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Workplace Health Informatics

laptop with numbersOne of the most important assets of an enterprise is its information. The reliability of that information and the systems that generate it are crucial to the organization’s success. The collection, analysis, and interpretation of health-related data are essential to the planning, implementation, and evaluation of the workplace health program. This system is needed for several reasons:

  • Increasing employers’ understanding of worker health problems and cost drivers
  • Informing the development of a plan to guide actions
  • Assessing the impact of the workplace health program
  • Properly identifying health risks and hazards from the work environment

Understand employee health issues and costs

A workplace health program should include the ability to track changes in the health status of employees over time, such as part of an annual health assessment. A system should be established to track changes in the health status of employees over time.

For instance, such a system might include an employee health survey that addresses items on health behavior (e.g., physical activity, dietary habits), use of preventive health services, and changes in measured health status (e.g., blood pressure and cholesterol levels).

It would be helpful to set up the system so that program planners can see data for subgroups of employees in sufficient numbers so that individual employees can not be identified and their information is confidential.

For instance, it might be of interest to compare changes in health status among men and women, and among older and younger employees.

  • Establish a routine data collection system of important health and safety indicators
  • The assessment module provides additional tools and protocols to gather information from other sources to determine employee health and safety issues and cost drivers

The system should also be established to synthesize information from multiple sources. For example, identifying health risks and hazards from the work environment involves collecting and analyzing data from workplace inspections, measurement and evaluation of exposure, examination of workers, record keeping, and reporting of health effects and exposures.

Tools and Resources

  • Employee health surveys or health risk appraisals are one tool to understand worker health issues and concerns. Health Risk Appraisals at the Worksite: Basics for HRA Decision Making [PDF - 2.3MB] is a guide developed by the National Business Coalition on Health in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the selection and use of health risk appraisals in the workplace available for employers
  • The CDC National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has developed as part of its WorkLife Initiative the Essential Elements document which identifies twenty components of a comprehensive work-based health protection and health promotion program and includes both guiding principles and practical direction for organizations seeking to develop effective workplace programs. The Essential Element’s twenty components are divided into four areas: Organizational Culture and Leadership; Program Design; Program Implementation and Resources; and Program Evaluation

Inform the development of a workplace health improvement plan

Use data to select priorities
  • Data collected during the assessment process and summarized in a final report can be used to select priority workplace health program strategies and interventions and incorporate them into the workplace health improvement plan
  • Data can be used to justify the strategies chosen to key stakeholders by linking the activities selected to the needs and interests of the employer and employees, focusing on highly prevalence or costly health conditions or risk factors, addressing structural barriers (e.g., lack of time to participate), or working within the constraints of the resources available   
Use NCQA HEDIS measures when selecting health plan providers
  • The National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) Health Plan Employer Data and Information Set (HEDIS) compares health plan’s performance in quality and service of health care on more than 70 measures
  • HEDIS is a tool used by more than 90% of America’s health plans to measure performance on important dimensions of care and service
  • In 2007, more than 60 HEDIS measures were in use covering a range of health care issues such as effectiveness of care (e.g., percent of breast cancer screenings), access and availability of care (e.g., percent initiation of alcohol dependence treatment), patient satisfaction with care (e.g., through a survey), use of service (e.g., antibiotic utilization rates), and cost of care

Assess the workplace health program impact over time

Track participation rates over time
  • Information about the proportion of employees who participate in various program activities can provide valuable feedback for improving outreach and program offerings. It is particularly helpful to determine and understand participation rates by employee background characteristics (e.g., gender and age group), job category, and business unit. This type of information can help in identifying areas where program outreach may need to be improved, as well as the successful components of the program
Compare baseline measures to outcomes
  • Use the data from the assessment process as baseline measures and compare with outcomes of interest over time such as the growth of program activities over time, health behavior changes, rates of change, or economic impacts on health care costs
Ensure that vendors are collecting and reporting the most relevant information
  • Health care providers have the ability to track the use of preventive health and treatment services for various health conditions. It is recommended that a routine request (i.e., annually or every 2 years) be made to health care vendors to share aggregate data on the use of health care benefits and services and their associated costs. These data could be used to track changes in the types of health issues affecting employees and to assess the impact of the workplace health programs and policies on the receipt of preventive health services
 

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