Is Your Diet SAD? Take a Closer Look at What You’re Eating

What’s on your plate today? If your food choices look anything like the Standard American Diet, it’s pretty S.A.D.

About 88% of adults don’t eat enough fruit, and 90% don’t eat enough vegetables.1

So what are people eating? Pizza, burgers, fries, desserts, processed foods, and too much alcohol.

Sure, it’s fast and convenient. But when most of your meals come from a box, drive-thru or restaurant, there;s a good chance you’re eating too many calories and missing out on essential nutrients your body needs for best health.

Been there, done that? If your eating habits need work, you’re not alone. For example:

  • Sodium. 9 out of 10 adults consume 3,400 mg of sodium per day. But health experts recommend less than 2,300 mg.
  • Sugary drinks. 5 in 10 adults gulp down a sugary drink every day (soda, energy drink, coffee loaded with sugar and cream)

The SAD truth about poor eating habits

So what happens if your eating habits are S.A.D. for months, or maybe even years?

The occasional fast food meal, sugary drink, or dessert isn’t that big of a deal. However, research shows that over time, poor eating habits increase the risk for health problems like:2

  • Obesity. An estimated 73.6 percent of all adults in the U.S. are overweight or obese.
  • Heart disease. It’s the leading cause of death in the U.S. Heart disease claims the lives of an estimated 697,000 people a year, even though it’s largely preventable with diet, exercise, and healthy lifestyle habits.
  • Stroke. Every 40 seconds, someone in the U.S. suffers a stroke when blood flow to the brain is blocked. 1 out 6 who experience a stroke die.
  • Type 2 diabetes. About 37 million people in the U.S. have type 2 diabetes. Another 96 million have prediabetes, and most don’t even know it. Left unchecked, diabetes can lead to nerve damage, poor circulation, vision loss, kidney disease, heart disease, and other health problems. But research shows it’s preventable and reversible with a plant-based diet.3
  • Certain types of cancer. Being overweight or obese increases the risk for 13 different types of cancer.

A Fresh Way to Improve Your Health

If you want to improve your health, lower your risk for disease and feel better, try this fresh approach:

Eat more fruits and vegetables

Why? The S.A.D. diet doesn’t include a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables. A few pizza toppings or tomato, pickle, and lettuce on a burger aren’t enough.

Instead, here’s what an adult’s fruit and vegetable intake should look like for best health:

  • Fruits:1.5 to 2 cups per day
  • Vegetables: 2 to 3 cups per day

It’s not as hard as you might think. Include fruits and vegetables with every meal and enjoy as a snack. For example:

  • Have a banana for breakfast.
  • Enjoy Greek yogurt with berries as a snack.
  • Eat a leafy-green salad for lunch or dinner.
  • Half your plate should include fruits and vegetables at every meal.

When most of your food comes from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes, you’ll be healthier and feel better (instead of S.A.D.)

Stressed Out? This Simple Solution Works in Minutes

Stressed out? It happens. Maybe there’s trouble at work, family issues, or health problems. Or you’re worried about money, a relationship, or a whole bunch of things at once. How you handle it can make all the difference.

Some stress is actually helpful. It’s a normal part of life. But if you’re constantly feeling anxious, sad or worried, or you can’t sleep at night, it’s going to take a toll.

If you don’t manage stress in healthy ways, it can lead to things like:

  • Heart disease
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Headaches
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Stomach problems
  • Memory loss


The good news…there’s a simple solution to reduce stress that works in minutes. It’s free. And it doesn’t require any special skills or training. The next time you’re feeling stressed out…

Breathe.

In a recent study, researchers found that breathing slowly and clearing your mind can reduce stress hormones and lower blood pressure in minutes.1

“Breathing is the single most important act that we do every day,” says Stanford University researcher Dr. Emma Seppälä, author of the book, The Happiness Track. “Daily breathing practices activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is associated with resting and digesting, and a more peaceful mind and body.”

So how do you use breathing to tell your brain to chill out? Slow down.2

  • Normal breathing = 12 to 14 breaths per minute
  • Breathing to relax = 5 to 7 breaths per minute

7 simple steps to breathe easy

Looking for an easy way to beat stress, improve your mood, and feel better? Breathe. The more you practice, the easier it gets. Follow these 7 simple steps:

1. Create a breathing practice. Set aside 10 to 15 minutes each day to breathe. Schedule it just like you would an important meeting.

2. Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Close your office or bedroom door. Go to your car. Sit on a bench in a quiet area of a park.

3. Set a timer. Start with 10 minutes. As you get comfortable with breathing, increase the time to 15 or 20 minutes.

4. Sit comfortably, and place one hand on your stomach.

5. Breathe in through your nose. Inhale deeply and slowly. Pay attention to your chest rising as your lungs fill with air. Focus on your breathing, and try not to think about anything else.

6. Exhale through your mouth. Tighten your stomach muscles, and try to push out as much air as possible.

7. Repeat the process until time’s up.

When you’re stressed out and you’ve got a million things to do at home or at work, it’s easy to think you don’t have time for mindful breathing. But before you rush off to the next thing on your to-do list, give it a try.

If you’re feeling stressed, but you’re not in a place where you can take a 10-minute breather, stop and take five deep breaths. It’s often enough to let your brain know, it’s OK to relax.

7 Smart Ways to Manage Acid Reflux Without Medication

Drugs to treat acid reflux linked to fatal conditions
You finish a meal, and then it hits you. There’s a gurgle-gurgle sound in your stomach. You feel sick. Hiccups keep coming back. And then comes heartburn and acidy burps.

Been there, done that? An estimated 60 million adults in the U.S. suffer from acid reflux disease, according to the American College of Gastroenterology. It’s also known as GERD, gastroesophageal reflux disease.

Chances are pretty good you’ve heard the commercials or seen the ads for over-the-counter and prescription medications to treat acid reflux. But in a recent study, researchers found that long-term use of medications for acid reflux actually raises the risk for stomach ulcers, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.

Are you at risk for acid reflux?
While anyone can develop acid reflux, the National Institutes of Health says you’re more likely to develop it if you’re:

  • Overweight or obese
  • Pregnant
  • Taking certain medications
  • Smoke or regularly exposed to secondhand smoke

Fortunately, changes to your diet and lifestyle can help control acid reflux without medication. Here are some things you can do:

  1. Slow down at meal time. If you eat a lot of food all at once, acid in your stomach will ‘fill the tank.” And you’ll be more likely to experience those tell-tale signs. Eat slower. Or eat smaller meals throughout the day.
  2. Know your food triggers. Was it something you ate? The spicy burrito, the deep-fried chicken, or the decadent dessert? Foods that can trigger acid reflux include alcohol, chocolate, tea, coffee, garlic, onions, tomatoes, spicy foods, high-fat foods, and even mint. Use the FitLyfe platform to track your diet. If you have acid reflux, review your food choices, and avoid those triggers.
  3. According to Johns Hopkins University, foods that can help reduce acid reflux include:
      • High-fiber foods including whole grains and vegetables.
      • Alkaline foods (low in acid) like bananas, melons, nuts, and cauliflower.
      • Water-based foods such as celery, cucumber, lettuce, and tea
  4. Break the soda habit. It’s not rocket science. Carbonated beverages make you burp, and that can send acid into the esophagus. Over time, this damages the esophagus. Instead of soda, drink water.
  5. Take a casual walk after eating. It’s a great way to improve digestion, burn a few extra calories, and prevent acid reflux. Just don’t overdo it. Eat dinner at least three hours before going to bed.
  6. Maintain a healthy weight, or lose weight if you need to. When you’re overweight, your body has a harder time closing the lower part of the esophagus to keep acid out. If you’re overweight or obese (that’s about 72% of all adults), tipping the scale in the right direction will improve your health and lower your risk for acid reflux.
  7. Don’t smoke, or quit if you do. Why? Nicotine can cause the lower part of the esophagus to relax, allowing more acid to leave the stomach.
  8. Talk to your doctor. Some medications increase the risk for acid reflux, including medications to treat menopause, depression, inflammation, and osteoporosis.

Take a closer look at this list, and you’ll see that diet and lifestyle habits can help you prevent or manage acid reflux, and be healthier.

4 Surprising Health Benefits of Organic Gardening

Grow your own, and reap the health benefits
Thinking about cleaning up your diet, and doing something to help the environment at the same time?

Try organic gardening. No, you don’t need a tractor, acres of land, or denim overalls and a straw hat. It’s simple to get started and provides a number of health benefits.

Go organic: Grow your own

If you’ve got a backyard, live on a farm, or call an apartment in the city home, you’ve got options for organic gardening, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Before you get started, you may want to test the pH level of the soil you plan to use (available at most hardware or garden supply stores). Based on the results, adding specific nutrients to the soil can improve your harvest.

Here’s how to plan your organic garden:

  • Backyard or farm: Till up a patch of ground, or create a raised bed to grow organic foods. Plant starters. Use natural fertilizers or mulch. And make sure the plants get plenty of sun and water.
  • Small space or short on time: Don’t have a yard, or you don’t have time to take care of a bigger garden? You can use a planter to grow organic herbs (basil, mint, parsley, oregano, etc.) for cooking, seasoning, and salad.
  • Best organic plants for beginners: If you’re thinking about growing organic produce, good plants to start with include peas, spinach, lettuce, carrots, and radishes during cooler weather. Try growing green beans, zucchini, tomatoes, basil, and sunflowers during warmer weather.

So what are the health benefits of organic gardening?

Maybe you just like gardening. Plant some fruits, vegetables, or herbs. Watch them grow, and enjoy. That’s a start, but there are some other benefits to organic gardening, according to Harvard University, like:

 

  1. Make healthier choices. Growing an organic garden is a great way to help you be more mindful of your food choices. Did you know only 1 in 10 adults eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables per day? Most adults should eat 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit per day and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables per day.
  2. Avoid fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. When you grow your own fruits and vegetables, you don’t have to use fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, which have been linked to certain types of cancer and other health problems.
  3. Get more vitamins and nutrients. When produce is harvested to sell in a grocery store, it’s usually in transit for days or weeks. And it loses nutritional value. Organic produce straight from your garden is packed with vitamins and nutrients.
  4. Be more active. Here’s something NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) about organic gardening. It can help you be more active, according to the American Council on Exercise. NEAT activity happens when you’re digging a hole, pulling weeds, planting, or caring for your garden. Your heart rate goes up. You’re burning extra calories. And your heart, lungs, and muscles get a workout without the formality of going to the gym.

Hungry for better health? Give organic

Top 16 Features of a Successful Wellness Platform

Are you looking for a
corporate wellness platform?

Are you looking for a corporate wellness platform?

Maybe you’re a wellness manager or human resources director tasked with choosing a corporate wellness platform for your company.

You start looking around at all your options, and you get that deer-in-the-headlights look. But, You’re you’re left wondering which corporate wellness platform will work best for your organization. Sound familiar?

You start looking around at all your options, and you get that deer-in-the-headlights look. You’re left wondering which corporate wellness platform will work best for your organization. Sound familiar?

Are you feeling frustrated about choosing a wellness platform? Uncertain? Not sure which one is right for your organization? You’re not alone.

What is a wellness platform?

A wellness platform is a web-based technology that can host a variety of programs used to evaluate, engage, inform, motivate, and incentivize employees based on your wellness strategy. The platform should be API-compatible with the ability to integrate with third-party vendors.

What’s the difference between a
wellness platform and a wellness portal?

A wellness platform gives you the ability to add programs beyond the vendor-established program offering or cookie-cutter design of a wellness portal. An effective corporate wellness platform features a flexible design that allows you configure it to meet the needs of your organization, population, and wellness and benefits strategy.

Develop your strategy
with a corporate wellness platform

A wellness platform is not a strategy. With the right features, it’s a tool you can use to develop and implement your strategy to promote health, prevent disease, increase engagement, boost productivity, and ultimately control healthcare costs.

With the right approach, intrinsic motivation will lead people who are already health conscious to engage, participate, and set an example for others. And with a little nudge of extrinsic motivation from your wellness strategy, you can boost participation and have a greater impact on population health.

What wellness features matter most? Start with this. You need to protect your data. Data security should be your highest priority. Your wellness platform must protect personal health information. And it must comply with all state and federal privacy laws. It’s critical to security. And it’s critical to boost engagement.

Still not sure which platform is right for you? Don’t throw in the towel just yet. And don’t just roll the dice and pick one. Make sure the platform you choose includes these 16 features:

1. Highly flexible

No two wellness programs are the same. Every workforce population is different. And health risk factors for one population won’t be the same from one organization to the next. A one-size-fits-all corporate wellness platform doesn’t make sense. Going with a fixed-design platform will only lead to more frustration.

  • Your corporate wellness platform needs to be flexible,
  • It needs to be customizable
  • And it needs to be easily configurable to fit your wellness strategy

Your wellness strategy might focus on well-being, use a hybrid model, be outcome-based, or even use a combination of different strategies. Your wellness platform needs to support your strategy and be adaptable. Otherwise, you’re almost guaranteed to waste time and money trying to achieve your wellness program goals.

Is your corporate wellness platform highly flexible?

2. Health risk assessment

If you want to identify population health risk factors that cost your organization the most in healthcare dollars, use a health risk assessment. It’s an evidence-based questionnaire designed to help you collect information about diet, lifestyle, and health risks from individuals to get a picture of population health.

NCQAHRA data for your population will help you shape your wellness strategy. And individual participants can use their personal HRA data to work with a health coach or their doctor to get healthy and stay healthy.

Does your corporate wellness platform include a health risk assessment?

3. Health literacy

Health literacyDid you know only 12 percent of adults in the U.S. have a basic understanding of health literacy? That’s a problem. Ever checked to find out if the health information you share with your population is easy to understand? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Medicaid, and many health insurance companies require patient-facing health content be written at or below a 7th grade reading level.

Does your corporate wellness platform meet health literacy standards?

4. Quiz builder

QuizWhat if you wanted real-time data from your population? You want to find out how they’re doing. What’s their diet, exercise, exercise, sleep, mental health like? How would you get that info? Create a short quiz, and ask. If your corporate wellness platform includes a quiz builder, it’s easy:

  • Pick a topic.
  • Write your quiz questions and answers.
  • Assign correct answers a point value.
  • You can even offer an incentive for completing the quiz. It’s a fast and easy way to boost engagement and get information you can use to drive wellness programming.

Can you create a quiz with your corporate wellness platform?

5. Wellness event calendar

You plan a wellness event and want your population to participate. How do you let them know about it? You could piece together a communication plan via email, an online calendar, and digital reminders. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. If your corporate wellness platform includes a wellness event calendar, you can easily:

  • Schedule biometric screenings
  • Schedule fitness classes
  • Invite participants to a cooking demonstration
  • Host a financial wellness classes
  • Track sign-ups.
  • Set automatic reminders.
  • And make your life easier as a wellness program manager

Does your corporate wellness platform have an event calendar/planner?

6. Biometric screening

biometric-screening

It’s a critical component of an effective wellness program. Results from a basic blood draw can provide insight about health risks. Biometric screening data can tell you if your population is at risk for things like:

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Certain types of cancer, and more.

It takes time to coordinate a biometric screening and get results. But it doesn’t have to. Choose a corporate wellness platform already connected to a network of medical providers for on-site and off-site biometric screenings.

Does your corporate wellness platform offer biometric screenings?

7. Corporate wellness challenges

wellness challegnesNeed a fun and easy way to engage your population? Host a health challenge. If that sounds like a lot of work, don’t worry. The best corporate wellness platforms include done-for-you wellness challenges that are easy to launch and manage like:

  • Eat more fruits and vegetables
  • Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night
  • Exercise 30 minutes a day
  • Keep a food diary
  • Lose weight or maintain a healthy weight

Your health challenge shouldn’t just provide a way to log activity. Done right, it can have a much bigger impact. With a properly-designed health challenge, you can motivate people to change behaviors, create a culture of health, engage participants, and get results. How do you do it? Provide action steps to be successful with incentive points to boost participation, and a way to track activity to increase accountability.

Does your corporate wellness platform offer corporate wellness challenges?

8. Health education content library

Want to support your published health education content? Provide digital health education content in the form videos your participants can watch, or audio files they can listen to. Some people learn better this way. It’s also a way to reinforce what someone already knows.Award them at the same time. You can use it beyond wellness like safety or on-boarding and many other purposes.

Does your corporate wellness program have a video/audio library of health education content?

9. Targeted communication

If you really want your wellness program to make a difference in population health and improve the lives of your employees, create targeted communications. Here are some ways you can do this:

  • Invite participants with three or more risk factors for chronic disease to meet with a health coach.
  • Create an event to help participants with high blood pressure learn lifestyle, exercise, and diet strategies to lower it.
  • Host an exercise class or group walk for people who aren’t getting enough exercise.

Is there confusion among employees at different locations about your wellness program? Targeted communications can prevent that, too.

Can you send targeted communications with your corporate wellness platform?

10. Wellness rewards

RewardsWhat’s one of the best ways to boost wellness program participation? Reward effort and participation. Here’s how. Reward the effort with redeemable wellness points (for products or services) as an incentive. You could try and piece together your own program, but there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. An effective corporate wellness platform should include a plug-and-play system for wellness rewards.

Does your corporate wellness platform make it easy to offer wellness rewards?

11. Wearable technology integration

Wearables

Everybody knows self-reported data is a flawed way of tracking physical activity. But if you want to encourage your participants to be more active, how do you track it? Use wearable technology to collect participant data from:

  • Fitness watches
  • Digital tracking devices
  • Mobile apps

It’s easy if your corporate wellness platform is able to integrate with popular apps and devices. The major players include Google, Apple, FitBit, Garmin, and Samsung. If your wellness platform use a third-party aggregator, ask yourself these questions:

  • Where is the data goes?
  • Where is the data stored?
  • Who owns the data?
  • Is the third-party selling your participant data?
  • What are they using your data for?
  • Is it covered under the BAA?
  • If the third-party experiences a security preach, is your participant data at risk?

Real-time data from digital devices and apps can be a great way to engage participants and get accurate data. But you need to make sure your wellness platform provider protects this data.

Everybody knows self-reported data is a flawed way of tracking physical activity. But if you want to encourage your participants to be more active, how do you track it? Use wearable technology like fitness watches, tracking devices, and mobile apps to collect participant data. It’s easy if your corporate wellness platform is able to integrate with popular apps and devices. If your wellness platform use a Third party aggregator then where is the data goes, who owns it, are they selling it? What are they using it for? Is is covered under the BAA?

Is your corporate wellness platform wearable-technology compatible?

12. Healthy recipes

What’s wrong with the typical American diet?

  • Too many calories
  • Unhealthy fats
  • Added sugars
  • Refined grains
  • Too much sodium
  • And not enough fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, lean meats, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

How can you help your population make better food choices? Share easy-to-make healthy recipes with information like serving size, calories per serving, and macronutrient information for proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.

Does your corporate wellness platform have a library of healthy recipes?

13. Incentive management

How do you motivate participants to complete a wellness task? This can include things like a:

• Health risk assessment
• Biometric screening
• Fitness challenge
• Healthier eating
• Wellness events

The solution to boost participation: An effective corporate wellness program should be designed to make it easy to assign point values for wellness activities. When a participant earns points, give them a way to redeem points for gift cards or online purchases for products and services they need, want, and use.

A highly-configurable platform provides you with the flexibility you need to set the parameters that fit your company and not be forced to use the criteria of other companies.

Does your corporate wellness program include incentive management?

14. Health coaching

Want to help your participants and your population get healthy and adopt lifestyle habits to stay healthy? Offer health coaching. Your corporate wellness platform should make it easy for a health coaching to:

  • Look at participant data
  • Identify readiness to change
  • Evaluate health risks
  • Make recommendations to improve health
  • Track progress. Member should also have access to their own coaching data.

Does your corporate wellness platform include health coaching features?

15. Claim integration

What are the primary health-related costs for your organization? If your corporate wellness platform is designed to support claim integration, it’s easy to compare health risk assessment and biometric screening results with health claims. It’s a data-driven way to:

• Make decisions to shape your wellness strategy
• Develop interventions to have the biggest impact on controlling healthcare costs
• Measure your return on investment in wellness, and more.

Does your corporate wellness platform support claim integration?

16. Analytics and reporting

Analytics and reporting

  • What are the primary health risk factors for your population?
  • Did you see an improvement in population health from year to year?
  • What lifestyle habits impact your population the most?
  • Are your efforts to boost wellness program participation working?

If you want answers to these questions and more, your corporate wellness platform must give you the ability to analyze your data and generate reports to better understand your population. And it should be easy to do.

Does your corporate wellness platform include easy-to-use tools to analyze population health data and create reports?

16 Must-Have Features
for Wellness Program Success

If you’re looking for a corporate wellness program with ultimate flexibility and customization, these 16 must-have features will make wellness program administration easier, support your wellness strategy, help you boost engagement and improve population health, and make your job easier.

The FitLyfe difference

Looking for a customizable wellness platform for your population to drive engagement, simplify program management, and get results?
Schedule a demo today.

Selecting The Right Tool and Vendor For Health and Wellness Programs

Voluntary program for better health

Having the best-suited health and wellness vendor with the right technology tool to support your health and wellness plan design, strategy, goals, and wrapping it all into a well-crafted member experience is the primary need for every plan administrator. And, on its surface, finding that correct, total solution appears to be an easy process to many because of the large number of vendors in the marketplace.  From large named vendors to smaller ones, choices are everywhere.  But, finding the best fit for your organization requires planning and thoughtful attention to ensure that promises will actually turn into reality.

I.  Strategy and Program Selection

Before embarking in a selection process, you have to evaluate your plan design’s overall strategy in order to determine which strategy you will be choosing. The three main types are:

1) Full Voluntary, a “nice to have” program that is designed to simply promote better health, building morale and add to the value of your overall benefit portfolio to attract and retain employees;

2) Wellbeing -Activity with incentives, also designed for voluntary member participation but with the nuance of money and/or prizes to entice higher engagement rates; and

3) Outcomes-based (health-contingent), which ties healthy member outcomes on an annual basis to such things as rewards and/or premium contribution rates.

Some points to consider when determining which approach is more relevant to your organization are:

    • Your population’s age range, gender, and cultural requirements
    • The type of industry your company occupies
    • Your population’s overall health status and related needs
    • Your population’s claim data and what indications it shows related to needed risk reduction(s) for chronic, non-accident-related conditions
    • Leadership engagement level

Once the above information has been collected and is known, then, you are ready to select the type of corporate wellness programs that is aligned with your population’s needs.

An example of how the aforementioned factors are used in determining program strategy could be: A population age group between 30-55 that has a noticeable claims occurrences of back pain diagnoses and a need to proactively address and prevent this specific condition risk.

There are several programs out there to tackle this risk, ranging from standing desk mechanical configurations, to building healthier habits through exercise and more. Select the program of your choice and assign an associated goal with success criteria to measure the outcome of the program.

As part of the wellness program implementation, the following components are very important:

  • Communication and Marketing
  • Program implementation and measurement (engagement, completion, impact on health, culture, and meeting the success criteria that were establish when selecting the program.)
  • Incentives
  • Reporting and insight
  • Revision of the program and adjust as needed

II.  Creating a Capabilities and Features List

With the example above, and when selecting the vendor, list all the features and functionalities that will help you achieve the success criteria for your program.

When selecting a vendor, you should:

  1. Evaluate the vendor’s technology strategy in direct parallel with your wellness strategy, e.g. incentive management program and the type of reports you need
  2. Establish a list of mandatory modules, a functionality features list that the successful vendor must have
  3. Establish a list of non-essential but nice-to-have features that are geared toward enhancing the program’s overall member and administrative user experiences
  4. Detail a list of program legal compliance requirements that are essential to the delivery of your wellbeing program, e.g. EEOC, GINA, DOL, IRS regulatory notifications. Ex. wearable fitness tracker devices giveaway, how alternative standards are addressed for member’s unable to meet the primary requirements, etc.

Compile the above points in an excel sheet and drive the selection from there. This will help you to ask the vendor and document the relevant questions during the demo phase, which will finally be embedded in the contract. This will put you in the driver’s seat to achieve your goals. The vendor can show and demonstrate their corporate wellness technology. From this perspective, you are placing the vendor in a position to physically demonstrate their capabilities in relation to each needed requirement versus a global picture in which some of your detailed needs may be lost and not realized until after the contract is executed.

III.  Vendor Vetting

After obtaining all the information from your Excel sheet, you should take each proposal and compare the listed functionalities and capabilities presented and cross-reference them against your requirements. This basic check-and-balance, while very simple, will ensure no detail has been missed and that you will receive all elements of your documented requirements.  This simple step can be easily overlooked, creating pain after contracting because of missed detail that makes the technology offering incapable of fully supporting your total program needs.  This method also provides the most objective analysis of all vendors by creating true clarity during the evaluation process and ensures you are comparing “apples to apples”.

If you have a broker that is assisting with this process, you should ask them for the raw spreadsheet-results to confirm your own review of the details. Sometimes, the results are summarized or just a recommendation of the vendor-of-choice are returned.  This is not to say that your broker may have missed your requirements or is promoting a vendor with which they have a preferred relationship, regardless of the ability to match to your needs.  Rather, it is a final, personal sign-off from you that gives you peace of mind and confidence in the chosen solution before moving into a contracting phase, after which you will be the accountable party for the delivery and performance of your new partner.  .

Your final review of the vendor submissions also ensures you not only have a clear picture of how their capabilities align with your needs.  It also gives you insight on total costs to launch and operate the program.  For vendors that may be missing features that you have to have or would like to have, they may be capable and willing to build these into your solution.  But, a large question arises related to cost.  Vendors may see a common application of your requirement(s) that may be missing and decide to incorporate them at a reduced cost or free of charge in order to enhance the experience of all customers.  Otherwise, there will most likely be full charges associated with these changes to their existing technology configuration to accommodate your needs.  It is highly advisable to know your financial exposure before any contract is signed.  And, on the note of contracting, you should consider two critical elements that will help ensure your overall satisfaction.  First, you should have performance guarantees (PG’s) written into the contract in which the vendor agrees to be bound by certain standards, per your requirements, and places a percentage of fees at-risk that will be payable to you should they not meet them.  Second, you should push for the inclusion of a cancellation clause that allows you to terminate the contract for-cause in the event of performance dissatisfaction.

IV.  Implementation and On-Going Support

One element that is equally as critical as assessing capabilities is determining how the vendor will support you during the implementation phase, as well as, on-going support you will need during active day-to-day performance. Vendors have a wide range with respect to their account support practices.  You have to determine your tolerances in terms of workload that you can accommodate during both phases.  You should ask for a copy of each vendor’s proposed implementation plan as part of your vetting process.  This helps you in the decision making process two-fold:  1)  It ensures that all items are accounted for and incorporated in a timeline that can be monitored through to completion; and 2) It should include assigned responsibilities for the person or entity to carry out the task.  This second component will allow you to make workload assumptions based on your schedule and time allocation capabilities, who else within your organization may have to assist, and, if integrating with such features as the import of claims, being able to conceptualize the external organizational tasking that will be required to bring the implementation to a successful end on-time.

Finally, a good question to understand is how much time you and/or your staff will have to support the program via the technology and what items the vendor sets as those falling within their role and which fall to the customer. For example, are Levels 1, 2, and 3 help desk support the full responsibility of the vendor; does the vendor’s account manager become involved in the daily needs like setting and launching challenges, setting up and helping manage the integration of scheduling biometric screenings, etc.?

V.  Ongoing Measurement, Feedback, and Improvement

The last component to consider is that your program and strategy will always be evolving in order to improve performance, member experience, and alignment with your corporate goals. The configuration set in place through the technology at the inception of the program won’t remain the same in following performance years.  These needed changes will be based on measurements related to member performance.  This leads to an important question during the vetting phase that ensures the vendor is capable of capturing and reporting on metrics/drivers for you to analyze that show both featured successes, as well as, those that may reflect underperformance.  A subset of this metrics question is how easy is it to change metrics as needed in the future and what sort of access and ease you as the plan administrator have in accessing them either through direct extracts or reports coming out of the technology.  Routine review of effectiveness as compared to goals and the incorporation of multi-stakeholder feedback to refine the program over time are necessary to optimize performance and success.  You want to ensure the vendor’s solution is flexible to meet your near- and long-term needs, while assessing any potential charges associated with those change related needs.

Why Corporate Wellness in America is Upside Down

Control and Reduce Healthcare Spending by Utilizing Wellness

The concept and practice of wellness as a corporate sponsored benefit in America is well known and understood, but not without question and debate.  Countless studies on program and plan efficacy, ROI, long-term impact, etc., have been performed, yielding mixed and conflicted results at best.  So, for every “pro” it seems you can find a “con”.  With that in mind, let’s examine some common sense factors that we do know.

1. No Mature Overarching Strategy

There is no mature, overarching strategy that prevails at the national level.  Some employers view wellness as a recruitment and retention element, while others see it as a compliance model to measure health status and associated costs. Yes, the ultimate goal of any employee wellness programs is to improve the health and wellbeing of participating members.  And, the executable steps in terms of program design and action have to be tailored to an individual population (no one cookie cutter approach will work for everyone).  However, there should be some agreement on how the program is designed and the results yielded; read that to be health-contingent outcomes based models.

2. Purpose and Usage of Data

As with the numerous variations of wellness program designs, the purpose, collection, and usage of associated performance data is equally as widely varied.  Take for example biometric testing.  First, there is a medium to high level of cost that employers invest in this valuable process.

Plan participants, then, go through the process and receive their results.  What happens next?  Is Purpose and Usage of Datathe collected data delivered at the individual level for educational purposes only; is it actionable in terms of insurance premium contribution costs; is it used for coaching engagement to mitigate risk factors; etc.?  Another aspect of ineffectively used data is the health care industry’s focus on claims, which are the byproduct of illness and disease.  Paying too much attention here will definitely take your eye off the ball and guarantee the generation of more, future claims due to poor health and lack of focus on health and wellness.

It’s a vicious cycle.  If your plan design doesn’t have a strategic vision on how, why, and when to take action on collected data, you will never receive results approximating a demonstrable ROI or improved health outcomes.

As a closing side note to this section, there is a whole list of things wellness vendors are doing with your members’ data that aren’t related to providing you a strong solution.  But, that is a topic for another blog…more to come here.

3. Accountability for Performance

The results, outcomes, and engagement in program participation ultimately falls on the plan participants themselves.  However, there is a greater level of accountability that normally goes unchallenged; and that resides with the brokers/consultants and vendor-partners who have been selected to drive your health and wellness programs.

As I mentioned before, each program has to be nuanced to your specific population’s needs in order to be effective.  Please understand that there are people in both these groups who are well educated on how to deliver a successful program—capable of doing a really good job.  And, yet, there are an equal number who aren’t.

Billions in venture capital dollars have flowed into this space over the last several years, giving rise to standalone-company-products that have really done nothing more than create fads and trends, which begin by showing great promise and pretty quickly turn into something analogous to a discarded child’s toy.

Health plans have developed similar offerings, but are only interested in using wellness as a loss leader to capture more share of the health insurance market.  By engaging in programs offered through the carriers, there does appear to be a conflict of interest because they make their money off members not being well.

How hard do you really think they’re going to work in order to reduce their revenues?  The confluence of stand-alone corporate health and wellness vendors and health plan carriers has only served to create a substantial amount of confusing noise that has failed to truly advance the concept and practice of corporate wellness programs. In short, following the “pretty shiny” object fails every time.

The vendors should be providing a proven solution, along with sound counsel, strategy development, and support.  The same can be said for broker/consultants who are recommending the vendors in the first place, based off really nothing more than who has spent the most on marketing and has the “prettiest” proposal and forged a “my favorite vendor” relationship with a few, key groups.  All broker/consultants will tell you they are vendor agnostic.  And, some are.  However, if you start analyzing their choice recommendations, some surprising patters will emerge that prove otherwise. Customers and members deserve better!

4. Market Mechanics

So, why do I assert that our country’s approach to wellness is upside down?  Simple—we have a delivery system that is highly contingent on disease-reaction.  Countless thousands of jobs are funded by illness and disease.  Wellness…well, that’s simply still a pipedream at this point because if it were properly researched, strategized, and tactically deployed would turn the health care industry on its head within a decade or two.  But, that is not to say that plan administrators don’t have the ability to drive and change the market; they do.

Deploying outcomes based designs with financial incentives/penalties, measuring year-over-year cohort results, and using that data to continuously refine a wellness program that works for your member population is truly a way out of this ineffective and costly cycle of just throwing money at a symptom (illness/disease) without truly addressing the root cause (lifestyle management choices that give rise to preventable health issues)—allocating the majority of your benefits dollars to the health carriers in hopes that your cost trends and member health statuses will somehow miraculously change.

You should push for best-in-class performance in terms of relationships, vendors, and guidance. Don’t be clouded or confused by a blizzard of data that supports the status quo.  If your trends are not proceeding in a successful and healthy direction, it’s time to have crucial conversations with those who are supposed to be supporting your company in achieving results.  After all, you’re paying too much money to settle for mediocrity.