More than a third of American adults are obese — 78.6 million to be exact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and more than 29 million, or 9.3% of the population, have diabetes.

Those staggering statistics prove that the days of treating people only after they get sick are over, and we have to take preemptive action, says Cathy Kenworthy, CEO of Interactive Health, a Chicago-area outcomes-based wellness program provider. “There’s no way that the current model can be effective,” she says. “Preventative care is a very logical next progression.”

That’s where wellness programs come in, Kenworthy says, and there’s a trend advisers should be aware of: “Wellness has become far more popular and far more well-known than five years ago,” says Kenworthy, whose goal is to change health care in the U.S. “These programs literally have that kind of promise,” she says.

Part of the increased interest in wellness programs is due to the Affordable Care Act, which increased the premium reduction employers can offer employees who participate from 20% to 30% — paying lower premiums is one of the most popular incentives. “Programs are moving to a much stronger outcomes-based orientation,” says Teresa Taylor-Dusharm, director at Chicago-based Advocate Health Care. “We see flexibility so the employee can customize what their reasonable alternatives could be.”

Identifying chronic conditions

Employers are putting more of an emphasis on identifying chronic conditions like diabetes, Kenworthy says. A biometric screening can help identify employees who are at risk of developing chronic diseases, she says, which hopefully prompts them to take immediate action.

Technology, like wearable devices, is also shaping wellness programs. Taylor-Dusharm expects wearables “to be even more robust, accurate and personalized” in the future. “We are seeing a greater increase in the use of sophisticated analytics to drive the wellness program,” she says. “I think the future will be more on the predictive modeling capabilities.”

Communication is a key part of the process for advisers who are helping their clients implement a wellness program, Taylor-Dusharm says. “Identify clear goals and outcomes expectations for vendors and partners they work with,” she says. “Be aware and require outcomes data and reports that measure those metrics on a regular basis to assure expectations are being met and exceeded.” 

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