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Implemeting and maintaining successful e-health initiatives

This is an excerpt from Worksite Health Promotion - 3rd Edition by David Chenoweth.

Today, more people are turning to the Internet for health information. According to a nationwide randomized telephone survey of adults, of the hundreds of millions of people who surf the Internet daily, more than 70% use the resource for personal health information. This number is expected to increase as much as 5% a year in this population, commonly referred to by pollsters as cyberchondriacs (Mearian 2010). With the advent of the Internet and related communication options that continuously appear in our daily lives, many WHP professionals are using these new technologies for education and information. This evolving phenomenon, classified as e-health technology, is defined as the application of Internet and other related technologies to improve the access, effectiveness, and quality of clinical and business practices used by organizations, practitioners, and consumers to improve and maintain the health status of workers and organizations.

Many worksites have on-site access to Internet and related technologies for employee use in various WHP activities. In particular, numerous worksites have expanded their capabilities for e-health technology beyond the Internet by building their own intranet system composed of integrated, company-specific databases. An intranet system gives employees one-stop access to information and resources from various departments. In many companies, employees can use this integrated system to quickly inquire about WHP program schedules, schedule a personal coaching session, log in exercise points, trace their readiness-to-change progress, learn new techniques for stress management, access a smoking cessation hotline, and acquire a host of other self-help news bits and resources. Commercial vendors are also offering these programs, which typically include a virtual fitness center, nursing hotline, disease-management services, and an e-health website.

Health promotion professionals can use e-health management tools to effectively launch and implement WHP programs, events, and activities in a timely and cost-effective manner. However, in doing so, they need to use some time-tested techniques to maximize the influence of their e-health efforts. First, they should take the time to get in-house communications experts involved in the marketing plan and related goal-setting initiatives. It is also important to provide regular updates to senior managers to secure their continued support for the program by helping them to see how e-health management resources relate to the company's goals and financial health. Although communication tools vary from worksite to worksite, a few communication channels appear to work well in most organizations, such as the following:

  • Broadcast e-mail messaging
  • Internet mailings
  • Home mailings
  • Intranet feature postings
  • Announcements during company meetings, events, and activities
  • Promotional posters and table tents in highly visible locations at the worksite

Second, an integrated multidisciplinary team is required to implement and maintain a highly successful e-health initiative. The most successful teams are led by key individuals who take on the sole responsibility of coordinating team action and delegating responsibilities to the necessary players. A common approach is to form teams made up of diverse departments, including communications, risk management, benefits, human resources, health and safety, information services, and any other human-capital interest groups. In organizations with multisite operations, establish a key contact at each location to spearhead and coordinate these functions.

Third, it is important to realize that e-health management is a platform, not a program. According to industry experts, if e-health is to be fully optimized, organizations need to recognize this approach as a company-wide, web-based platform that addresses human capital. It is not simply the next health-improvement program.

Fourth, in building an integrated e-health platform, it is necessary to take inventory of your company's resources in terms of employee health (departments, events, programs, and incentives). Once these resources have been identified, it will be more evident to decision makers that they should establish integrative opportunities.

Finally, e-health efforts must be positioned to reach as many people in as many ways as possible. Before any of the preceding four principles can be institutionalized, the overall infrastructure must be seen as moving—or, better yet, transforming—the organization's culture in a new and positive direction. Perhaps the most relevant example is the ability of an e-health platform to synchronize with the newest business trend of electronic self-service. This feature saves money and time by eliminating administrative tasks. It also includes venues, such as online enrollment in health benefits, financial planning, and office procurement.

More Excerpts From Worksite Health Promotion 3rd Edition