Today’s healthcare system is failing blue-collar workers who deal with chronic diseases, creating unnecessary “barriers” that are worsening employee health.
So says George Brown, director of Retro Health, the onsite clinics created by beverage distributor L&F Distributors, which provides medical testing and consultation to L&F’s 1,200 employees and their dependents in Texas and New Mexico.
L&F employees, many of whom drive delivery trucks or move cases of beer in a warehouse, told their supervisors and HR leaders that time and money prevent them from accessing care to control issues like weight, diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension and more.
They typically say “I’ve got to clock out, drive across town and see a doctor. I’m going to sit there for a couple of hours in the waiting room and then see the doctor for maybe 10 minutes or probably less,” explains Brown.
L&F executives took a two-pronged approach to provide more attentive medical care to their employees while reducing their visits to emergency departments. In 2017, the employer built nine onsite medical offices inside their distribution centers and a year later it provided employees with health solution provider b.well Connected Health’s platform, a suite of mobile tools through which employees can store medical records, co-pay and insurance information, and receive healthcare advice.
With this one-two approach, the beverage distributor saw ED visits slashed by 69%, overall per-member, per-month health costs reduced by 22%, and utilization of the onsite clinics increased by 57% in one year. (A recent UnitedHealth Group study found that an ED visit costs around $2,200 on average, and about two-thirds of the nation’s roughly 27 million annual ED visits are avoidable.)
For Brown, a major driver of the success comes down to the employee adoption rate of the b.well solution. So far, 90% of employees have registered for the tool, and more than 60% have used it on a regular basis since its introduction in 2018. And during the early days of COVID, the b.well app was HR’s primary form of communication for employees to learn about prevention information and pandemic updates.
b.well describes its platform as a digital health management tool that combines employees’ medical history gathered from their physicians and caregivers to share this information with the employees’ current and future medical professionals for a holistic view of their health. The solution also gives employers data analysis of the workforce to provide a “snapshot” of employee health and wellness without violating the end users’ HIPAA rights, says Heather Crosby, director of clinical programs for b.well.
In addition to improving employee health, the app and the rollout of onsite clinics have also helped with the beverage distributor’s employee engagement. Brown says that beverage distributors typically experience a high worker turnover rate but resignations have lessened since it implemented the b.well app and services from the onsite clinics, suggesting that the focus on health is impacting more than just employees’ physical wellbeing. [Employee engagement will be a key topic at the 2023 HR Tech Virtual Conference from Feb. 28 to March 2.]
“They’re living healthier lives. We’re saving money, we’re able to share those cost savings back with the employees by keeping their premiums and their deductibles low,” says Brown. “It just becomes this flywheel where everybody wins.”
At first, some L&F managers and executives doubted that its workers would download and use a health app on their mobile devices. “We were told when we started this that these are blue-collar guys and they don’t like technology,” says Brown. “That’s complete B.S. because if it’s done really well and it’s useful and helpful, they’ll use it.”
“They won’t use bad technology,” he adds. “They’ll use really good and helpful technology.”