Population Health Management: A New Business Model for a Healthier Workforce

By: Nebeyou Abebe
Feb 24, 2016 9:45 AM ET

Population Health Management: A New Business Model for a Healthier Workforce

This is the first in a continuing blog series based on insights and findings from the Sodexo 2016 Workplace Trends Report. The Report examines nine key trends impacting business outcomes and affecting the quality of life of employees and consumers in the workplace. To learn more, access the full article Population Health Management: A New Business Model for a Healthier Workforce.

How long do you want to live?

If you say, “As long as possible, as long as I’m healthy,” the next question is—what are you doing to stay healthy?

There’s much more to health than how often we catch a cold or gain a pound. Being healthy affects all aspects of our lives—the World Health Organization (WHO) broadly defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

Despite the deluge of advice on all things health-related, the sad fact is that many working-age Americans are in poor health. In addition to the personal toll, this affects productivity, absenteeism and reduces work performance, which affects business and the economy. A recent study shows that for every dollar spent on medical and pharmacy costs, employers incur two to three dollars in health-related productivity losses. Clearly businesses have a direct stake in their employees’ health and well-being.

Fortunately, more and more businesses are doing something about it. In the U.S., 84% of large employers and 50% of small-to-mid size employers offer wellness programs—collectively spending $8 billion annually—providing resources like free and discounted gym memberships, healthy dining options, nutrition and diet counseling, and reimbursements for preventive care through managed healthcare. But the dilemma is only 4-8% of employees actually participate in any type of employer- sponsored wellness program, possibly because of concerns about privacy and an overall lack of time, motivation and money.

At Sodexo, we believe health and well-being programs are a critical component of improved performance for individuals, organizations and the community at large. We’ve taken a systems-based approach to employee health management that leverages community-based public and private organizations, employers, healthcare providers and family/community relationships through the Communities for Health pilot program with the YMCA in Florida. This combination may result in better outcomes than standard workplace wellness initiatives. Research by Dr. Soeren Mattke indicates that people are more successful in achieving their goals and their performance improves when they have a support system of co-workers, family and friends.For positive sustainable change to occur, that paradigm has to evolve. One option that has shown considerable promise is pursuing a holistic community approach. New community approaches improve support for individuals at work and at home, engaging the entire family to develop healthy habits and behavioral changes. The goal is to increase engagement and compliance and develop evidence-based programs for chronic disease prevention and intervention, particularly for moderate and high risk employees. The tipping point appears to be the creation of a support network to sustain these changes for the long term. With nearly 50% of adults having one or more chronic health conditions and healthcare costs projected to reach 34% of GDP by 2040, we can’t afford to promote wellness programs that do not show results.

Implementing population health management strategies allows employers to more efficiently spend their wellness dollars by shifting resources to employees who need it most—a win-win.

Nebeyou Abebe, MA, PMP, is Senior Director of Health & Well-Being for Sodexo North America where he is responsible for developing Sodexo’s enterprise-wide health & well-being strategy, advising clients on their employee (and community) health and well-being goals, creating and empowering an organized community of practice for wellness. His work has been published in national public health and healthcare publications including Modern Healthcare, Diabetes Spectrum, and Employee Business Plan Review.