Author: Ami Bolles, Health and Well-Being Strategist
In the last article I wrote, I outlined why an organization should offer a wellness or well-being program. This article will focus on why biometrics are important as part of a comprehensive wellness program. Employers need to recognize that biometrics screenings alone are not effective and should not define a good workplace wellness program. Biometrics are most beneficial when organizations use the data to design a comprehensive wellness program1.
“If you just screen and leave it at that, it’s not beneficial in the long run”, says Dr. Ross Arena.
Biometric Screenings Defined
Let’s start with the basics. What is a biometric screening? A biometric screening captures key health data to identify individuals at risk for health issues such as diabetes, high cholesterol, etc. The goal of administering screenings is to reduce health risks, improved health, reduction in healthcare costs and improved workforce productivity2.
Most screenings will measure the following3:
- Blood pressure
- BMI and/or Waist circumference
- Blood Glucose levels
- Tobacco usage (can be collected via self-reporting or a cotinine test)
Screenings will offer one of two testing options; finger stick or venipuncture4. Immediate results occur when using finger stick, they are less costly and less invasive5. Venipuncture requires the samples to be sent to a laboratory for testing, is more expensive, but also is more accurate and gathers more data such as cotinine5.
When employers offer biometric screenings to their employees, they are administered in one of three ways; onsite, offsite or via physician fax forms. Many organizations employ a combination of the methods to best reach all employees. For example, one client we work with utilizes a blend of onsite and physician fax forms. This allows employees to choose which method works best for them as some individuals prefer to work exclusively with their physician; others may not be comfortable having their blood drawn at the worksite. Figure 1 below provides details on each biometric method and the types of organizations that use each.
Figure 1. Biometric Screening Options.
Benefits of Biometric Screenings for Employees
There is a wealth of value for employers and their employees to offer biometric screenings. Having employees “know their numbers” gives powerful education and tools to the individual. When an individual learns more about their health status and high-risk health behaviors, they can work with a coach to teach/educate them to implement a healthy lifestyle and take charge of their health improvement6. Employers can also customize their screening to meet the specific needs of their employees. In addition, they provide a bigger picture of an individual’s health and well-being, screenings can be combined with a health risk assessment.
It is important to consider adding a one-time consultation with a health coach following the biometric screenings. These sessions will allow employees a venue to understand their results and risk factors (if any) and equip them with the tools needed to make health improvement based on their results. The screenings can be conducted either telephonically or face-to-face and can be performed at the screening if using the fingerstick method or within two weeks of the screening if utilizing the venipuncture method.
Benefits of Biometric Screenings for the Organization – It’s in the Numbers
Offering biometric screenings to employees provides the organization with aggregate data of their population to understand future health risk costs. This data does not illustrate immediate costs but what could be expected in the future (often projections are a minimum of 3 to 5 years in the future).
This aggregate data equips the organization with the information needed to make changes and additions to culture and wellness programs to better meet the needs of their population. When doing this, most organizations will see a positive return on investment (ROI). This ROI is due to lower long-term benefit costs; keep in mind this ROI can only be realized when organizations use the data to create a comprehensive wellness program for their staff.
In addition, research shows improved resilience and high productivity can be realized when biometric screenings, as part of a comprehensive program, are implemented7.
In summary, biometric screenings are an important component in an overall wellness program for both the organization and its’ employees. Improving the health of employees by providing them with health data, offering essential tools and education and having the data to predict future health concerns and costs will truly help move the needle in workplace wellness.