Senior managers, CFOs, accountants and HR/benefits professionals all want to know that their company wellness programs are making a difference. I can share with you five mistakes to avoid:

1. Launching a program with fuzzy goals - or worse, no goals at all. Like the Cheshire Cat told Alice in Wonderland, it doesn't matter which way you go if you don't know where you are going. Develop and vet concise and concrete wellness goals with all members of your senior team.

2. Setting goals you cannot measure. Wellness vendors will give you numbers for productivity improvements that will be gained when your workforce has better health. One company was told that employees would lose fewer work days due to illnesses, yielding $50,000 in savings from reduced absenteeism. Here's the hitch: the company does not track sick days separate from any other type of day off. Rather, employees use a paid-time-off bank. Thus, the client had no way to verify that absenteeism had declined.

3. Comparing program participants to non-participants. Wellness vendors may show you a report showing that program participants have lower medical costs than those who didn't sign up. Therefore, the program is working. This only shows that motivated, healthier people sign up for wellness programs - something that you knew already.

4. Focusing on the tried-and-true, rather than the real issues. Just because you have employees who smoke doesn't mean you have a lot of health costs related to smoking. If you want your wellness program to actually reduce health costs, you need to look at where your costs are coming from. It's very easy to count how many smokers your group has. It takes some skill to measure how much respiratory-related illness your plan is paying.

5. Assuming that health claims data will be too difficult or too sensitive to handle. Many employers shy away from getting into health claims data, for fear of HIPAA. There are many ways to get the relevant data without getting anywhere near sensitive, confidential information. Analyzing the illness trends can show what impact the wellness program is having, and wasn't that the goal in the first place?

Guest blogger Linda K. Riddell is a principal at Health Economy, LLC. She can be reached at LRiddell@HealthEconomy.net. This commentary first appeared on EBN's blog.

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