Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wellness Comes to Philly Businesses – With Healthy Results

Well, we all know that an apple a day is no longer the trick. Maybe because we dip that apple in caramel. Maybe because a day has morphed into a week.

Whatever the reason, we know that it’s become more difficult to get healthy and stay healthy, and the cost of keeping the doctor away has reached new heights.

And, if you watch certain reality TV shows, it looks like if you want to be fit and healthy, you need to work out seven hours a day and eat cardboard. So it is no wonder that millions of Americans throw up their hands and quit before they start.

But studies have found that it is the small, incremental changes that have the most long-lasting impact on our health. Employers can play an instrumental role in helping employees live healthier lives, which may also have a positive impact on their bottom line. The Wellness Council of America estimates that for each $1 invested in a wellness program, employers can save as much as $3 in health care and productivity costs.

This is why we teamed up with Philadelphia magazine for its Be Well Philly Challenge, an eight-week corporate wellness competition. The results were outstanding! The four finalists lost a combined total of almost 1,000 pounds! These teams came together at Lucky Strike last Wednesday to crown the 2011 Be Well champion, enjoy healthy food and bowl. Advance Audio Visual Sales took the top prize, garnering almost 1,500 pound and wellness points.

To build an effective wellness program, consider what the Be Well Philly Challenge participants and other area businesses are doing to create sustainable wellness programs:

• Develop a detailed plan that includes short- and long-term objectives.
• Set up a wellness committee and identify wellness champions who will help drive the program’s scope and implementation.
• Review data from past insurance claims, employee surveys, health assessments and biometric screenings to make sure you select wellness programs that combat the most common health challenges affecting employees.
• Offer onsite wellness programs, such as biometric screenings, health fairs and walking clubs.
• Encourage employees to participate in wellness programs by offering incentives like gift cards, lower health insurance premiums, cash bonuses, discounts and contributions to health savings accounts.
• Make sure you communicate often.
• Provide employees with online tools that simplify important tasks like keeping track of health care costs.
• Track results to evaluate both the wellness programs and how individual employees in the programs are doing.

We are committed to helping individuals live healthier and supporting companies that share that goal. While following these tips may help employers and their employees achieve results like our Be Well Philly finalists did, we look forward to partnering with more companies and community organizations to improve the health of our employees, families and friends here and across the country.

Have a very happy and healthy Thanksgiving holiday weekend!

Learn more about Philadelphia magazine’s Be Well Philly Challenge

Friday, November 18, 2011

Reform Through Cultural Transformation

Last Tuesday, I had the pleasure of participating in the Philadelphia Business Journal’s inaugural “Health Care Innovation Awards” program. The event not only recognized some of the most innovative thought leaders in the area but hosted one of the most engaging health care panels I have heard in a long time.

When we talk about fixing the health care system, we often hear about innovation and technology driving change, but the panelists discussed a novel concept for the health care industry – the need to change the health care culture.

The main premise – to achieve long-lasting positive change, we need a culture in which ideas, visions and responsibilities are shared across all key stakeholders. When we can do that, we can break down barriers, develop multi-faceted approaches to solving problems and take advantage of opportunities to improve health care in this country.

But, cultural change is slow. It will require hard work and investments on many levels. Will it be worth it? The panel of experts said, “absolutely,” identifying five areas in which health providers, insurers and regulators could come together now in a “culture of collaboration” to improve our health system:

• Establish universal access to electronic health records;
• Improve coordinated care;
• Make hospitals safer;
• Share outcomes data and develop best practices to improve quality of care; and
• Enable nurse practitioners, pharmacists and other medical experts to practice to their fullest training.

I draw on the insights of one of the panelists, Rich Miller, CEO of Virtua and the Philadelphia Business Journal’s 2011 Health Care Innovation Awards’ “CEO of the Year,” to illustrate the concept. In the past, hospitals set goals based on occupancy rates – “heads in beds,” as he described it. Today, hospital leaders are discussing the need to keep patients out of those beds. Physicians will need to change their practice patterns, providing greater focus on wellness than sickness. Patients must change how they think and act when accessing the health care system. For example, non-critical care and preventive care services can be performed outside the hospital or doctor’s office – at their local pharmacies, for example.

Insurers will need to move away from their fee-for-service model, which rewards activity without regard to outcome. It will require that insurers become less transaction oriented and engage more as an insurer-activist… embracing sophisticated technology that leads to more and better data that is shared broadly to improve the health of the system and society as a whole.

Our collective goal should be a culture of care in which the five improvements mentioned above play a critical role, where patients receive the most clinically efficacious, cost-effective care in the right setting and at the right time by an appropriate medical professional to ensure the best clinical outcome.

We have learned from cultural changes of the past that results come from actively working together toward common goals – in the case of health care, an economically stable health care system and healthier Americans.

To learn more about the Philadelphia Business Journal’s Health Care Innovations Awards and the 2011 winners, go to

Friday, November 4, 2011

Take a Stroll Down Health Care Lane

With snow comes thoughts of the upcoming holidays, and walking down shopping streets and malls looking for the ideal gifts. But for UnitedHealthcare and millions of Americans, thoughts are on annual open enrollment season – and selecting the best health benefits for them and their families. But, according to a 2010 study by UnitedHealthcare, Americans spend more time choosing a car than they do selecting health benefits.

In a recent National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) survey, approximately 36 percent of all U.S. adults lack the necessary skills to read and understand basic information to manage their health. The study also revealed that 88 percent of all adults are less than proficient when it comes to understanding complex health care topics.

At UnitedHealthcare, we’re working to change that by arming employers and consumers with resources to help them make informed choices about their health plan options. We’ve found that accessibility to such information leads to better decisions and better health, which ultimately promotes affordability.

So we invite you to take a stroll down Health Care Lane.

Health Care Lane is both an online experience and a “brick-and-mortar” exhibit that bring the interactive website to life. Both versions of Health Care Lane are designed to improve consumer health literacy and help employers experience the many different health care programs they can put in place for their workforce.

As individuals stroll through this highly interactive town – either in person or online, they may visit the “Public Library” to learn about various health insurance terms and what UnitedHealthcare is doing about health literacy; the “Pharmacy” to get more information on managing prescriptions, keeping costs low and understanding the differences between brand-names and generics; the “Fitness Center” to find out more about wellness and preventive programs and healthy lifestyles; the “WiFi CafĂ©” to use online health tools and cost calculators; and the “Town Bank” to learn about financial tools and accounts, such as Health Savings Accounts.

While Health Care Lane is an engaging way to learn about health benefits, it is one of hundreds of Internet sites that provide consumers with good basic health and health benefits information. Or, visit a real library or fitness center or doctor’s office to get more information for better health.

As we near the beginning of the holiday season and the end of benefits open enrollment season – and our pending New Year’s resolutions, we encourage a trip down Health Care Lane or other health information destinations to get more educated and more engaged – so you and your family can live healthier lives.

Health Care Lane arrives in Philadelphia on Tuesday, November 8. For more information, visit We look forward to seeing you there. If you cannot join us in person, please take a stroll down Health Care Lane at