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How to Sell Integrative Healthcare to Corporate America

By Glenn Sabin

My last post highlighted the mutual benefit of the delivery of integrative healthcare services for clinics and self-insured employers. This generated a great deal of feedback, mostly from the supply side, including integrative medicine centers wanting to know the best way to approach local self-insured companies. These inquires came from full-service MD-based integrative centers as well as smaller practices across disciplines focused on specific areas such as pain management and stress reduction.

One Seattle-based MD told me about a stress reduction program he wanted to introduce to Microsoft. Although I did not personally research, my assumption is that Microsoft surely has a wellness program in place and is set up at some level to provide clinical or educational-based interventions with respect to stressed out executives and other employees.

What follows is a practical, common sense baseline approach for any integrative healthcare provider wanting to engage self-insured companies in meaningful dialogue around the attributes of whole person care. Corporate wellness and prevention programs are now all the rage. New companies are launching daily to enter what has already become a highly contested field. However, integrative health clinical modalities and approaches are still relatively unknown to these corporate executives—typically senior human resources or benefits administrators who take lead in wellness program decisions. They need your help!

Go to school on corporate wellness. In addition to identifying human resources and benefits executives, leverage your professional network: If you have contacts or even patients who currently work for your prospect companies, ask them about their wellness or prevention programs. If you use LinkedIn and have company contacts with one degree of separation, try to get introductions from those with whom you are directly connected. Try to determine the health conditions that are likely to be of most concern to employers and their workforce. Do programs exist to improve these conditions, reduce sick days and time off work? What kind of programs are in place?

Learn about “presenteeism” and productivity measures and how important these are to cost outcomes. Do the work and take a close look at both prospective companies and your own areas of expertise. If public access to a targeted organization’s current wellness program (assuming they have one) is available, review and learn exactly what they offer their executives and rank-and-file employees. Find out if programs are being run internally by staff or by outside contractors. Find out how much is done onsite or offsite. Are employees incentivized based on their participation or on personal health outcomes (such as a reduced body mass index), or both?

Whatever your strengths, their potential fit, and the nature of the prospects’ existing wellness program, it is critical to understand the essential business motivation for such programs in the first place: their effect on the bottom line. Because of recent research outcomes, the cost benefits and unique health attributes of integrative practice can now be presented side-by-side. Consider delivering these points. Integrative therapies:

    • Typically offer higher-touch, lower-tech and most often less costly approaches
    • Are often delivered as a way to get to the underlying cause of an illness or condition, which typically include recommended lifestyle changes.
    • Show cost benefits results confirming these intertwined health and economic factors

But keep in mind that executives are busy. Once you have your foot in the door you’ll have limited time to state your case. Dispense with the canned “sales” presentation covering the plethora of your services. Instead focus on the top two or three chronic conditions most pervasive within the prospect’s workforce. They drive the bulk of the employer’s near term health care costs.

Try to find out what these conditions are before you walk in the door. How does your expertise fit into the employer’s overall wellness program? Is there overlap? Or does your program bring substantive additional value? From the whole person health and wellness perspective, what is missing? Do your strengths amplify or add to the existing benefits? Be prepared to walk the prospect through your approach from a practical clinical and educational standpoint. Tell them about the successful outcomes you have had with these specific conditions.

Aligning your value with their needs will feel less like a sales call and more like a set of practical solutions to address their employees’ health conditions and the company’s health care costs.

You must determine the best process to engage. Self-insured companies can have as few as 20 employees. They pool their personnel with other smaller organizations to create numbers large enough to benefit from being self-insured. Unlike larger companies who often have formal proposal submission processes for vendors or those looking to do business with them, smaller organization may not. In addition to identifying people in your network who may be able to open doors to introduction, be aware of existing formal processes.

As always, you will get just one chance to make your first impression. You must be prepared with the proper tools and best data to connect with your self-insured employer prospect(s).

Sure: you provide excellent integrative care, have been in business for several years, and enjoy a wonderful reputation. Your patients love you and sing your praises on Yelp! and to anyone else who will listen. Your business model may be direct pay with super-bills or via third-party payors, including Medicare. Or you are an academic-based integrative medicine center, a regional hospital or part of a major market health system. However, regardless of your clinic type, size or business model, by providing core clinical integrative interventions that are consciously organized to fit into the corporate culture you can help employees better manage and live with—if not overcome—chronic conditions and help establish behavioral change to realize long term health benefits. These are your indisputable strengths. This is what you do!

And by doing so you can help self-funded payors—corporate America—realize substantive health care cost-savings while simultaneously increasing productivity. Not to mention increasing clinic utilization at your center.

By now you are familiar with the patient-centered medical homes (PCMH) and accountable care organizations (ACOs), both of which were birthed in the Affordable Care Act. Although these initiatives are intended to drive fee-for-service out of routine healthcare, employers are not waiting for the insurance companies and major health care providers to adjust to them. Self-insured employers, who collectively provide healthcare for more than 100 million American, are several steps ahead of the process. They have seen the value, benefits and promise of their wellness and prevention programs. They are primed to take their own health initiatives to the next level (including even establishing their own PCMH services: i.e., becoming providers).

Integrative health thinking and approaches will find a place in this new paradigm if the benefits and values are well matched and presented to employer prospects. Cleanly designed and concisely written collateral materials that communicate the following principles will be an important part of delivering that message:

      • Emerging Trend: Some important self-insured employers are adding integrative healthcare services as an extension to their wellness and prevention program offerings; name a few of them.
      • Savings: Direct medical cost-savings via integrative healthcare delivery; include data from the most recent research findings.
      • Efficacy: Point to growing evidence base that supports an integrative approach to healthcare. The three-legged stool has the most literature to support it as standard of care—nutrition, exercise and stress reduction. Start there, and draw the connection to typical outcomes like pain reduction, weight loss, restorative sleep and circadian health, QOL, improved productivity and reduction of presenteeism.
      • Your Brand: Your clinic or center’s unique relationship with the patients and community it serves: patient testimonials; media stories; community partnerships and event leadership.
      • Low or No-Cost Option: Willingness to create a proof-of-concept pilot program
      • Next Steps: Call-to-action to provide professional or patient references, more information or a scheduled call.

The rapidly growing interest in wellness among larger self-insured companies is already trickling down into local areas. While some companies may not be ready to welcome your direct entreaty to tell the story of integrative healthcare and your pitch about clinical approaches, they may participate in business community briefings presented by local business chambers of commerce and other business groups.

Self-insured employers are asserting ever-more control over their health costs. It is a present and maturing opportunity from which those who plant their flags first and deepest will surely benefit. The US healthcare complex (and US economy) has no choice but to shift from over-prescribed procedures and products. The ACO and PCMH models are just the start of a long re-adjustment in the delivery of care and the transition to wellness and prevention. Self-insured companies are moving quickly to create their own sustainable positions in this paradigm. The integrative healthcare delivery community is positioned to play a central role during this period of transition. Now’s the time to field your first-string team, and to execute.

What opportunities are you seeing in your market? Do you care for patients currently employed by self-insured companies? Have you asked? Let’s discuss in the comments section.

Interested in learning more about engaging self-insured employers for your center’s clinical services? Contact FON today to schedule a 30-minute complimentary consultation.

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