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wellness digest—week of may 9

May 16, 2011

in wellness digest

a roundup of last week’s news that caught my interest.

1. health insurers making record profits as many postpone care

this article dovetails nicely with this analysis of the 2011 milliman medical index, covered by friend and colleague jane sarasohn-kahn on her blog, health populi. this article probes insurers’ rising profits in the midst of rising costs for employees and employers, where being a “smart” health care consumer isn’t always manifesting itself in the most positive way.

“The insurers, which base what they charge in premiums largely on what they expect to pay out in future claims, say they still expect higher demand for care later this year…Because they say they expect costs to rebound, insurers have not been shy about asking for higher rates…Some observers wonder if the insurers are simply raising premiums in advance of the full force of the health care law in 2014.”

2. pew’s new data and what it means for the future of health info

susannah fox at pew’s internet & american life project has released a new study on the social life of health information, which i haven’t had the time to dig into yet. but brian reid at WCG has, and he asks—and answers—some key questions.

“The growth in online access and the skyrocketing rates of social media adoption is almost a given. The big question isn’t whether there is searching going on. It’s what people are doing with that information: is this enriching relationships with physicians? Leading to an explosion in self-care? Shopping smarter for health care services? Building patient-to-patient networks?

“The answer to all of these questions seems to be ‘maybe.’”

3. some employers rethink five-day workweek

can the five-day workweek be killed out of habits, namely ours? we experience our lives in five-day bites from the time we enter day care or kindergarten. then it rolls on from there. this MSNBC article explores the potential doorstop to compressed workweeks and flexible hours.

“Karissa Thacker, a management psychologist, thinks it goes even deeper. ‘The five-day workweek goes back to kindergarten,’ Thacker said. ‘The structure and conditioning people have around the five-day workweek is huge.’

“Despite technological advances that should have led to radical changes in the structure of the workweek, she added, ‘we’re still very early in the curve in terms of how the workplace is changing.’”

4. money talks: financial incentives for health

this article from harvard health publications shows how financial incentives paid off for quitting tobacco and losing weight, with caveats. incentives alone, the article concludes, are not going to do the trick.

“The results show that paying can pay off. Members of the incentive group were more likely to enroll in a smoking cessation program than members of the information-only group (15.4% versus 5.4%). They were also more likely to quit within six months (20.9% versus 11.8%) and to remain nonsmokers six months after quitting (14.7% versus 5.0%) and 15 to 18 months after quitting (9.4% versus 3.6%).

“The financial incentive program cost the employer $750 for each successful participant. Since each employee who quits smoking saves the boss $3,400 a year as a result of increased productivity, decreased absenteeism, and fewer illnesses, that’s a bargain. But even though money talks, it does not talk loud enough to solve the smoking problem; for more than 90% of the volunteers, nicotine addiction was stronger than a $750 reward for quitting.”

5. kids target kids in battle of obesity

this week i dissected a childhood obesity campaign that didn’t work; it’s only fair to point out one that might. it’s a kid-developed process built by sixth-graders at a genesee charter school. no statistical results are shared in this article. what you see is the practicality and benefit of a peer-developed initiative.

“Peer programs to address obesity appear to be rare compared to initiatives developed by adults and aimed at children or families. But they’re obvious to the kids.

“‘We have their perspective,’ said Lydia Robbins, 11, of Pittsford. ‘We would try to find good ways to help them understand that staying fit is really important. It affects your adult life.’

“Bonnie DeVinney, vice president and chief program officer of the Greater Rochester Health Foundation, wasn’t aware of data about peer programs. ‘But intuitively we know that kids look up to other kids.’ She said that if the students are perceived as cool and likeable, other kids will want to be like them.”

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