Interview with Ron Goetzel, Ph.D.
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Posted by: Mari Ryan
As the keynote speaker for the 2nd Annual Wellness Conference, "Transforming Worksite Wellness Beyond ROI,” Ron Goetzel, Ph.D., addressed impacts beyond healthcare cost savings, organizational culture and effectiveness, as well as the challenges and limitations of ROI studies.
Dr. Goetzel, is a nationally recognized expert in health and productivity management, program evaluation, and return-on-investment and outcomes research. He has two current roles, Research Professor and Director, Institute for Health and Productivity Studies at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health and Vice President, Consulting and Applied Research at Truven Health Analytics.
We held a brief interview with Dr. Goetzel as a preview to the conference.
1.) What advice would you give to an health promotion or HR professional who is trying to make the case for an investment in wellness in his or her organization?
I will be covering this topic in my presentation. To respond on a high level, workers have modifiable health risk factors such as smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol that can lead to various diseases and disorders. The modifiable risk factors and associated diseases cost companies money in terms of higher medical claims and diminished worker productivity. The question is, "Can a company do anything about this?”, and the answer is "yes.” A systematic literature review by the Community Guide to Preventive Services, housed at the CDC, found that well-resourced, comprehensive, and evidence-based health promotion programs can "move the needle” on these modifiable risk factors and can have an impact on claims and productivity. Also, a positive ROI is possible if good programs are put in place.
2.) I’ve read a few articles recently and have spoken to a few employees who feel that health promotion does not belong in the workplace and that it has become an invasion of privacy. How would you respond to those critics?
Employers have a stake in the health and well-being of their workers. Healthy and present workers help a company perform better. Employers pay most of the insurance costs (the average is 75%) for their employees, so if the company is paying the bill, employees, as part of the contract, should do their part to try to be healthy. It’s a win/win situation because being healthy also means having a long and fulfilling life for individuals.
3.) If we are looking to budget per employee, what is the minimum you’d recommend for a successful program?
There are ranges for this. US employers spend around $5,000 per employee per year in health insurance alone. This amount does not include the cost for dependents. When you factor in absenteeism, disability, presenteeism, and safety costs, this number can double or triple the amount spent on healthcare. I’d recommend investing $200 to $500 per employee per year for a good program. This is a small fraction of the investment already being made in employees’ health.
4.) Outside of health plan costs, how would you recommend that an organization measure the success of their wellness program?
There are many layers to measuring the success of a program. The first level is a structural assessment to measure the elements of a good program.Does it have a no smoking policy? Do they offer healthy food in cafeterias and vending machines? Is there flextime for exercise? Are employees provided low or no cost prescription drugs needed to manage chronic conditions? The next level is a process evaluation. Employers should measure the extent to which employees participate in a program and are happy with it. The third level is outcomes that are related to health improvement, medical cost savings, and productivity improvement. Employers should look at behaviors and risk factors to measure if programs are working, for example, if they are helping employees quit smoking and lose weight.
5.) Knowing that you have two jobs, Research Professor and Director, Institute for Health and Productivity Studies at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health and Vice President, Consulting and Applied Research at Truven Health Analytics, what do you do to manage your own health with such a busy schedule?
I have worked to establish health habits as part of my routine. I take 45 minutes to an hour of each day for a walk or other physical activity. I try to eat healthy and make two out of my three meals salad-based. I weigh myself each day, and I make sure I receive all recommended health screenings for my age. To manage stress, I try to be mindful about how to best respond to stressful situations. To manage work-life balance, I make time for non-work activities and family. I try to take the many lessons I have learned from health promotion studies and apply them to my own life.