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Two key ingredients for keeping health costs down at work, ACOEM Journal says

To meet their goal of lowering health care costs, worksite health promotion programs must be well implemented and have strong management support, reports the December Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

If either element is missing, health care costs may actually increase, according to an in-depth evaluation of health promotion programs and practices at PPG Industries. The lead author was Niranjana M. Kowlessar, PhD, of Thomson Reuters, Washington, D.C.

The researchers analyzed survey data from 37 PPG worksites, including specific evaluations of program implementation and management support. The relationship between these factors and the reduction in health care costs achieved by the worksite health promotion program was assessed.

At worksites with higher scores for either implementation or management support – but not both – health care costs actually went up after the health promotion program was introduced. The average increases were about $950 and $1,400 per employee per year, respectively.

In contrast, costs decreased at worksites with high scores for both implementation and management support, suggesting a significant “interaction effect.” At these sites, health care costs decreased by $1,900 per employee per year, compared to sites with low scores for both management and implementation.

Worksite health promotion programs can improve employee health, with the potential for reduced costs leading to a positive return-on-investment. However, companies remain skeptical about the financial benefits. The new study seeks to identify critical elements of programs that are successful in reducing health care costs.

The new data from PPG suggest that good program implementation and strong management support are essential to achieving financial benefits from worksite health promotion programs. The study is an important step toward the goal of connecting “soft” measures of program effectiveness to “hard” measures of outcomes – particularly health care costs. The researchers encourage other companies to use similar surveys “to identify gaps in management support and program implementation that may influence program effectiveness.”

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