Many of you may know that one of my responsibilities outside of my day job is serving as a member of the board of directors for Healthwise.  Since 1975, the Boise-based company has set the standard for consumer health content and patient education.  Their content business began by publishing a book called the Healthwise Handbook educating individuals about living a healthy lifestyle by providing basic information about preventative measures and health issues.  Over the years, the company evolved its product to be Internet based as health portals, such as WebMD, rose to the forefront, and the company still provides content for many of these portals today.

What’s striking about the health industry is that the same transformation of power is happening there as is in the general consumer environment.  While Healthwise was ahead of its time understanding that individuals sought empowerment managing their own health, much of the industry was still operating under the old model.  In general, patients have been referred to and thought of as individuals without a lot of information or power.  There is an implied hierarchical connotation to the word patient, not dissimilar to the word consumer.  Today, there is obviously much movement afoot to empower patients with information and choices enabling them to be accountable for their own health management.  Healthwise supports a number of initiatives, including technology that supports Participant empowerment in healthcare.

Fellow board member Ted Epperly, MD, has written an excellent book titled Fractured, about the underlying philosophy and approach to healthcare and why change is so vital in the Age of Participation, and critical to our economy and the overall health of our nation. As a result, many physicians, hospitals, and health organizations are rethinking their approach and incorporating the Participation Way into the basic fundamentals of how they approach relationships with the people they used to refer to as patients.

Because the political lines are so deeply drawn in today’s environment, the interest of the Participant may become lost in decision-making.  There are numerous examples of this currently happening in policy decisions at the state, local and federal levels.  As a result, progress is sometimes stalled or even lost.  Because of my board involvement I have visibility into these issues and opportunities, and thought I would share a different spin on the issues.

As an employer of a large number of people, I also have begun to think about how I could formalize promoting employee health through programs and initiatives.  At Performics, we currently track employee satisfaction, attrition, and productivity.  I believe we might be missing an opportunity to think about how employee health affects these other measures, particularly productivity.  Our view might actually prove to be counter intuitive, meaning productivity generally means time spent with butts in seats or cost efficiency, when in fact this might actually not be the case.  Encouraging employees to take time to conduct healthy activities while on the job might in fact improve productivity as well.

Healthwise currently has a program designed to encourage, track and reward healthy workplace behaviors, and for years has experimented with the underlying philosophy that workplaces promoting healthy behaviors does indeed improve productivity.  For those of you interested in exploring other proven options, there is a company called Healthways that offers comprehensive solutions that improve well-being, decrease healthcare costs, enhance performance and generate economic value for employers.  Beyond productivity, implementing programs that encourage employee health and wellness might truly affect the bottom line if it reduces employee benefit costs and work lost from sick days.  I would love to hear from anyone who has experiences with such a program, its success, or thoughts and ideas about implementing one.