News, Analysis, Trends, Management Innovations for
Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

Hosted by Robert Michel

News, Analysis, Trends, Management Innovations for
Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

Hosted by Robert Michel
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Employers and Health Insurers Jump on Wellness Bandwagon

Employers increasingly see wellness programs as effective ways to reduce the money they spend on health benefits. Health insurers are responding to these employer needs by launching wellness programs aimed at better prevention and disease management.

Such wellness programs often have two dimensions. First, most wellness programs encourage beneficiaries to utilize healthcare in a proactive mode. Beneficiaries are encouraged to receive regular medical check ups, along with preventive tests or screenings consistent with “best practice” protocols by age, gender and health status. This creates an opportunity for medical laboratories to develop services that can add value to the wellness programs offered by employers and health insurers. The second dimension involves efforts to improve lifestyles. Smoking cessation support, encouraging more exercise, and helping people lose weight are examples.

Over at Wellpoint, the nation’s largest health insurer, its regional subsidiary plans rolled out a wellness program called “360o Health.” This program bundles health and wellness programs together for employers. It includes Web-based health support and nurse counseling via phone. Online tools remind members when they’re due for routine tests and checkups or provide tips, such as recommendations on how to obtain less expensive medication options.

Wellpoint, which has 34 million members nationwide, also launched an assessment tool to gauge the program’s success. Its Member Health Index measures success of the WellPoint program in 20 clinical areas, including prevention, screening, care management and patient safety.

WellPoint, which tied its employee bonus structure to patient participation, reports it quickly realized a two-for-one return on its investment in the program, including a 10% reduction in hospital stays, according to a report by Modern Healthcare.

A recent survey of 350 employers by PriceWaterhouseCoopers indicated that just 15% of employees currently participate in wellness programs. Employers surveyed were most interested in programs that help employees lose weight, eat healthy, and reduce stress. They say their employees would be more likely to participate if offered incentives like premium reductions or gift cards.

Over at UnitedHealth Group, its OptumHealth subsidiary launched a project that compiles and analyses medical, pharmacy, behavioral health and laboratory data from claims, employer data and other sources. The goal is to use this information to identify the wellness needs of individual members based on health status. The company says its E-Synch Platform allows staff to take a personal approach to wellness, tailoring services to meet individual needs, and health goals.

Clinical lab managers and pathologists should recognize the market shift taking place as more employers and health plans jump on the wellness trend. This is a definite shift in clinical priorities and will require a different type of service support and test menu for laboratories and pathology groups. Patients in wellness programs need appropriate laboratory tests for screening different diseases and for predicting the patient’s likelihood to develop a chronic disease. This is a different emphasis for lab testing than, say, the 1980s, when most patients went to the doctor only after they felt sick.

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Oprah Endorses Laboratory Tests as Life Savers for 2009

Several key laboratory tests have a prominent place on Oprah Winfrey’s “Ultimate Checklist” for a healthy life. Oprah, long a champion of personal accountability for one’s own health, kicked off the New Year with a focus on health improvement through self-help activities. It is another example of how consumers are being educated about the importance of using laboratory tests as guideposts to improve their health.

With a theme of “Best Life Week”, Oprah featured her medical expert Dr. Oz and his advice on how people can get healthy and peel years off their bodies. Laboratory tests play a prominent role in Dr. Oz’s “Ten Step Ultimate Health Checklist. Under step five, “Know Your Numbers”, Oprah urged her listeners to pay attention to five laboratory tests:

  • Cholesterol, with LDL less than 100 and HDL greater than 40
  • Blood sugar
  • Vitamin D
  • C-Reactive Protein
  • Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH)

Also included in the “Know Your Numbers” step were recommendations to check waist size and monitor both blood pressure and heart rate.

Other recommendations in the “Ultimate Health Checklist” were to get a medical check-up; recruiting a health advocate; securing a copy of personal medical records; and getting diagnostic and preventive medical tests and screenings on time.

Oprah’s promotion of Dr. Oz and his recommendations for better improving personal health makes for good ratings. Lab administrators and pathologists should take that as a sign that consumers are interested in healthcare. Another sign of how important television has become as a source of health information is the selection of CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent, Sanjay Gupta, M.D. to be Surgeon General in the new administration. Expanding media coverage of health and wellness topics plays to the strength of medical laboratories. Media coverage of health issues creates an opportunity for laboratories piggyback on this interest and market directly to consumers. – P. Kirk

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