Employers have three major resources to take a full picture of employees’ risk and population health, says Dr. David Gregg, chief medical officer for StayWell Health Management. These include health claims data, a Health Risk Assessment and biometric screenings, which show lifestyle risk and how that impacts the body. How to best apply these tools to your workplace depends on your company demographics.

For example, Gregg has found that employees at some manufacturing and production companies become more engaged with their health by learning their biometric numbers, rather than filling out HRA forms. This method resonates with them because they can interact with their numbers and even drive awareness with colleagues with some friendly competition.

As an example, here are two employers using biometric screenings to drive the larger message of healthy living home to their employees.

University of Michigan

Biometric screenings are only a single facet of the University of Michigan’s wellness program, yet they use the screenings to promote other wellness initiatives, and vice-versa.

HR managers at the university co-launch the biometric screenings, which are held every other January with their annual Physical Activity tracking program, after the holidays. This exercise initiative usually attracts approximately 11,000 to 12,000 participants and tracks their physical activity, such as running, yoga, and swimming.

“We offer a lot of different events and initiatives throughout the year with different incentives or motivations for participation. So [the biometric screenings] really coincide with that," says Janice Gasaway, who oversees their screenings and incentive program as a wellness program lead at the university.

The school usually gets 18,000 people to participate in the biometric screenings, which are offered to benefits eligible faculty and staff. The first two years have been very well attended, with 45-50% of eligible population turning out.

And since the university screens 250 to 300 people on-site each day over the course of four to six months, the school’s HR department tries to schedule appointments ahead of time. Still, it also takes walk-ins because word of mouth often drives participation, especially from those who have just taken part. Immediately after the screening, each participant has a 10-minute coaching session where they receive instant feedback on their health and risk status.

“It’s hard enough to get people to sign up one time for an appointment; we certainly want to engage them when they’re on-site and make as much use of their time because everyone’s time is limited," explains Gasaway.    

“At the on-site screenings, that’s one of times you have captive audience, in terms of wellness messages. It’s a great opportunity to get the word out about what else is available," says Jodi Annis, manager of screening services for StayWell.

As the tests progress, they have become more accurate and more able to test on the fly, says Joe O’Brien, president and CEO of Interactive Health. Even now, if an individual has a high glucose level, labs can automatically run an A1C test without having to redraw a sample.

That finger-stick test offers a quick, broad-level view into an employee’s health by showing them where they fall within broad parameters (such as blood pressure, triglycerides and cholesterol levels) based on a national average. O’Brien recommends this type of test for employees when a program has just begun to engage them with their health. While this is good for getting a first-time employee more involved in their own health, these tests are not as specific as blood analyzed in a lab.

“It’s a great opportunity for an employee to [interact] with a coach for the first time and be able to ask questions. It’s a point in time conversation,” says O’Brien. And since 63% of the population that does a health evaluation has not seen a doctor in six years (according to Interactive Health research), that teachable moment with a health coach could be life-changing.

At the University of Michigan, the school saw statistically significant improvement in blood pressure and cholesterol among the population. Of the 9,400 people that attended both screenings in 2009 and 2012, 9.4% of employees had high risk cholesterol levels in 2009, which dropped to 4.7% in 2012. And those with high risk blood pressure levels declined from 12.5% to 4.2%.


Elkay Manufacturing Company

This 91-year-old privately owned family business has been offering biometric screenings for 15 years, "before they were in vogue,” says Carol Partington, corporate manager of compensation and benefits at Elkay Manufacturing Company, located in Oak Brook, Ill.

Partington says that biometric screenings fit the culture of wellness and safety at the company, which manufactures stainless steel sinks and water fountains. Elkay employees have stretching and exercise before each shift. With 70% of employees working the manufacturing side, safety and wellness are ingrained in company culture – with 85% of employees active in biometric screenings.

Elkay offers on-site testing and off-campus lab testing for employees, whether they are on the health plan or not and their spouses. The employer makes it easy on employees by offering to fax results to their physicians as well as easy scheduling to get the screening.

Office workers can schedule appointments ahead of time through their work computer, avoiding interrupting production at the manufacturing sites. Those appointments are booked by blocks of time, allowing the workstation to pause so that those interested can participate. As an added incentive, participants who take part receive a 20% price differential on their health plan than those who don't participate.

Elkay also works to generate buzz for the initiative by campaigning in July and August for the screenings. After the on-site screenings are all completed, the company does a separate campaign for testing in a lab during the final three weeks of August. That way, they re-communicate around the screenings so those that missed the on-site opportunities can participate off-site. Also, by then people who participated in the on-site screenings have received their results and are talking up the benefits of the program via word of mouth. 

Elkay’s screenings are strategically hosted in the summertime when people are more active, and thread wellness messaging through November to help employees keep their healthy practices going. By November, the company begins holiday messaging around how to be healthy, and then revolve wellness around keeping New Year’s resolutions.

Participants receive a phone call from Interactive Health when a metric is out of range, or to answer any questions the participant might have. Even if participants have healthy metrics, the company asks the employee about any lifestyle changes the employee might want to make or anything else they think would help them become stronger. The motivation calls “keeps the momentum from the screening and keeps [the participant’s] health in the forefront,” says Partington. Interactive Health representatives can also bring webinars and wellness resources to the participant’s attention during the call.  

“[A biometric screening] is crucial in that it shows an employee how their health is without being symptomatic,” she explains. “Making small changes before you’re symptomatic is far easier than waiting until something bad happens.” 

Partington says not to expect dramatic results immediately; it’s going to take a multi-year implementation to make people comfortable. She cautions that employers could see higher medical claims at the beginning of implementation because people are addressing their health issues, but in future years, those people will have taken control of their lifestyle and their specific health claims specific will lessen. Generally this is a three-year cycle, she says, and points out that new hires will be on their first year of the trend, so be patient.

To read a third example of employers innovating around biometric screenings, learn about the University of Alabama’s success here.

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