How a healthcare system engaged for help wtih it own health.
By Dorothy Cain
Ochsner Health System is a non-profit multi-specialty healthcare system compromising eight hospitals and 38 clinics located throughout Louisiana. Since 2003, Ochsner had been monitoring its rising healthcare costs and the health of its workforce. The organization had quickly grown to 10,000 employees after several new acquisitions post Hurricane Katrina. As Ochsner expanded, it became apparent that it needed a more integrated and accessible wellness program to replace the homegrown manual program.
With so many entities under its umbrella, Ochsner sought to improve overall employee health and reduce healthcare costs companywide. This was a major strategic initiative, since 8,259 of Ochsner’s employees are part of its (self-insured) administrative services only (ASO) group. Ochsner provides a generous premium subsidy to all levels of coverage, employee up to family coverage. As such, engaging employees in taking accountability for their own health in partnership with the company is a top priority. The magic was aligning the medical plan premiums in favor of those who participated in the wellness initiative.
To achieve these goals, Ochsner recognized that it had a few important challenges to overcome. First, Ochsner required a more systematic approach to help employees track and measure their physical activity in order to substantiate employee participation and health improvements. Although Ochsner’s previous wellness program enabled employees to earn rewards for staying active, the program relied on employees manually recording activities over the course of the year and submitting the tracking logs to Ochsner’s wellness staff for approval. Although this process was administratively feasible with 2,000 participants, Ochsner knew it needed a technology-based program to be prepared for the company’s growth. It was also important to be able to track and monitor improvements to overall employee health and ultimately reward those employees who took their health seriously.
The second challenge was identifying how to raise employee participation. Historically, Ochsner’s wellness program participation rates hovered between 30 and 40 percent. Though this was higher than traditional industry average rates, Ochsner believed ample room for improvement existed. Employee engagement was critical, given the company’s goal to lower overall healthcare costs; Ochsner believed more participation would lead to greater reductions.
The last challenge was determining how to excite employees about wellness and then make the programs as far reaching as possible. With an open benefits deadline looming, time was of the essence.
In December 2008, Ochsner engaged Virgin HealthMiles, a leading provider of employee health programs and technologies that engage employees in good health. Ochsner found the HealthMiles program’s easy-to-use activity tracking devices, biometric measurement stations, and online platform provided employees with a better way to capture their daily activity and key health measures in a more accurate and verifiable way. The program also enabled employees to monitor their progress, and provided a variety of fun and rewarding activities designed to drive ongoing program participation.
With this new program, Ochsner employees had the opportunity to earn ‘HealthMiles’—or points—for their participation in the program. The HealthMiles that employees earned helped them proceed through the program’s five reward levels. Since these reward levels were designed to reinforce the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommended activity levels, Ochsner offered participants the opportunity to earn significant discounts off their health insurance premiums once they reached level three—a program milestone indicating they were getting enough activity to meet recommended levels for good health.
Ochsner employed a multi-pronged communications approach to educate employees about the new program and accelerate participation. In addition to visiting the different satellite clinics with an information table situated in high traffic areas, such as foyers and cafeterias, Ochsner also created a section on the organization’s internal website with weekly tips on how to join the program and how to earn HealthMiles (points).
With significant incentives in place and a campaign designed to get as many of its eligible employees as possible to participate in the HealthMiles program, Ochsner’s participation rate skyrocketed to 78 percent of all eligible employees within just three months of the program launch.
We were blown away by the participation. In a few months, we had doubled participation rates from the previous year and today we have nearly 90 percent of our eligible workforce participating in the program. Deployment was easy, maintenance is easy, and we have been able to work with our Virgin HealthMiles team to tailor it to our specific needs. And best of all, our employees are excited about the wellness initiative and their opportunity to earn discounts on health insurance premiums.
Since HealthMiles replaced Ochsner’s previous wellness program, Ochsner also offered an additional cash incentive to encourage employee participation in the new program. If employees enrolled in the HealthMiles program within a three-month period, they could earn a rebate of six dollars per month off their current insurance premium. To help motivate employees to reach level three, the company further encouraged employees to use the HealthMiles program’s online challenges to spark some friendly competition between groups and departments.
It’s extremely rewarding to see so many people improve their health with Virgin HealthMiles. I receive emails every day about how the program has helped employees manage their weight or lower their blood pressure, and I see more and more walking groups during lunch breaks. Many employees have also made new friends in other departments or locations, thanks to the online community features built into the HealthMiles program.
One of the greatest benefits Ochsner has realized from the HealthMiles program is its online delivery, which has enhanced companywide engagement, a once difficult goal to achieve. The program has enabled employees accurately to capture their daily activity and key health measures with activity tracking devices and biometrics measurement stations that provide validated data. Employees also have access to their own online program portal where they view their progress, upload steps captured by their pedometers, and log any other activities they’ve participated in, such as an aerobics class or cycling to work from home.
Employees use any of the 13 HealthZone® measurement stations set up within Ochsner’s satellite clinics and hospitals to take key health measurements regularly and earn HealthMiles for doing so. With the HealthZones, Ochsner’s HR and wellness team found that employees were able to monitor their health in a more validated and measureable way. HealthZones capture key biometric measurements, including weight, blood pressure, and body fat percentage. The measurements employees take on the HealthZones are instantly uploaded to their own online program portal within the Virgin HealthMiles program.
Reporting also became easier and timelier for Ochsner. Virgin HealthMiles’ reporting tools provided Ochsner’s wellness director with more control over managing and understanding the impact of their wellness program and strategy. The tools also enabled Ochsner to create department efficiencies by greatly reducing the number of staff needed to manage Ochsner’s overall wellness strategy.
Additionally, the flexibility of the Virgin HealthMiles platform enabled Ochsner to reward employees for positive achievements that supported healthy behaviors. For example, employees could earn additional HealthMiles for an annual physical, having necessary gender-specific tests such as annual mammograms, and/or for donating blood
Success Through Evolution
Much of the HealthMiles program’s success at Ochsner can be attributed to its evolution. As the needs of Ochsner and its employees changed, so too did the HealthMiles program’s design. After its initial success, the Virgin HealthMiles team worked hand in hand with Ochsner’s HR and wellness leaders to adapt the program to their changing business needs and optimize program design to continue enhancing employee engagement. Together, the team worked to make the program more robust while keeping it simple and easy for employees to understand. What’s more, Ochsner now uses the HealthMiles platform to integrate additional employee health programs and incentives under one umbrella—creating a single, unified experience and incentives platform for employees.
Today, 89 percent of Ochsner’s eligible employees have enrolled in the HealthMiles program. Moreover, in 2012 more than 38 percent of enrolled employees qualified for premium discounts ranging from $500 to $2,000. Ochsner was excited to see that 66 percent of participants are getting enough activity to meet recommended levels for good health. What’s more, of those participants who’ve taken their biometric measurements, 57 percent have improved their blood pressure, 30 percent have improved their body fat percentage, and 24 percent have improved their Body Mass Index (BMI).
The HealthMiles program has become a significant launching pad for enabling the company to track its wellness efforts and more effectively contain healthcare costs year over year, helping the healthcare system achieve its long-term strategic goal.
After the first year, Ochsner witnessed a sharp, $3 million decrease in employee-only medical claims (dependents don’t contribute to this amount). Moreover, while national healthcare costs have increased 9 percent on average during the last 10 years or so, Ochsner’s costs remained flat last year. Over time, Ochsner expects to see even more reductions in healthcare costs, especially around pharmacy costs, as employees become healthier and are able to reduce their reliance on or eliminate certain medications altogether, with their doctor’s approval.
Culturally, the HealthMiles program has provided the foundation for more sweeping changes across Ochsner’s campuses. The organization has taken the next step with respect to encouraging healthy behaviors. Ochsner is now entirely smoke-free, a rule that applies not only to employees but to the health system’s patients and visitors. Employees who do not smoke or who choose to enroll in a smoking cessation program receive rebates on their insurance premiums. The organization has also completely revamped its cafeterias and vending machines to eliminate or minimize unhealthy options—there’s not a deep fried food to be found on its main campus.
Our Virgin HealthMiles program is finally the system-wide wellness program we always wanted, and we are thrilled with the results. We have been able to help our employees stay healthy while putting more money in their pockets and lowering our overall healthcare costs.
Innovation is a key strategy at Ochsner. The HealthMiles program and Ochsner’s creative HR and wellness team are making a difference in the quality of life for employees, which lead to better employee engagement, patient satisfaction and loyalty.
Dorothy Cain is a registered nurse and system coordinator for Ochsner’s employee wellness program.