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Biometric Screenings: To Screen or Not to Screen?

That seems to be the question that keeps popping up in the realm of worksite wellness.

Biometric screenings are in­person health examinations that measure a person’s risk factors, such as body mass index (BMI), cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood glucose levels. These fingerstick or venipuncture events have been a staple initiative within corporate wellness programs for decades. In fact, among organizations that offer health benefits, 33% of small firms and 50% of large firms offer on-site biometric screenings.

You may be wondering, what are the driving forces behind offering such services? For starters, on-site biometric screening events help identify health risks both on the individual and group level. They are also a way to establish baseline data for the health of your organization, especially if you have limited access to medical claims data. Once an organization begins tracking employees’ health numbers, it can show changes in risk factors of the cohort population (those who participate year after year) and the organization as a whole (cohort population and new participants). Comparing health data on an annual basis can help determine whether your wellness program is having an impact on employee health, identify what health topics should be addressed, and tailor wellness programs and interventions to individual health and wellbeing needs.

However, simply offering biometric screenings does not automatically secure adequate participation. If a biometric screening event has low participation, it is difficult to get a full picture of the health of a population.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, “In the first year of on-site screenings with no incentive, an employer should expect approximately 30% participation by employees. With cash or cash-equivalent incentives, this number can climb to 50% or higher. When incentives are built into the overall health management program and tied to health plan designs, many employers have achieved participation rates that exceed 80%.”

Offering incentives for biometric screenings is one way to help ensure high participation, but it does not guarantee true behavior change. Ultimately, these screenings are not a replacement for regular medical examinations or wellness visits with a primary care physician. Although they may be helpful in bringing about awareness to one’s health risks, they are not an instrument for diagnosing disease and developing an individual action plan. It is important that employers consider whether offering such an event is worth the investment.

According to the 2020 Wellable Wellness Industry Trends Report, many employers are choosing to invest less in biometric screening events. They stated that, “only 12% [of employers] plan to invest more in these programs, a decrease of 14 percentage points from just last year. While over half of companies do not plan to make any changes, over a third plan to invest less, up from 29% in 2019.”

Biometric screening services are difficult to scale, are more costly per employee, and are often unavailable to remote employees. This, along with the ongoing pandemic and unclear federal regulations, are contributing factors to the decline in offering such services.

When determining whether to offer biometric screenings at your organization, it is important to remember that screenings alone will not yield a return on investment and should not be viewed as the primary method for reducing overall health care costs.

Health management programs are most successful when there is a clearly defined purpose and goals, internal alignment amongst key decision makers, and organizational commitment to improving employees’ health and wellbeing.

With a well-designed health management program and the proper amount of organizational support, biometric screenings can be a great tool to increase health awareness and enhance the culture of health and wellbeing.

Looking to learn more? Discover the four key 2021 workforce trends by downloading the 2020-2021 Pandemic Special Release Insights Report.