Mobile, wearable, mHealth monitoring devices are a key element of many employer fitness programs and clinical laboratories can play an important role in their success
For years Dark Daily has encouraged clinical laboratories to get involved in corporate wellness programs as a way to support their local communities and increase revenues. Now, leveraging the popularity of mobile health (mHealth) wearable devices, UnitedHealthcare (UHC) has found a new way to incentivize employees participating in the insurer’s Motion walking program. UHC is offering free Apple Watches to employees willing to meet or exceed certain fitness goals.
This is the latest wrinkle in a well-established trend of incentivizing
beneficiaries to meet healthcare goals, such as stopping smoking, losing
weight, reducing cholesterol, and lowering blood pressure.
It’s an intriguing gamble by UHC and presents another opportunity for medical laboratories that are equipped to monitor and validate participants’ progress and physical conditions.
How to Get a Free Apple
Watch and FIT at the Same Time
CNBC reported that UHC’s Motion program participants number in the hundreds of thousands. And, according to a UHC news release, they can earn cash rewards up to $1,000 per year. The idea is that participants pay off the cost of their “free” Apple Watch one day at a time by achieving activity goals set in UHC’s FIT tracking method. Those goals include:
500 steps in seven minutes; six times a day, at least one hour apart;
3,000 steps in 30 minutes; and,
10,000 steps in one day.
Though hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries are eligible to participate in UHC’s Motion program through their employers, only 45% of those eligible have enrolled in Motion, Fox Business reported.
UHC hopes the offer of a free Apple Watch (which has
applications to track minutes of exercise, a heart rate monitor, and more) will
encourage people to sign up and then progress toward the Motion program’s FIT
As people meet these goals, they earn $4/day toward the cost
of the Apple Watch. Participants, who do not take enough steps in a six-month period
could be required to repay a percentage of the cost of the smartwatch.
Motion participants who already own an Apple Watch can still
earn up to $1,000 per year in cash rewards for achieving the FIT goals.
Impact of mHealth
Programs/Technology Not Clear
Chronic diseases, including diabetes and heart disease, annually cost the US healthcare system $190 billion and employers $126 billion in lost productivity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
However, some researchers say it’s too early for mHealth
wearables, medication apps, physician virtual engagement, and other digital tools
(many launched within the past five to seven years) to effect key indicators,
such as obesity, life expectancy, and smoking cessation.
“Some of the benefits of these new tools won’t be realized for a long time. It’s really hard to tease out the impact of digital health. Maybe we’re helping people, but we’re not detecting it,” James Murphy, MD, Associate Professor, University of California San Diego Health and radiation oncologist, told CNBC.
Nevertheless, it behooves medical laboratories to develop
procedures for analyzing and reporting data that could impact people who use
wearable mHealth devices to participate in employer wellness programs.
For example, labs could contact insurance companies with
information about biomarkers that provide views into an individual’s progress
toward personal health goals.
Data-driven recommendations from medical laboratories about
tests for chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes will likely be
welcomed by payers.
80% of US employers are using financial incentives in wellness programs, and Penn Medicine research suggests better incentive design is needed to get people to exercise
In recent years, there’s been plenty of headlines about wellness programs offered by employers and health insurers. Data show that such programs are cost-effective. But, until now, there were few studies about employees’ attitudes toward wellness programs. Because some of these wellness programs incorporate clinical laboratory testing, medical labs have a stake in their future.
The fact is that companies want healthier employees and they’re willing to pay for it. Experts say about 80% of US employers use financial incentives in worker wellness programs. And for each dollar a company spends on a wellness program, it saves about $3 in medical costs, according to an article the journal Health Affairs. (more…)
Elements of Obamacare specifically support employer programs designed to improve the health of employees
Who would have believed that, after passage of the Affordable Care Act back in 2010, a fast-growing trend would be that of employers spending more money to develop employee wellness programs and offer medical clinics within corporate facilities? At a minimum, this development creates new opportunities for clinical laboratories to be direct providers of medical laboratory testing services to corporations.
Employee Wellness Programs Incorporate Medical Laboratory Testing
There is a simple reason why employers are jumping on the employee wellness bandwagon. Evidence demonstrates that incentivizing employees to live a healthier lifestyle can help reduce the cost of providing health insurance. It can also contribute to less absenteeism and increased employee productivity, both of which are important benefits to employers.
New data affirming this trend can be found in the 2013 Health Care Survey conducted annually by AON. AON is a global re-insurer that provides risk management services, insurance, and human resources solutions. About half of all U.S. employers now offer employee wellness programs, according to a recent study by Rand Corp., an independent think tank based in Santa Monica, California.
These auspicious findings may encourage a steep increase in the number and type of disease-prevention programs. In turn, greater deployment of such programs could further accelerate healthcare’s shift away from a reactive treatment of disease model to a proactive disease prevention model of care.
Such developments would be favorable for medical laboratories and pathology groups. As physicians pay more attention to diagnosing disease at earlier stages, they will want to tap the expertise of pathologists, Ph.D.s, and laboratory scientists. (more…)
Clinical laboratory leaders may be aware that many hospitals still do not have capabilities to make a timely diagnosis of sepsis
Despite the fact that “one in three people who dies in a hospital had sepsis during that hospitalization,” recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that many hospitals in the US lack the resources to identify sepsis and begin treatment as soon as possible, CNN reported.
According to the CDC, 1.7 million Americans develop sepsis annually. And of that group, at least 350,000 adults die in hospitals or hospice care centers. Clinical laboratories tasked with performing the plethora of tests needed to diagnose sepsis will agree that it is one of the gravest healthcare dangers patients face.
To address this potentially deadly threat, the CDC developed the “Hospital Sepsis Program Core Elements: 2023” to support the implementation of sepsis protocols at all hospitals, to optimize any existing sepsis programs, and to organize staff and identify resources to lower sepsis rates and raise survivability.
“Modeled after CDC’s Core Elements of Antibiotic Stewardship, which has proven to be an impactful resource to protect patients from the harms caused by unnecessary antibiotic use and to combat antimicrobial resistance, the Sepsis Core Elements were created with the expectation that all hospitals, regardless of size and location, would benefit from this resource,” a CDC press release noted.
“CDC’s Hospital Sepsis Program Core Elements are a guide for structuring sepsis programs that put your healthcare providers in the best position to rapidly identify and provide effective care for all types of patients with sepsis,” said Raymund Dantes, MD (above), Medical Advisor, National Healthcare Safety Network, CDC, and Associate Professor, Emory University School of Medicine, in a CDC press release. Hospital medical laboratories will play a key role in the success of the CDC’s sepsis program. (Photo copyright: Emory School of Medicine.)
Seven Elements to Improve Sepsis Diagnosis
Sepsis can occur when chemicals released into the bloodstream to fight off an infection produce massive inflammation throughout the body. This potentially fatal reaction can cause a deluge of changes within the body that damage multiple organs, leading them to fail.
The CDC designed its hospital sepsis program to improve and monitor the management and outcomes of patients with sepsis. The core elements of the program include seven main points:
Hospital Leadership Commitment: Management must dedicate the necessary staff, financial, and information technology resources.
Accountability: Appoint a team responsible for program goals and outcomes.
Multi-professional Expertise: Make sure key personnel throughout the healthcare system are engaged in the program.
Action: Implement structures and processes to improve the identification of the illness and patient outcomes.
Tracking: Develop initiatives to measure sepsis epidemiology, management, overall outcomes, and progress towards established goals.
Reporting: Provide information on sepsis management and outcomes to relevant partners.
Education: Provide healthcare professionals, patients, and family/caregivers with information on sepsis.
“Sepsis is taking too many lives. One in three people who dies in a hospital has sepsis during that hospitalization. Rapid diagnosis and immediate appropriate treatment, including antibiotics, are essential to saving lives, yet the challenges of awareness about and recognition of sepsis are enormous,” said CDC Director Mandy Cohen, MD, in the CDC press release. “That’s why CDC is calling on all US hospitals to have a sepsis program and raise the bar on sepsis care by incorporating these seven core elements.”
Early Diagnosis Presents Challenges
Sepsis care is complex. The condition requires urgent medical intervention to prevent organ damage and death. But the symptoms, which include fever or low temperature, shivering, confusion, breathing difficulties, extreme body pain or discomfort, high heart rate, weak pulse or low blood pressure, and low urine output, can be general and indicative of other illnesses.
The diagnosis of sepsis usually requires the collection of a blood culture specimen that is then incubated until there is enough bacterial growth to identify the specific strains of bacteria in a particular patient. This process can take several days, which can delay the administering of the most effective treatment for the condition. Treatment usually includes antibiotics and intravenous fluids.
A recent CDC survey of 5,221 US hospitals showed that in 2022, only 73% of hospitals reported having a sepsis program, ranging from 53% among hospitals with less than 25 beds to 95% among hospitals with over 500 beds.
That survey, released in the CDC’s August Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), also discovered that only 55% of all hospitals had personnel with dedicated time to manage and conduct necessary daily activities for a sepsis program.
“For those hospitals that already have sepsis programs underway and have available resources, we have a lot more details and best practices that we’ve collected from hospitals about how to better improve your sepsis programs,” he said. “The seven elements complement clinical guidelines by describing the leadership, expertise, tracking, education, and other elements that can be implemented in a wide variety of hospitals to improve the quality of sepsis care.”
Hospital Laboratories Play a Key Role in Reducing Sepsis
According to the CDC, anyone can get an infection and almost any infection can lead to sepsis. However, some populations are more vulnerable to sepsis than others. They include:
Pregnant or recently pregnant women
Patients in Intensive Care Units
People with weakened immune systems
People with chronic medical conditions
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there were 48.9 million sepsis cases and 11 million sepsis-related deaths worldwide in 2017. This number accounted for almost 20% of all global deaths. Almost half of all the global sepsis cases occurred in children, resulting in 2.9 million deaths in children under the age of five.
“Sepsis is complex, often difficult to identify, and takes a tremendous societal toll in the United States,” said Steven Simpson, MD, Professor of Medicine at the University of Kansas and Chair, Board of Directors, Sepsis Alliance, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness and reducing suffering from sepsis, in a press release. “To tackle the number one killer in American hospitals, we need a comprehensive National Action Plan to find cures, get them in the hands of professionals, and educate the public and professionals alike.”
Hospital medical laboratories can help reduce sepsis by finding ways to support their physicians’ diagnoses of this infection that has taken so many lives.