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Wellsource Blog

The Importance of Self-Reported Data In Crafting Wellness Programs

August 01, 2019

This blog post was written by Brittany U. Carter, DHSc, MPH, Director of Health and Research at Wellsource

Workplace wellness programs are on the rise, with almost half of all employers offering some type of health promotion or wellness program in 2017. Not only do these programs work to improve employee health and change behaviors, but they’re also instrumental in increasing work productivity and employee retention as well as reducing costs. With so many advantages in implementing workplace wellness programs, you may be wondering why it’s not standard operating procedure across the board.

The fact of the matter is that in order for a workplace wellness program to be successful, it has to be implemented correctly. One of the best ways to do this is to offer a Health Risk Assessment (HRA) to your population. By offering an HRA, you’re providing them with the means to get specific feedback on lifestyle and wellness choices that could help address current or future risks, instead of blanketing your population with general information and hoping it lands with the right people.

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Why Are HRAs Important?

Health Risk Assessments are more than simply getting your population to take a survey about themselves. The information that’s gathered through an HRA and the results offered can have a lasting - and crucial - impact on individuals. As addressed in a piece for Corporate Wellness Magazine:

"Take diabetes for example. It is estimated that the number of U.S. adults diagnosed with diabetes will nearly triple by 2060. Some modifiable lifestyle risk factors contributing to diabetes include having a diet consisting of refined grains and added sugars, being mostly sedentary, and being overweight or obese. Health and wellness professionals can use the self-reported health, lifestyle, and change readiness data to not only implement system-level changes, such as removing sugar-sweetened beverages from workplace vending machines or offering gym membership reimbursement to promote physical activity but also to target interventions to individuals with or at risk for diabetes.

The Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) is one of the most effective evidence-based lifestyle interventions among individuals at risk for diabetes. It provides year-long online training from lifestyle coaches and is accessible via in-person or online classes to accommodate roadblocks such as time constraints or mobility issues. Online intervention can appeal to employees who don’t like group challenges. And because an employee can take the course without co-workers or managers knowing, it helps address workplace privacy concerns.

But what if the employees who most need the DPP aren’t ready to address the behaviors that put them at risk for diabetes? Self-reported data can reveal underlying triggers, such as stress or psychological distress, that lessen the likelihood that an individual will be able to cut out foods with added sugars or start a fitness regimen. Other interventions, such as personalized stress management, mindfulness therapy, and financial wellness coaching might need to occur as well."

Are There Challenges with Self-Reported Data?

At the end of the day, the fact that HRAs are based on self-reported data has led to some hesitation. After all, it’s difficult to validate the accuracy of the information.

To give you a better idea, individuals who take the HRA could be concerned with who has access to the data and what it will mean for them, either at work or in their personal lives. For example, someone who drinks a glass or two of wine a week may not hesitate to answer truthfully, but an individual who has two or three glasses every night may be tempted to fudge the truth a bit.

Additionally, some users might be reporting inaccurately completely by accident. When asked to state how much physical activity they do in a day or week, it’s statistically likely that a user will either over or underestimate their output. This could be intentional, but it also could be because they’re simply looking at all of their daily activities (walking the dog, the walk from the bus station to the office, the quick trip to the cafe) and providing inaccurate information in good faith.

The solution? By reducing the cognitive load on the user, you need to ask a question in the simplest way to get the simplest answer, so that you’re more likely to see accurate results. Here’s a good example of what a question should look like:

“How many minutes do you exercise each day?” with a spot to fill in a number of minutes per day and a system that does the math for the user instead of, “How many minutes per week do you exercise?” with the user expected to think back to each day of the week, tally up their cumulative exercise, and report back the answer.

How to Address Self-Reporting Challenges

With all of that in mind, it’s easy to see where self-reporting could face challenges. However, it’s absolutely in the best interest of the end-user to report accurately. If their employer or plan administrator sees that an individual is at risk for diabetes, or is suffering from stress that could lead to mental health issues or burnout, they can point them in the direction of resources to address the concerns.

In order to encourage accurate self-reporting, it’s important to foster an environment of trust. End-users should be made fully aware of who will have access to their results and whether or not the information is anonymous. They should also know that their results will only be used to provide them with potentially life-saving resources and programs.

Moreover, it’s important for end-users to understand the legal ramifications of what happens with their data and to know that it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against their employees based on the type of information gathered in an HRA.

Learn more about the importance of self-reported data in our video webinar: The Most Important Data Set for Population Health Success

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"In order for a workplace wellness program to be successful, it has to be implemented correctly. One of the best ways to do this is to offer a Health Risk Assessment (HRA) to your population."

Brittany U. Carter, DHSc, MPH
Wellsource

Brittany Carter