Can a $400 billion shift herald consumer wellness?

August 1, 2006

The issues have been framed brilliantly, debated enthusiastically and examined closely. While it might not resemble the California Gold Rush, employers that implement wellness programs can still find significant rewards.

The issues have been framed brilliantly, debated enthusiastically and examined closely. While it might not resemble the California Gold Rush, employers that implement wellness programs can still find significant rewards.

Teaching consumers to be health savvy promises great rewards. The American Diabetes Assn. estimates that in 2002, the direct cost of diabetes was $92 billion-11% of the U.S. healthcare expenditure. Considering how important productivity is, healthy employees are-literally-a treasure.

When we think of wellness, we often consider good nutrition, exercise programs, smoking cessation, preventive care, lowering cholesterol and managing blood pressure. Members are looking for educational tools and positive reinforcement techniques that encourage prevention, fitness and wellness. The question we must ask is simple: How do we engage them?

What if a health plan could track real data related to BMI, blood pressure, glucose levels and exercise? Would consumers act if rewards were offered based on a behavioral change? The good news is that devices are now available in the market to track this information. Many of the "off-the-shelf" devices have USB ports to allow upload of the data into a Web interface.

EAT LESS TO AVOID ALZHEIMER'S

Preventing obesity has its own benefits, but there is more to the story. The New York Post reports that eating less also may help prevent Alzheimer's disease.

Similarly, a study completed by the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse showed that diet and exercise sharply reduce the chances that a person with impaired glucose tolerance would develop diabetes.

Leaders in the new healthcare marketplace will move beyond the boundaries of the traditional physician's office-even beyond modern, innovative retail clinics. Savvy employers will lead through well-designed prevention, fitness and wellness programs. Many of the tools they'll need are being developed now:

These tools should be augmented by effective communication, leadership and management toward better outcomes.

Kathy McAleer, a veteran in the rapidly growing field of consumer-directed healthcare, is vice president of operations for QCSI's MyHealthBank product line.