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Do Workplace Wellness Programs Really Reduce Health Costs?

Do they really live up to the hype?
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Countless employers – an estimated 80% of large US employers – offer wellness programs for their employees. In fact, wellness programs are often touted as key employee benefits. The goals are simple: make employees healthier and health care costs will be reduced.

But new research questions if wellness programs actually do reduce health care costs. Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on April 19 was jointly conducted by Harvard and the University of Chicago.

The researchers randomly offered different wellness programs at various work sites and then tracked the results. Specifically, they offered new wellness programs at randomly selected locations of BJ’s Wholesale Clubs. Those results were compared to existing programs at other locations to identify any changes in individual behavior as well as any changes in the corporate culture.

The results showed some demonstrated behavior changes but little effect on other outcomes.

Behavior Changes Recorded at Sites Offering Wellness Programs:

  • 8.3% higher rate of employees self-reporting engaging in regular exercise
  • 13.6% higher rate of employees self-reporting managing their weight

Outcomes Showing No Significant Impacts Included:

  • Self-reported quality of sleep
  • Job performance and absenteeism
  • 10 specific clinical health markers

Researchers noted that the field of studying wellness programs is still relatively new. Others have commented that 18 months might not be enough time to effectively measure the success/impact of wellness programs. Might it not take decades?

One of the coauthors of the study, Zirui Song, an assistant professor of health care policy and medicine at Harvard Medical School’s Blavatnik Institute, stated her summary.

“As we grow to understand how best to encourage healthy behavior, it may be that workplace wellness programs will play an important role in improving health and lowering the cost of health care,” Song said. “For now, however, we should remain cautious about our expectations from such interventions. Rigorous research to measure the effects of such programs can help make sure we’re spending society’s health and wellness dollars in the most effective way.”

One missing variable is the role that education plays. Would behavior change absent of an increase in health literacy even be sustainable? Conversely, if employees better understand their personal health – how to properly use an asthma inhaler, for example – would behavior change persist longer?

We’ll be fielding these questions to several health literacy experts so check back for their responses.

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Jerry Gulley currently serves as EdLogics’ Chief Content Officer. He trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York and has held positions with Cooking Light, Health, and AllRecipes. 

Program Spotlight: Local Pain Medication Education Expands in Wisconsin

Wisconsin Health Literacy Offers Opioid Education Materials And Workshops
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The opioid crisis continues to be a national issue that is mostly fought at a local level. Education, prevention and treatment typically fall to the responsibility of schools, hospitals, municipalities and non-profit groups. Prescription pain medicines are highly addictive and the epidemic is affecting people in every slice of society – from teens to suburban housewives.

To help combat the crisis in the state of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Health Literacy developed “Let’s Talk About Pain Medicines”. This one-hour workshop (and accompanying materials) helps inform people how to safely use prescription pain medications and how to spot addiction.

The program was developed at an average literacy level and the materials are available in both English and Spanish.

By partnering with community groups Wisconsin Health Literacy is expanding its reach and making the program available on a state-wide basis. The education covers various pain medication topics and questions such as where and how to safely store the medications, how to safely dispose of unused medications and how to best discuss sensitive pain medication questions with your doctor.

The materials also cover basic medication label literacy – what do the precautions mean and how to understand dosage information.

The easy-to-follow materials allow for the program to be replicated and distributed quickly and efficiently. To date, the in-person program has been delivered to Wisconsin residents dozens of times.

If you are interested in learning more about this project, please contact Wisconsin Health Literacy at healthliteracy@wisconsinliteracy.org. Downloadable materials can be found here.

 

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Jerry Gulley currently serves as EdLogics’ Chief Content Officer. He trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York and has held positions with Cooking Light, Health, and AllRecipes. 

AJPM Article of the Year, by One of Our Own

The American Journal of Preventive Medicine honors EdLogics advisor Dr. Brian Primack for his article on social media & loneliness.
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We’re proud. But we’re not surprised.

A study by the University of Pittsburgh’s Brian Primack, MD, PhD — an EdLogics advisor — has been named Article of the Year by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (AJPM). The study, “Social Media Use and Perceived Social Isolation Among Young Adults in the US,” examines whether time on social media actually helps — or hurts — our personal connections.

From the journal: “The Article of the Year is selected by the AJPM editors and one representative from each of the journal’s two sponsoring professional societies, the American College of Preventive Medicine and the Association for Prevention Teaching and Research.” The honor was announced late last year.

Remember Dr. Primack?

Brian Primack, MD, PhDYou might recall our recent webinar, “Improving Health Literacy: What Works & Why,” featuring Dr. Primack and EdLogics advisor and health literacy expert Dr. Russell Rothman, MD, MPP, of Vanderbilt University. Dr. Primack made some illuminating, thought-provoking points on the effectiveness of gamification and game-based learning for improving health literacy.

In addition to being an EdLogics advisor, Dr. Primack is the director of Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health at the University of Pittsburgh. For this study, he and his colleagues surveyed 1,787 adults in the US ages 19–32, asking about their social media habits across 11 different social networks. They also asked about loneliness and isolation, gauging the correlation between social media use and feeling left out.

What they found surprised them.

Social media, social isolation

You’d think that social media connects us. That’s the point, isn’t it?

But the more people use social media, the more lonely they say they feel. In fact, those who used it more than 2 hours a day were twice as likely to report feeling socially isolated, compared to those who spent a half-hour a day or less.

“The people in the highest quartile of social media use [more than 58 visits a week] … had about 3 times the likelihood of having perceived social isolation,” Primack says. “Social media does not translate directly to better social connectedness.”

He goes on:

“It may be that people who are already socially isolated are turning to social media to try to fill that void. However, if that is the case, the results of this study would suggest that that self-medication is not working so well.

“On the other hand, it may be that people who use more social media are being exposed to highly curated messages suggesting that ‘everyone else has more connections, a better life than I do.’ And in comparison, people can feel sad or they can feel socially isolated. … It may be a combination of the two.”

 

American Journal of Preventive Medicine 2017 Article of the Year


Brian A. Primack, MD, PhD, from the University of Pittsburgh discusses “Social Media Use and Perceived Social Isolation Among Young Adults in the U.S.” This article was chosen by the editors of AJPM as the top article published in the journal in 2017.

But social media isn’t all that bad — necessarily.

It can depend on how you use social media. Primack is already making plans for future studies that get into more nuanced detail. That way, we can see what types of social media use correlate to feeling more — or less — lonely. We can see which social media behaviors correlate to which feelings.

Until then, Primack says, everyone can judge for themselves how social media affects them:

“Is their social media use making their lives better, is it inadvertently detracting from them?”

Further reading

The study: Social Media Use and Perceived Social Isolation Among Young Adults in the US

NPR: Feeling Lonely? Too Much Time On Social Media May Be Why

Today: Feeling lonely? How to stop social media from making you feel isolated

CBS (video): Study: More Social Media Use Tied To Increasing Feelings Of Isolation

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Higher Health Literacy Leads to Healthier Cities

EdLogics and Global Action Platform Partner to Pilot "Empower Community Health"
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EdLogics and Global Action Platform recently hosted a conference focused on the economic benefits of improving health literacy in communities. The event, held November 5 in Norfolk, Virginia, highlighted the specific needs and benefits to the Hampton Roads and Nashville areas.

EdLogicsFounder and CEO Thomas M. Chamberlain, PharmD, opened the event by sharing the economic impact of low health literacy. “Low health literacy is a multibillion-dollar problem,” he said. “Patients with low health literacy are more likely to visit an emergency room, less likely to follow a doctor’s instructions, and have higher mortality rates.”

Low Health Literacy By The Numbers:

  • Patients forget up to 80% of what their doctor told them before they reach the parking lot.
  • Close to 40% of Americans suffer from one or more chronic conditions, accounting for over 85% of the total US health costs.
  • Over 90 million Americans are at risk for preventable health issues because they have difficulty understanding health information.
  • On average, healthcare costs for a low literacy patient are $8,000 higher per year.
  • One in three Americans can’t follow the instructions on a drug label.

To address this crisis, Global Action Platform and EdLogics are creating Empower Community Health, an initiative utilizing technology to improve health literacy. This platform, through which communities can connect health and prosperity, will in turn create a competitive economic advantage for their regions in the ongoing competition for investments, talent and markets.

The goal is simple: To increase both the health and prosperity of communities.

The EdLogics Platform will serve as the technological backbone of Empower Community Health. The Platform features:

  • Game-based learning
  • Rewards for progress
  • Rich, user-friendly content covering a broad range of health topics, from chronic conditions to preventive health to navigating the healthcare system

“The Platform is proven, easy-to-use, and can be accessed on desktop and mobile devices, making it readily accessible to anyone with access to the internet,” added presenter James Spore, President and CEO of Reinvent Hampton Roads.

Through Empower Community Health, the EdLogics Platform will be available to the citizens of Hampton Roads and Nashville, including underserved populations, the public school system,  and university students. EdLogics and Global Action Platform will work with schools, libraries, community health clinics, churches, YMCAs and other civic organizations to provide access.

The comprehensive community implementation has many innovative and important features, including:

  • Advanced data analytics
  • Multi-sector/community implementation
  • National expert review

At the community level, Global Action Platform will provide regional program managers to work with sponsors, community organizations, and other stakeholders to leverage local resources, networks, and existing programs to drive awareness. Local universities will serve as strategic outreach partners and provide academic research expertise.

Check back for more details and launch dates.

 

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Jerry Gulley currently serves as EdLogics’ Chief Content Officer. He trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York and has held positions with Cooking Light, Health, and AllRecipes. 

Improve Health Literacy Where You Work: 4 Helpful Resources

If you’re an employer, you already know the high costs of providing healthcare benefits.
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There’s no end in sight.

Total costs of providing medical and pharmacy benefits in 2019 are expected to rise 5% for the sixth straight year, according to an annual survey by the National Business Group on Health.

That means employers at big companies can expect to pay around $15,000 per worker in the coming year. Blame it on costly claims, specialty medications, and certain diseases, say many employers.

But here’s something you may not know:

Health literacy — the ability to understand and act on health information — plays a role, too. According to a University of Connecticut study, low health literacy costs the US healthcare system about $238 billion a year.

Simply put, when people don’t have the knowledge they need to make good decisions about their health, they make poorer decisions — choices that lead to poorer health and higher costs.

Low health literacy costs more. High health literacy costs less.

Consider these scenarios:

  • An employee’s child sprains her ankle. In a panic, the parent rushes the child to the ER. They rack up a huge bill, even though they could have treated the child at home for free.
  • A doctor prescribes an expensive medicine for one of your staff. The employee doesn’t know to ask for a generic version, so they end up paying much more for the brand-name drug.
  • A 53-year-old worker puts off his colonoscopy year after year, saying he doesn’t have time for silly tests. Doctors don’t find he has cancer until much later, resulting in expensive hospital bills and treatments — not to mention pain, suffering, and weeks or even months of missed work —or worse.

In each scenario, improving health literacy could mean better health for less money. Studies show that people with low health literacy tend to have more health claims, more hospital stays, more trips to the ER, less compliance with treatment plans, and higher death rates.

In contrast, people with high health literacy tend to have fewer health claims, fewer needs for special services, more compliance with medication and treatment plans, and better health overall.

 

Finding the Right Health Literacy Resources

Improving health literacy isn’t easy. “There’s no quick fix,” said EdLogics advisor Brian Primack, MD, PhD, director of the Center for Research, Media, Technology, and Health at the University of Pittsburgh, in a recent EdLogics webinar. Still, Dr. Primack added, “We are moving the needle.”

If you’re an employer, a human resources manager, or other business leader who’s committed to finding ways to improve health literacy in your organization, these resources can help:


Developing a Plan in Your Organization

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Use the CDC’s workbook, sample action plan, and links to government sites to create your organization’s health literacy plan. Includes a state-by-state directory of health literacy initiatives.


Quick Guide to Health Literacy

US Department of Health and Human Services (PDF)

You know your company needs a health literacy program, but you’re not sure where to start? This guide will walk you through the basics, including best practices and simple, concrete tips for writing and designing good content.


Everyday Words for Public Health Communication

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The first rule in developing health content for low-literacy users: Avoid doctor-speak. This indispensable guide shows you how, with an index of commonly used medical terms and their plain-language alternatives.


Webinar: Improving Health Literacy: What Works, What Doesn’t

EdLogics and Global Action Platform

Watch the video: Health literacy expert Russell Rothman, MD, MPP, of Vanderbilt University and gamification expert Brian Primack, MD, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh share an overview of what makes health literacy programs effective.

EdLogics’ gamified learning platform combines engaging, personalized content and activities with unique incentives to help users improve their health literacy. Want a demo? Contact us!

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