Should we outsource our employee wellness programs?

Outsourcing non-core functions has been a growing trend for years, and while formal data on this point is limited, the administration of workplace wellness programs is no different. Just as many companies outsource payroll, HR (via employee leasing), bookkeeping, janitorial services and legal representation and advice, many companies choose to outsource a variety of corporate wellness functions – for the very same reasons.

Multi-disciplinary expertise.

Few small or mid-size employers are able to put together the interdisciplinary team of health and wellness experts that a specialized firm can. For example, an integrated wellness team may involve:

  • Physicians
  • Physicians assistants and nurse practitioners
  • Phlebotomists
  • Nutritionists
  • Certified diabetes counselors
  • Certified fitness instructors
  • Statisticians
  • HIPAA and privacy experts
  • Benefits communication specialists

Access to state-of-the-art

Today’s best-in-class employee wellness programs are making use of innovative technology and software programs for data tracking and implementation. Few companies have the expertise to develop this technology in house, nor do they want to go through the massive costs of developing it. It’s much better for a specialist wellness vendor to develop it and spread the costs among dozens of corporate clients over time. Employers can then benefit from technology while avoiding the substantial costs of development.

Compliance

Corporate wellness delivers well-established ROI – but it’s also beginning to attract the attention of regulators. There are important compliance considerations for workplace wellness professionals that are not well understood or reliably implemented even among HR generalists.

For example, ask your senior managers or your HR professionals about the Americans With Disabilities Act or Health Insurance Portability and Accessibility Act and they can probably tell you all about them. But how about GINA, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act?

Well, that’s a lot less well-known, even among HR veterans. But it has important ramifications when it comes to running a compliant corporate wellness program, because, like HIPAA, it requires a careful separation of health insurance information from hiring managers.

Outsourcing your workplace wellness program also keeps your company and its managers out of EEOC trouble. Consider: Even asking a worker if she’s pregnant could leave your company dangerously exposed to a sex discrimination complaint. You can’t even ask that during a job interview.

But a third party vendor can ask the important health questions – provided they maintain a strict policy of confidentiality.

There are other issues: Yes, you can provide certain incentives to encourage participation. But under a set of EEOC rules that became effective last year, if you pay too much, or structure your program the wrong way, you could get into hot water with the Department of Labor.

Working with an experienced third-party vendor who specializes in corporate wellness (i.e., us) can help you avoid stepping on regulatory rakes, while still ensuring you reap the benefits of improved employee health: Reduced health expenditures, increased employee engagement, fewer lost hours to sickness, injuries or presenteeism, and reduced turnover thanks to employee satisfaction and alignment with a pro-wellness corporate culture.

Reduced worker’s compensation insurance claim exposure

Outsourcing can also help limit your exposure to workers compensation and errors and omissions claims. For example:

What happens when your well-meaning fitness guru in accounting gives dietary tips to a diabetic that happen to put her in the hospital with ketoacidosis? Or that weekend warrior Crossfit enthusiast is showing someone how to deadlift (with poor technique) and the worker throws out his back?

A trained and certified nutritionist or certified diabetes educator is unlikely to cause the first problem, and a trained fitness coach is a lot less likely to cause the second. If there is a problem, the vendor’s own liability insurance and the practitioner’s own E&O insurance is there to help limit the risk to your company and protect the interests of your employees.

Confidentiality Encourages Participation

An effective workplace wellness program encourages participation. The greater the participation, the more effective it’s going to be. But employees have privacy concerns: They don’t want their boss to know their private health issues, and they certainly don’t want their health information used against them.

When this happens, the money employers thought they were saving by doing everything in house on an ad hoc basis gets vaporized by lost opportunity in the form of reduced participation, inaccurate reporting and consequently suboptimal decision-making when it comes to the design and implementation of your corporate wellness program.

Employers can address their privacy issues and encourage participation and accurate reporting by using outside vendors with a strict policy of confidentiality. Employers get enough aggregate data to make key decisions about how to structure their wellness programs to maximize their own corporate objectives, such as reducing health care utilization, worker’s compensation days and lost time due to illness or stress. But using a third-party vendor helps ensure that individual privacy concerns are respected – and that employees know this.

One analogy: The Chaplain Corps in the military. Any veteran understands this dynamic: A Catholic chaplain may take a service member’s confession in private – and the commanding officer and first sergeant will never know what was said.

Focus on your core competency.

If you want a laugh, ask our wellness representatives how to make widgets. Or ask our dietitian how to write and document code for your solutions. Or calibrate your sensitive equipment. We don’t have a clue. Seriously.

We know as much about making widgets as most of our clients know about the details of running wellness programs!

Outsourcing the key components of your corporate wellness program just makes sense.

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