Magna’s data-driven wellness strategy proving focus on analytics reduces costs

Magna International Inc. is using data to personalize its wellness program, increase employee engagement and reduce costs.

In 2012, the Canadian automobile parts manufacturer established its own internal health and wellness team. At first, the program focused solely on disseminating basic educational materials, such as quarterly newsletters, posters and handouts, said Dr. Krista Markew, manager of health promotion at Magna, during the 2020 Group Insurance and Pharmaceutical Committee conference last week.

Speaking during the virtual event, she said the program has grown in scale and scope to include seven co-ordinators who travel to each of the organization’s 42 divisions in Ontario to provide health screenings, coaching and yearly followups to its 20,000 employees monthly. In-person programs were put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic but Magna is planning to hold some events virtually next year.

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The team targets wellness initiatives through four steps: data analytics, research and design, implementation and assessment. The first step is a collaboration with the company’s benefits team to examine claims data, industry trends and employee feedback, said Markew, adding division leadership values the claims data because they want to know what costs the most and find a way to reduce this cost.

The health and wellness team is the link between what this data shows and how the information is used to make an impact on employee health, she added.

Indeed, in 2019, the top five conditions among benefits plan members were high blood pressure (more than 35,000 claims), diabetes (more than 34,000 claims), skin disorders (more than 21,000 claims), depression (more than 21,000 claims) and allergy conditions (more than 20,000 claims).

Once the organization determines the main conditions affecting employees, the health and wellness team researches and designs relevant programs, which can include anything from health screenings to educational lunch and learns, said Markew, noting the team uses a combination of passive and active strategies. Passive items include newsletters, handouts, information on the company’s wellness website and weekly emails. However, the active programs, such as the health screenings, are the most popular and get the most engagements and results, she noted.

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In 2019, leadership at one of Magna’s divisions noticed claims for blood pressure had increased significantly from the previous year, said Markew. The team worked with the division to tailor its wellness program to include a three-month cardiovascular disease program with health checks, blood pressure testing, health coaching and followups, as well as educational sessions to help those with high blood pressure make healthy lifestyle changes if they were interested. The initiative was met with some skepticism at first, she noted, but once employees realized it was voluntary and helpful to their overall health, it became very popular.

“We added our health coaching program about two to three years ago when we realized that people needed longer-term, one-on-one time to truly make a difference in their health status.”

Based on information gleaned from the assessment, the coaching sessions are scheduled to help employees set goals to make lifestyle changes in the areas in which they need to improve. Once a program has been completed, the health and wellness team assesses how effective it was in a number of ways. They review engagement based on participation in their monthly events through annual satisfaction surveys. The team also collects employee testimonials, which are usually about improvements to lifestyle habits or a significant medical change, such as a decrease in blood pressure or A1C readings.

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In 2016, the team started a cohort study to compare the health of employees who participate in wellness initiatives with those who don’t. The results speak for themselves, said Markew, noting employees who participate in Magna’s wellness program, on average, showed a decrease in systolic blood pressure, a decrease in total cholesterol, a decrease in HB A1C levels, decreased absenteeism. In addition, the program has resulted in overall cost savings for the company.

Magna now offers a smoking cessation program, a stretch-and-strengthen program and a mental-health program. It had planned to expand the mental-health program in 2020 to include mental-health first-aid training for company leaders, but it’s currently on hold because it can’t be offered virtually, she noted.

However, the team is working to turn some of its programs into virtual offerings. They recently ran a week-long mental-health event through the corporate office in Aurora, Ont. and the company is aiming to continue with these type of events for the duration of the pandemic, said Markew.

“It goes without saying we all know we’re in the midst of a global pandemic. I’m extremely curious to see how the 2020 claims data will be affected by COVID.”

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