How soon is too soon to review population health trends? It’s a valid question. You don’t want to burden your population by administering a health risk assessment (HRA) too frequently, yet an HRA collects valuable information that both informs future initiatives and enables you to track the success of your wellness initiatives. As we navigate the uncharted territory of the COVID-19 pandemic, now is a good time to survey your population’s health.
You should assess your population at least annually. Twice a year is ideal. Some Wellsource clients choose to check their population’s progress quarterly. Frequent analysis helps you closely monitor changes in your population—improvements as well as declines. And when events disrupt our daily lives, it’s a good idea to check in on your population’s health by administering an HRA, even if it’s not part of your normal cadence.
With everyone around the globe figuring out their “new normal,” many people are finding that they’re struggling to maintain their physical and mental health in the way that they used to. Maybe they’re having difficulty accessing healthy foods with the restrictions placed on public transportation and grocery store hours. Or maybe they aren’t able to exercise as frequently with gyms closed. Similarly, their mental health could be taking a hit with the stress of avoiding the virus, working from home while caring for children and/or elders, and the social isolation that’s been imposed—or all of the above.
During a global pandemic or not, it’s always beneficial to understand your population and gather as many insights you can to better address their health risks.
The data gathered by a health risk assessment (HRA) is an excellent starting place to assess benchmarks and health goals. But collecting and reviewing HRA results can’t be a “set it and forget it” project. Many organizations issue and review HRA results on an annual basis, but in times like these as conditions continue to shift, administering an HRA semi-annually or more frequently could provide invaluable insights. After all, the more data you have to work with—and the more current it is—the better job you can do of creating targeted wellness initiatives.
How HRAs Can Provide You with The Data You Need
The lifestyle and health data gathered via HRAs is an essential component of your wellness programming. This data provides more insight into your member population than you would be able to gather if you reviewed every one of their medical charts. Sure, their chart will tell you the high-level details: height, weight, chronic conditions and health history, but an HRA will provide you with more nuanced information. Insights such as typical daily activity levels, health and fitness goals, whether they have social support, how stressed they are feeling, and their readiness to change their health habits. A digital HRA makes this information instantly accessible to your team as the results will calculate and compile automatically.
An HRA will also allow you to track your population’s health data overtime. You can compare time-over-time data to see if your population is maintaining their health status, improving, or getting worse while also digging deeper into specific areas that could be impacting results—whether the comparison is quarterly, semi-annually, or annually. You know there is a correlation between physical inactivity and higher incidences of hypertension or obesity. When you see and uptick in members self-reporting sedentary lifestyles with very little exercise on a regular basis, you can predict an increased prevalence of these chronic conditions in the future—unless you plan an effective intervention.
However, administering your HRA and reviewing it once per year—while certainly a great start—doesn’t have to be the end of your data-collection.
Why Are Frequent Reviews of Your Wellness Program Important?
The more frequently you administer your HRA, the more opportunities you have to gather information to inform your programs. Since HRAs serve as a snapshot into an individual’s health at a moment in time, it can be difficult to get a well-rounded scope of your members if you’re only checking in every 365 days—especially if you administer the HRA around the same time every year.
For example, if you issue your HRA every December you may have individuals who indicate that they are not engaged in any type of exercise program. However, if you issue the HRA twice per year—once in June and once in December—you may learn that you actually have a segment of your population that is starting to exercise in the spring and summer months, but by December they’ve given up. Similarly, you may find that if you administer the HRA right after the New Year you’ll see a lot of people responding that they’ve recently started exercising, but like gym usage in February, you may find these resolutions have cooled over time.
These more frequent check-ins, regardless of the exact time of year they’re administered, show that members are exercising but they aren’t sticking with it. That additional assessment could provide you with the beneficial insight for creating programming and materials to keep members motivated. When your HRA includes a health education component, it reminds members of specific healthy habits they can easily incorporate in their daily lifestyle. The more frequently someone takes an HRA the more they have the ability to try to improve their score by being reminded how well they are doing or how they haven’t yet made the progress they hoped for.
How to Encourage Population Participation
One of the struggles that wellness programs face is difficulty engaging participants, which means that adding additional HRA administrations throughout the year may seem daunting. However, HRA data can also provide you with insight that can help you increase not only HRA engagement but health outcomes as well.
The data gathered and techniques to implement include:
- Knowing that many members of your population have access to a computer or smartphone and administering your HRA digitally.
- Creating and encouraging the use of health portals where members can easily access their records and lab results, book appointments, request referrals, and receive vaccine reminders.
- Providing materials and resources that accommodate low health literacy to ensure that your members are able to understand and engage with the content.
Be sure to show your members how easy the HRA is complete. This will help you engage every segment of your population, which is critical to developing your programming.
Since Medicaid encompasses such a wide spectrum of member ages, health statuses, and social determinants of health factors it’s nearly impossible to create a one-size-fits-all approach to wellness. Learn more about how to efficiently engage your Medicaid population in our new guide, HRA Data to Increase Medicaid Engagement: 5 Strategies.