Dr. Wolfgang Seidl, a Mercer partner, leads the company’s Health Management consulting business for EMEA, advising employers on general health care issues, integrated models of care, and absence management. Dr. Seidl says that organizations around the globe are combatting a common problem: If employees aren’t healthy, they’re less productive — resulting in higher health care costs and lower profits and productivity. Mercer/View talked with Dr. Seidl about the importance of transforming health and well-being management into a rigorous data-driven strategy. He also addressed how health management dashboards can support that goal.
WOLFGANG SEIDL: A health management dashboard is an analytical tool that provides a quick and in-depth overview of an employee population’s health status. It aids in determining costs associated with health and, concurrently, provides evidence of the return on investment related to employee health initiatives. Many organizations have disparate health data confined to silos within the organization that are not cross-referenced. The dashboard consolidates this information and, in doing so, becomes the foundation of a data-driven health management strategy.
The dashboard also serves as a tracking device to improve employee health and organizational profitability. It provides good insight into what’s going on healthwise in an organization by identifying employees’ top health issues and breaking them down by demographics, function, and location. It also points out where the organization is spending its health management budget. Strategies built on insights provided by a dashboard — such as the one Mercer has developed — reflect a realistic assessment of health and productivity in an organization.
W.S.: The information that a dashboard consolidates is derived from a variety of important sources. We look at sickness absence, health insurance claims, long-term disability incidences, occupational health data, and responses from organizational health risk assessments. Insurance data, claims data, and absence information for unhealthy employees, however, usually capture only a small percentage of an organization’s employee population. Information retrieved from health risk assessments is invaluable, as it provides good insight into what’s going on with employees who are seemingly healthy today but could become claimants tomorrow. Data collected from employee assistance programs and employee engagement surveys are also very useful.
W.S.: Some organizations choose to handle this internally. If they have the resources and time, they name someone, usually in HR, to be responsible for compiling data from within and outside of the organization. Then, they analyze the data and determine practical pathways to a healthier, more productive workforce. It’s a daunting task. That’s why many organizations choose to get help from outside partners, like Mercer. Actually, we developed an automated dashboard tool that takes the stress out of data collection and the ensuing number-crunching process. The dashboard, which can be adapted to local markets, starts by listing the top health challenges and then references data sources to create a clear picture of employee health. Afterwards, an analysis component kicks in. At this point, current health status is defined and proactive and reactive courses of action are recommended. The dashboard greatly simplifies the process for organizations.
W.S.: Once the data analytics program is in place, the organization is in a much stronger position to propose ways of reducing claims costs, absenteeism, and presenteeism, which is the practice of coming to work ill, causing reduced productivity. As a result of the analytics findings, both productivity and profitability can be increased. Organizations are better equipped to create “health pathways” that support disease management programs [and] preventive interventions, and then link them to a triage entity that ensures early diagnosis. By running the dashboard at regular intervals, it determines the effectiveness of an organization’s health initiatives. This is particularly important when analyzing information about seemingly healthy employees. After implementing health behavior change programs, the dashboard will be able to determine if the cumulative total of health risk factors, like high blood pressure and smoking, is declining. If so, the intervention programs are working.
One organization I worked with was spending nearly $100 million on reactive health care for employees already claiming health insurance or long-term disability or being absent. They invested hardly anything — only $1 million — on preventive care, even though the seemingly healthy employees accounted for 95% of the population. By using our dashboard and analytics, the organization was better able to develop strategies that improve the general employee population’s state of health, increasing productivity and profitability for the organization.
W.S.: Some of the challenges revolve around physically accessing data from carriers. Once you have the data, the next hurdle is making the business case for targeted health pathways. Dashboards are crucial in empowering HR representatives by providing hard data that help justify health management budgets. An entirely different set of challenges focuses on the behavior change piece. There’s a direct correlation between risk factors and productivity. It’s not just absentees who affect the productivity and profitability of a company, but also those who have increasing numbers of risk factors, like high cholesterol and obesity. Dashboards help identify those risk factors. Successful behavior change programs help reduce them.
W.S.: Organizations have to determine outcome measurements at the start of the project, otherwise they’re crafting measurements on a project that has already run its course. We advise employers to measure employee engagement and productivity, sickness absence, presenteeism, turnover, and litigation and compliance costs. You can also translate every health risk factor into money. So, there’s a direct relationship between productivity and a decreasing number of health risk factors. In addition, if you have no knowledge about your employees’ health, you can’t manage your people risk. People who are troubled by the symptoms of untreated chronic conditions may be fatigued and unable to respond to organizational engagement initiatives, which in turn means that they will be less productive and can’t enjoy life inside and outside work as much as they would like.
Read Dr. Wolfgang Seidl’s recent article on effective, data-driven corporate health management strategies in the June 2014 issue of Benefits & Compensation International.
|Dr. Wolfgang Seidl (London)
Mercer Partner, Health Management Consulting for EMEA
+44 20 7178 5592