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Build vs. Buy: Which Health Risk Assessment Approach is Right for You?

By Wellsource, Inc.

For organizations striving to improve the health and well-being of a population, health risk assessments (HRAs) provide valuable information for team members and the company. Once executives decide an HRA is needed, they face another challenging decision: whether to build or buy the HRA. This discussion typically evolves into a cost-benefit analysis.  
Many organizations enter the conversation with the mindset that a do-it-yourself approach will save money. But that line of thought can be expensive. Often overlooked in these initial conversations are the unforeseen fees, potential strain on resources, regulatory requirements, and many other factors that go into the building process.  
Being in the business of health risk assessments, we know firsthand how much work is involved in building one. In this post, we share three significant components to consider when deciding whether to build or buy an HRA solution. 

1. Personnel and Resource Costs 

When budgeting, project managers understand the importance of accounting not just for the known expenses but also those unknown—the ones you haven’t considered but inevitably come up during the project. When implementing an HRA, companies often do a great job anticipating the known costs, but when building something from the ground up, the unknown costs often blow the budget.  

A successful HRA is far more complex than meets the eye. When building an HRA, you must consider expenses from all angles: time, resources, fees, and other associated costs. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. 
Creating an HRA often becomes a team effort, with different skill sets needed to research, compile statistics, write content, analyze data, and—of course—create the interface to administer the entire project. Your team will need the knowledge and training to execute the technical aspects of the project. Plus, they must ensure assessment questions consider the health literacy of your population and are designed to maximize completion—as well as meet state and federal regulations.  
Finding a resource to manage the technical aspects of the HRA—for example, creating a portal for access with secure and compliant data storage standards—can be a massive barrier that blows your budget sky high. 

Sure, buying an HRA does come with a cost. But you’ll be getting expert knowledge with a known and predictable price—eliminating the risk of hidden expenses to your team’s resources and budget.

2. Content and Analysis Development  

Building an HRA places all responsibility for development and maintenance on the organization. You’ll need to consider: 

Creating the assessment isn’t as simple as just throwing some questions into an online survey; researching, building, and analyzing the content and responses of an HRA is likely a job fit for an entire team. Some responsibilities can require a bit (or a lot) of specialization. 

Do you have the in-house resources and expertise to account for: 

  • Delivery formats that are easily accessible and user-friendly
  • User interface/design that is engaging and user-friendly, moving people strategically through health and lifestyle questions while encouraging honest answers
  • Content that is useful, informative, scientifically valid, and meets applicable certification and regulatory standards (and continues to meet those standards, which can change often)

An HRA should give a quick snapshot of the information gathered and their risk, but it is most beneficial to an organization when someone reviews the data to examine trends in population health. Buying an HRA allows organizations to administer the assessment and use the data in a meaningful way. 

3. Achieving and Maintaining Certifications

Many organizations think that the work is done once they've launched the HRA. They're wrong. 

Regulations from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) stipulate how personal health data can be used and stored. The ramifications for violations can be substantial. As a result, maintaining a single HRA requires near-constant management.  

Many organizations are also working within ever-changing regulatory standards from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid (CMS) and the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA). Consistent management of changes and regularly updating the HRA is vital to obtaining and keeping accreditation from these institutions. 
Suppose your organization is planning to seek accreditation from the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCOA) or Utilization Review Accreditation Commission (URAC). In that case, purchasing a quality HRA from an organization that has already achieved NCQA certification from an independent agency is a good idea. It's been measured against—and passed—standards for security and privacy, evidence-based data collection, population stratification, health education, and measurement of health outcomes. 


To learn more about HRAs and explore whether building or buying is right for your business, download our free guide: Health Risk Assessments: Build or Buy? A Guide for Population Health Professionals  

Tags: Corporate Wellness, health risk assessment, HRA, wellness program, Workplace Wellness

"When building an HRA, you must consider expenses from all angles: time, resources, fees, and other associated costs."