Commentary: “Wellness” programs are currently undergoing a major evolution. As government policy continues to shift responsibility for health maintenance from employer to employee, wellness initiatives are turning out to be simply a piece of the bigger puzzle in health care’s key to overall wellness: health management.

The necessity to streamline and integrate the many components of health care has led to new opportunities for wellness initiatives to offer value within the broader umbrella of health management.

From unifying increasingly disparate, unbundled benefits offerings to bringing consumer health technology into the workplace, 2015 will bring the following changes in corporate health and wellness initiatives:

1. Multiple vendor integration. Instead of purchasing a bundled health care package from one provider, employers will increasingly draw on specialized services from various vendors who can offer exceptional services per their specialty. Most large companies now use over five, and in many cases over 10, vendors for health care and benefits services. These services range from biometric screening to telemedicine, transparency, worksite coaching, employee assistance, and even financial wellness tools and support. In 2015, we will see an intensified focus by companies to incorporate services from an assortment of vendors in order to provide better benefits and optimize the value of health care for employees.

2. Unified benefits communications. With separate vendors providing different services — and sending discombobulated messages to employees left and right — HR leaders will look for new, effective ways to minimize confusion and create streamlined communications methods. Employers will invest amplified energy into interconnecting benefits correspondence so that the entire communication experience is smooth and accessible to employees, from open enrollment through December 31, 2015. Unified communications is at the core of a successful health management program.

3. Incentive management trials. Driven by government policy that supports “participatory wellness programs” — programs that provide rewards to employees for simply participating in wellness initiatives, like digital health programs or health screenings, but don’t require the employee to meet specific health standards in the calendar year — HR leaders will experiment with a variety of programs to maximize employee participation incentivize health improvement. To this end, financial incentives will be tested at various levels (within regulated limits) and employers will explore new ways to engage different populations through offering the incentives that best suit their financial preferences — from cash-based rewards per paycheck to end-of-the-year lump sum distributions.

Also see:Industry lauds EEOC court decision, wellness battle continues

4. Focus on population health risk metrics. Employers will leverage new tools and technologies to identify the health risk factors of their workforce population. These same technologies will then, in turn, offer actionable insights about how to engage at-risk populations and optimize benefits utilization. HR leaders will funnel insights gained from such tools into high-value outcomes by drawing upon the most relevant and valuable benefits within the company’s ecosystem of health care programs for each employee.

5. Workplace health programs go mobile. Fitbit, Jawbone, Apple, Android and many others are already making 2015 the year of the digital health tracker. Employers will follow the massive consumer trend and invest in programs that allow employees to tap into benefits of connected devices and mobile health solutions. It has been proven that wearable technology provides substantial benefits for job satisfaction and productivity. Employees who are armed with wearable devices in the workplace increase their productivity by 8.5% and their job satisfaction by 3.5%. Meanwhile, worldwide spending on wearable technology will reach $1.4 billion by 2016. By tapping into the opportunities provided by wearable devices and mobile technology, workplace health programs will provide much more value to both employee and employer.

Also see:The reality behind wearable wellness

Josh Stevens is the CEO of Keas, a wellness program vendor.

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