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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Study Reveals Surprises in How Healthcare Consumers Respond to Wellness Programs and Incentives, Some of Which Utilize Clinical Laboratory Tests as Benchmarks

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…)

Recent Study Confirms that Clinical Laboratories and Pathologists Have an Opportunity to Help Educate Consumers in Key Health Information, such as Cholesterol, and Blood Glucose Levels

Reviewing medical laboratory test results online is a popular resource among consumers, says a different study by Kaiser Permanente

More than half of patients and consumers have trouble understanding their health information, along with the steps needed to further improve their health, according to a recent study conducted by HealthMine. This gap in consumer understanding represents a great opportunity for clinical laboratories and pathology groups that want to forge stronger bonds with patients and consumers.

In its survey of more than 7,200 healthcare consumers about their health knowledge, HealthMine determined that about 52% of consumers find it difficult to understand their health information and/or what is required of them to maintain or improve their health.

Knowledge of one’s health, or the health of a loved one, is critical to the management of chronic diseases and other health conditions. In this Internet age of patient portals and mobile health devices, the assumption is that most folks would be comfortable using the new technologies. Apparently, this is not the case. At least not among those HealthMine polled. (more…)

More Companies Pay for Employees to Have Genetic Tests in a Trend That Brings More Lab Test Volume to Medical Laboratories

As tests explore genetic markers related to excessive weight gain, and breast and ovarian cancer, companies as well as employees are seeing returns on investment and participation

In a development that is auspicious for medical laboratories, more genetic tests are making their way into more corporate health benefit plans. Big brands—from Aetna to Visa—are partnering with personalized health companies and clinical lab companies doing genetic testing as they support tests to help employees head-off health risks.

Employers’ sponsorship of genetic testing is a trend that could become more common, noted Fortune. But human resources and benefits experts say the offerings are still uncommon. There are also unresolved issues, such as when genetic test results are inconclusive or questionable.

For medical laboratories, the companies’ genetic testing benefits could prompt more test orders from healthcare consumers. Based on the results of their genetic tests, people might decide to make lifestyle changes, work toward prevention of chronic conditions, and take further tests to assess progress. (more…)

Behavioral Economics Likely to Push Up Utilization of Clinical Pathology Laboratory Tests

Wellness Programs Require Appropriate and Timely Use of Medical Laboratory Tests

Pathologists and clinical laboratory managers know that smoking, obesity and unnecessary utilization are major factors in the skyrocketing cost of healthcare. These are primary reasons behind the desired transition from reactive and acute care to a health system organized to deliver proactive care.

Consumer cooperation will be essential for this transition to succeed. Each year, the number of employer-funded or insurer-funded health and wellness programs increases. That trend is consistent with the federal government’s interest in promoting its own health and wellness programs as one way to lower the total cost of healthcare.

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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