In his 20s, Randy Hall, a service engineer with Welch Allyn, a leading manufacturer of frontline medical diagnostic equipment, was a track athlete and looked it. "I was skinny during my teens and 20s - I had a 29-inch waist, was about 140 pounds and I'm six feet tall," he recalls.

However, as the years passed - 10 of them at Welch Allyn, where he works in a largely sedentary position in front of five computer screens - the track star physique faded.

"I became chunky around the middle and grew to 230 pounds," he says. "I wasn't moving much, working a long day then going home and sitting in front of the television." After being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, he realized he had to do something.

Hall's epiphany coincided with Welch Allyn rolling out a revamped wellness program in partnership with Red Brick Health that centered on offering employees incentives for participating in health coaching programs targeting nutrition, weight loss, cholesterol management, diabetes and other conditions - all things Hall struggled with.

"I thought, 'I think this is something I can do,'" he says. "I signed up for their weight management coaching program and the cholesterol management program. I started wearing a pedometer and moving more and it was really working for me."

"Working" is putting it mildly. To date, Hall has lost about pounds 80 pound - now at around 150 pounds, down from his high of 230. He's maintained the loss for two years and has reduced his diabetes medication. And those post-work hours that used to be filled "sitting in front of the television" have been replaced with "going hiking on the weekends and taking dance lessons."

That's some turnaround, so who do Welch Allyn and Red Brick Health have as coaches? Vince Lombardi?

Nope, Hall says. Just caring professionals who refused to let him quit. "My coaches, with emails and phone calls, were really helpful in getting me back on track when I would slip."

The game plan that supports Hall and his fellow program participants is the result of the Welch Allyn-Red Brick partnership that streamlined Welch Allyn's previously disjointed wellness approach, says Jeff Viviano, director of global HR operations and benefits at Welch Allyn.

"We were doing a lot of good things intuitively, but we weren't doing things terribly well in terms of measuring outcomes, measuring participation and consolidating [our efforts] into an overall health management strategy," Viviano says. "Our program was fragmented - we had one partner in data warehousing, another partner using health risk assessments and some passive incentives when it came to the wellness program."

Viviano saw an opportunity to up Welch Allyn's game, so to speak, and tie it all together. "It was important to create that linkage between people changing their behavior and over time being able to modify the cost they pay in [health benefit] premiums," he says. "Red Brick helped us consolidate everything that we had going on, create a strong measurement infrastructure and create more robust incentives."

Those incentives, largely tied to premium reductions for participating in the health coaching programs, have helped Welch Allyn post a more than $1.3 million in net health and productivity savings over two years, with more than 60% of employees actively engaged in health enhancement programs. In addition, Welch Allyn saw reductions in weight and BMI for more than 60% of coaching program participants in 2010, and has experienced a 20% reduction in tobacco use since 2007.

The coaching process "generally starts with a participant taking our health risk assessment and biometric screening and then Red Brick partners with us to create a personalized health map for the participant to plot them out on a wellness journey," Viviano explains. At that point, "the participant can always opt out or self-refer to a different program depending on what their need is." For participants with multiple chronic conditions - someone who is overweight and suffering from hypertension and high cholesterol, for example - the Red Brick coaching staff prioritizes conditions, addressing those that are most critical first. So, although a person could be working with several coaches over the course of his wellness journey, participants generally are enrolled in one coaching program at a time.

 

Star player

Outside of the statistical success the program has provided for Welch Allyn, Hall is proof positive the approach works and has proven to be an inspiration to his family, coworkers and even his physician.

"When I go out to eat with my coworkers, they can't believe it because I eat only half a sandwich, and only want half a sandwich," he says, adding that now instead of cookies and cakes, he satisfies his sweet tooth with frozen grapes. And his doctor - who not long ago ran through a litany of his health risks - now holds him up as a success story.

"Welch Allyn does a health assessment every year in the spring, and since I see my doctor every 6 months to have my diabetes checked, I bring my health assessment card with me," Hall says. "My doctor said, 'This is great. Your company is doing everything I'm supposed to be doing for you.' And now she wants me to speak at seminars to show that change is possible."

While he's not complaining about the premium reductions, the reduction Hall is most happy about is the one to his waistline.

"One bad thing is I had to buy new clothes - but it's a good problem to have," he says.

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