, prone to skipping breakfast and ordering take-out for lunch.

During National Nutrition Month, make it easier for your employees to eat well while they work well. Here are some programming tips:

  • Hand out healthy snacks. Curb the mid-morning dash for the vending machine by giving out whole-grain crackers, apples and bananas, low-sugar granola bars or trail mix, 100-calorie snack packs or veggies with low-cal dip.
  • Praise breakfast. We all know we should eat breakfast, but inevitably we run out of time or forget! Inspire employees to start their days right and host a weekly continental breakfast with whole grain bagels, low-sugar bran muffins, yogurt cups, fruit, and coffee.
  • Help with health on-the-run. Gather menus from popular take-out spots and use them to provide a “healthy lunch” guide, with each restaurant’s most nutritious choices highlighted. Think Eat This – Not That.
  • Teach a class. Invite a local chef or culinary student to teach an on-site cooking class. Focus on simple weeknight recipes that are quick to prepare and include a few inexpensive ingredients. Or try a Top Chef-style cook-off for your workplace’s most talented gourmands. If your site is too small or has no kitchen, organize a free or subsidized cooking class at a community center.
  • Tour the grocery store. Hire a local registered dietitian to take a group on a tour of a local grocery store. An RD can teach people to read ingredient labels, find healthy bargains, plan menus, and accommodate dietary requirements (e.g., high blood pressure, low-sodium diets, diabetes).
  • Take-home, not take-out. Assemble healthy take-home dinner kits with fully prepped ingredients and an easy-to-follow step-by-step recipe, like vegetable fajitas. You can choose whether you provide kits for free or ask employees to pay a small fee ($10 for a meal that feeds four people).
  • Publish a company cookbook. Ask employees to share favorite healthy recipes, or pick a theme, like a specific ingredient, recipes for entertaining, weeknight meals or seasonal food. Celebrate its publication with a potluck lunch.

Other resources

Access healthy recipes, tip sheets, and other National Nutrition Month educational materials here.

Learn more about MyPlate, plus tips for healthy eating on a budget, bilingual materials, a Super Tracker and sample menus, at ChooseMyPlate.gov.

For a full year of National Health Observances, download our free 2012 Wellness Activity Planner.