Business of Well-being

Wellness Coaching Positively Impacts Corporate Culture

Employers know wellness coaching is a leading solution for cost savings and risk reduction. Not only can it affect long-term gains for the employer, but also it can create a resource for employees and spouses to learn strategies for changing lifestyle behaviors-further influencing their personal long-term health and wellbeing. With wellness coaching on the benefit, program employers have an opportunity to touch a large section of the employee population, many times including the spouses.

A corporate sponsored wellness coaching program can create a culture of wellness. It can help individuals lower the risk of developing high dollar diseases. The ultimate goal is to reach "at risk" employees before they become a "claim" to the health plan. The Wellness Coach can take a holistic approach, rather than focusing upon a specific disease or illness.

An employer sponsored telephonic wellness coaching program has the potential to reach an entire employer population more than any other benefit program. Outreach can be a powerful tool in creating a culture of wellness. With information obtained from biometric screenings and health risk assessments, Wellness Coaches can contact participants to engage them in lifestyle coaching, disease management programs and direct them to appropriate medical care. It can also serve as a means of steering patients to worksite clinics.

Most wellness coaching programs are a minimum of one-year contracts. Ideally, a contract will span multiple years so population improvement can be tracked and measured. This continuity of a coaching relationship (ideally with the same Coach year to year) allows Coaches to discuss a health issue when it arises and make appropriate referrals to covered providers, employer sponsored programs, community programs and appropriate educational resources.

Wellness coaching can be provided telephonically, onsite or via the internet. Telephonic coaching tends to be very convenient for most participants after they established a connection and regular coaching appointments are scheduled.

Working with a vendor that can be flexible with appointment times can also attribute to the success of the programs. Many employees do not have the flexibility or privacy to accept calls during business hours. Some prefer to receive a call while they are driving home from work, in the evening, or even on weekends.

Many employers don't put a limit on the number of coaching sessions throughout the year. Whether on-site or telephonic, it is most effective to have the same Wellness Coach working with the participant throughout the program. Establishing trust, a good rapport and consistency can factor into success.

Wellness coaching tends to be a long-term way of monitoring the health of a population. They set goals, track by them and report to the employer, usually on an annual basis. Yearly biometric screenings typically are the tool to measure outcomes.

Corporate wellness programs facilitate confidential partnerships between the employee and the Wellness Coach, with the objective of assisting to achieve personal wellness goals. Coaching toward lifestyle goals generally relate to weight management, sedentary lifestyle, elevated cholesterol, elevated glucose, high blood pressure and stress management.

According to a recent study by WebMD's internal analysis of customer outcomes, "telephonic wellness coaching has consistently shown a strong impact on population health." WebMD found that employers that have implemented telephonic wellness coaching over a one-year period have shown impressive results in the key areas of repeatable outcomes and claims-backed cost savings.

After the coaching program had been in effect for one year, the health plans conducted a claims analysis measuring actual claim cost trends versus expected increases (based upon applicable national claims trends and accounting for the aging population).

The Employer's actual Medical Claims Trend Rate was significantly lower than expected. This drove a decrease in per person per year medical claim costs of $148.00 across all risk groups, which translated into $575,000 in total savings from avoided medical and pharmaceutical claims expenditures.

The conclusion by WebMD's study is "with proven risk reduction and cost savings, wellness coaching has emerged as one of the leading wellness solutions available today. Wellness coaching offers a true population management solution that engages a broad number of employees, motivates them to make long-term behavioral changes, and contributes to a stronger employer-employee partnership."

With frequent sessions, the Wellness Coach can set goals and address barriers to change. Participants can get the accountability and support necessary to sustain changes. It is important that changes are sustainable. Many individuals struggle with maintaining instantaneous weight loss or maintaining an exercise program.

Wellness is contagious. Employees talk to one another and share their successes. This momentum and "peer pressure" is one of the most powerful tools in creating a culture of wellness.

Corporate wellness programs nurture wellness in the workplace. Individuals work with a Wellness Coach because they are ready to make some type of change in their life. They envision a life with easily managed stress, where they are in control of their weight and fitness becomes a regular activity.

The wellness coaching relationship empowers individuals to create permanent changes that possibly were difficult to do on their own.

Compliant and "engaged" employees can change behaviors and learn to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Employees that can manage their medical conditions and know when to seek medical treatment can potentially drive down medical claim costs for the employer.

This can lower claims experience and translate into minimal or no premium rate increases in future years. The greatest impact is creating that "culture of wellness" in the workplace.

About the Author

Karen L. Andalman C.W.C. is the President and Founder of WellChoice, Inc., established in 1992, a leader in Corporate Wellness Coaching, Risk Management and Wellness Incentive Programs, Biometric Screening Events, Tobacco Cessation Programs, Disease Management, On-Site/Near-Site Clinic Wellness Programs, Case Management  and Utilization Management  Programs.

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