The old adage, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” is still sound advice, but corporations today are taking employee wellness a lot more seriously than a daily dose of fruit. Individual health and wellness is being driven by biometric screening programs, chronic disease management, nurse educational specialists, registered dietitians, certified everything — trainers, ergonomic specialists and hypnotherapists. This isn’t your father’s wellness plan to be sure.

At Phoenix-based, nonprofit Banner Health, for instance, being in the business of health care means the company’s leaders take employee wellness very seriously. Banner’s 35,000 employees have access to Employees Choosing Healthy Options (ECHO), which is the company’s prevention and wellness program.

The ECHO program, similar to those used by many organizations, is designed to provide employees with objective assessments of their health and risk factors, as well as options for making healthy choices and lifestyle changes.

The ECHO program focuses on chronic disease prevention to help manage health problems such as heart disease and diabetes, which can be prevented or delayed with lifestyle changes and medical intervention. The effects of these diseases in the work place can be costly and lead to increased absenteeism, decreased productivity and rising health care costs.

To reduce the risk for chronic disease, some examples of proactive programs include:

  • Biometric screenings annually to identify risk areas.
  • Assessment and individual review of risks.
  • Education and activities that encourage lifestyle changes.

The biometric screening has proven to motivate lifestyle behavior changes, and one-on-one counseling provides the opportunity to discuss individual risk factors to make further changes. Organizations that offer organized wellness programs and annual screenings send the message to employees that “we care about you,” and, in return, will see:

  • Increased productivity.
  • A decrease or maintenance of health care costs.
  • Decreased employee turnover.
  • Recruitment of the best talent.
  • A healthier organization culture.

On the federal level, workplace wellness has risen to the forefront and will continue to have an even greater impact as aspects of health care reform go into effect over the next several years. As wellness programs evolve, they need to be evidence-based and measured for their appropriateness and cost effectiveness as prevention interventions.

So, an apple a day can certainly help, but you also might want to include wellness planning in your place of business for a healthy employee base and bottom line.

Cindy Keller, RN MAOM, is director the ECHO program at Phoenix-based Banner Health, one of the nation’s largest nonprofit health systems.

Arizona Business Magazine Jan/Feb 2011