Many organizations are seeking innovative ways to improve the health and well-being of their employees. Not only will this increase the benefit offering to employees, but it will also decrease health plan costs, and often boost productivity. One of the rapidly growing solutions gaining popularity in the United States is the implementation of biometric screenings as part of the organization's workplace wellness program. According to the Willis 2014 Health and Productivity Survey, 74 percent of employers in the United States have adopted biometric screening as part of their workplace wellness program. Additionally, having biometric screenings done regularly allows employees to periodically assess their health, thereby improving their overall health and health behaviors in the long-term. Combined with health education, biometric screening can lead to a healthier and more productive workforce.

What is biometric screening?

The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control defines biometric screening as “the measurement of physical characteristics such as height, weight, body mass index, blood pressure, blood cholesterol, blood glucose, and aerobic fitness tests that can be taken at the worksite and used as part of a workplace health assessment to benchmark and evaluate changes in employee health status over time.”

How does it work?

For comprehensive screening, fasting is recommended but not required. Blood is drawn using a quick and relatively painless finger-stick method for the immediate measurement, analysis, and results of the following categories:

As part of the screening process, the following measurements are also usually taken:

Although the finger-stick method is the most cost effective and convenient, studies have shown that the results are often inconsistent and unreliable. Therefore, if employers are serious about results, most health care professionals recommend the intravenous method (vials of drawn blood).

In addition to the blood work, employees are given a brief questionnaire to complete regarding their behavior (health habits), as well as their family history. This helps to provide an accurate assessment of their current health status and their risk for chronic diseases.

The final step in the screening process is personalized one-on-one coaching. During this session a health coach:

  • Reviews the employee’s results and compares them to national standards
  • Explains to the employee where he or she falls in the healthy or at-risk range
  • Suggests steps the employee can take to improve his or her health

Who conducts the biometric screening?

Biometric screenings are conducted by nurses or phlebotomists, (phlebotomists are specialist clinical support workers who take blood samples from patients for testing in laboratories), who are employed by the biometric screening vendor selected by the organization.

Choosing a biometric screening vendor

According to the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, there are several important factors to consider when deciding upon a biometric screening vendor for your organization. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Cost of the service
  • Ability to meet regulatory guidelines and laws
  • Clinical standards and quality assurance
  • Versatility in blood draw methods and availability of desired screening tests
  • Support services (scheduling, reporting, and participant support)
  • Prior experience and references

Benefits for employees

Participating in biometric screenings can be highly beneficial to employees in many ways. Biometric screenings can help achieve the following:

  • Help employees to understand their health risk for preventable chronic diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes
  • Provide employees with information regarding chronic condition prevention and control via health education sessions
  • Meet the specific needs of each employee
  • Reduce the risk of chronic diseases due to the early identification of certain risk factors, such as high cholesterol or blood pressure
  • Provide valuable insight on an employee’s current and potential medical issues
  • Offer one-on-one health coaching sessions so that employees are equipped with the professional medical advice to make the best decisions based on their individual results

Benefits for employers

Providing biometric screening for employees also benefits the organization. A few of these benefits include:

  • Reducing health risks
  • Improving the health status of the organization’s workforce
  • Reducing health care utilization costs
  • Improving productivity and performance
  • Identifying strategies for improved employee health and well-being
  • Providing an accurate baseline analysis regarding the current health status of the entire workforce of the organization

Factors to consider when implementing a biometric screening program

Before implementing a biometric screening program or making it a part of an existing workplace wellness program, employers are advised to consider the following factors to ensure the success of the initiative:

  • How the data will be collected
  • Which group(s) or type(s) of workers will be screened
  • How to ensure the privacy of the workers who agree to participate in the screening process
  • What budget and resource limitations exist

How to encourage employees to participate?

The easiest way to get employees to participate in biometric screenings is via the use of incentives. Incentives can vary widely based on individual company workforce situations but some possible incentives include:

  • Cash
  • Prizes
  • Health plan discounts, such as lower deductibles or premium contributions
  • Gym membership
  • Family health plans

The verdict for the future?

Although 74 percent of all organizations in the United States offer health screenings, only a fraction of the employees who engage in the screening process actually take action once they receive their results. Therefore, challenges lie in motivating employees to adopt healthier lifestyles. To add to this situation, consistently motivating employees toward change requires more time, effort, and money than most organizations are willing to allocate. One solution to this challenge is to hire a vendor who specifically designs their workflow around assessing and engaging employees. Not only will this vendor excel in reporting biometric results, but will also stratify and engage at-risk employees via phone, e-mail and/or text. After all, effective communication is essential for the success of any health screening event.