Employee medical self-care programs reduce spending: SHRM speaker

Originally posted June 23, 2014 by Sheena Harrison on www.businessinsurance.com.

ORLANDO, Fla. — Medical self-care programs that teach employees which symptoms can be treated at home and which need medical attention can help reduce unnecessary medical spending for workers and employers, said Don R. Powell, president and CEO of the American Institute for Preventive Medicine in Farmington Hills, Michigan.

Mr. Powell gave a presentation Monday about the characteristics of best-in-class wellness programs during the Society for Human Resource Management's Annual Conference & Exposition in Orlando, Florida.

He said about 25% of physician visits each year are unnecessary, equaling about $227 million in excess medical costs for workers and employers, and 55% of emergency room visits are unnecessary, resulting in $65.6 million in extra costs to treat medical problems that are not urgent.

Employers should provide printed employee resource guides and websites that employees can use to evaluate whether their medical symptoms can be treated at home, whether they should visit a doctor and what questions to ask when they visit a physician, Mr. Powell said. Such guides typically include an easy-to-use flow chart that employees can follow to determine whether they need immediate medical care.

In addition to resource guides, Mr. Powell said some companies offer a nurse advice hotline to employees to discuss whether their symptoms need medical care.

Usage and ROI

Mr. Powell noted that printed self-care resource guides, which cost about $5 to $8 per copy, are more likely to be used by employees of all ages than websites or nurse hotlines when considering the urgency of a medical problem. However, he said, offering a variety of delivery methods — as well as communicating the program’s availability through newsletters, emails and posters — can make employees more likely to use self-care programs.

Companies see anywhere from a 3-1 to a 15-1 return on investment for every dollar spent on medical self-care programs, Mr. Powell said.

“You're cutting into those unnecessary doctor and ER visits,” he said. “If you're a self-funded company ... that's $199 per visit to $350 per ER visit right back into your pocket, so you stand to gain the most. Not to say a company that’s fully insured doesn't stand to gain, because it allows employees not to miss work when they’re at the doctor or ER unnecessarily and because people really appreciate a medical self-care program.”

Other factors in successful wellness programs include having corporate leaders and employee peers involved in such initiatives, making it easy for workers to participate in wellness initiatives and health coaching to program participants, Mr. Powell said.