A Systems-Based Approach to Improving Our Nation’s Health and Controlling Rising Healthcare Costs

Apr 1, 2015 11:00 AM ET

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A systems-based approach to improving health considers all factors involved in caring for patients and the many factors that influence one’s quality of life. The integration of people, processes, policies, and organizations is critical to promoting better health at lower cost. For example, we can close the clinic-to-community gap by using an integrated systems approach that connects employers, healthcare providers, community-based organizations and family/community relationships.

Unfortunately, the prevalence of chronic disease continues to have staggering consequences across the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that as of 2012, about half of all adults (or 117 million people) have one or more chronic health conditions. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation noted that 48% of all healthcare spending was for the 50% of the population who have one or more chronic medical conditions. Similarly, the American Heart Association estimates the total cost of diagnosed diabetes in 2012 was $245 billion, including $176 billion in direct medical costs and $69 billion in decreased productivity.

Employers have worked to improve employee health by providing resources—from free and discounted gym memberships and fitness programs, healthy options in employer-provided cafeterias, reimbursements for preventive care and even nutrition and diet counseling. Employers encourage physical activity with treadmill and standing desks and flexibility for exercising. But despite these efforts, low engagement has yielded minimal tangible returns for most employers.

As a result, organizations are now seeking approaches that reach into the community, improve support for individuals both at their worksite and at home, engage the entire family to support healthy habits and behavioral changes, and ultimately increase engagement and compliance rates in evidence-based programs for chronic disease prevention and intervention, particularly for moderate and high risk employees.

At Sodexo, we are taking a systems-based approach to employee health management that leverages community-based organizations (including both the public and private sector), employers, healthcare providers and family/community relationships to improve engagement in and compliance with evidence-based prevention and chronic disease management programs. Our approach addresses the challenges facing employers, providers, insurers and individuals, and leverages the collective assets of these sectors to drive employee and family engagement. Using the power of peer-to-peer engagement, the strength of evidence-based programs, the impact of behavioral modification in lifestyle management, and the influence of friends, family and other community-based support, we are tackling the barriers that plague most wellness programs.

Dr. Soeren Mattke from RAND Health evaluated many workplace wellness programs and concluded that taking a systems-based approach that applies population health management principles to improving employee health can yield stronger returns, specifically around improved performance. In fact, implementing population health management strategies allows employers to more efficiently spend their wellness dollars by shifting resources to employees with a greater need for intervention. For example, helping to manage chronic illnesses in employees saved almost $4 in healthcare costs for each $1 invested.

To improve employee health and reduce the total cost of care, it’s time for forward-thinking organizations to take a systems-based approach to improving employee health and well-being.



Nebeyou Abebe is Senior Director, Health & Well-being in Sodexo North America’s Office of Sustainability & Corporate Social Responsibility. He recently presented at the 12th Annual World Health Care Congress in Washington, D.C.