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Straight to the Source: How to Get Employers On Board with Population Health

Want to diversify your practice through population health initiatives with area employers? Here's how to get the ball rolling.

Ryan Giebel
5 min read
September 30, 2023
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Healthcare spending has always been a touchy subject—and that might be truer now than ever before. Despite the fact that the United States spends more money on health care than any other country, that massive expenditure hasn’t necessarily translated into better health outcomes. Clearly, something needs to change, which is why many healthcare providers—including physical therapists—are fundamentally shifting the way health care is managed. In fact, CMS has started to require and reward practices that spend time addressing population health and social determinants of health. 

As it turns out, PTs are ideal champions for population health. A 2020 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the top five conditions that contribute to US healthcare spending on public health are:

  1. Low back and neck pain ($134.5 billion)
  2. Other musculoskeletal disorders ($129.8 billion)
  3. Diabetes mellitus ($111.2 billion)
  4. Ischemic heart disease ($89.3 billion)
  5. Fall-related injuries ($87.4 billion)

Rehab therapists can significantly reduce the incidence of all five conditions (whether acute or chronic diseases) with preventive or restorative physical therapy treatment. In case venturing into wide-scale population health management seems a bit overwhelming, we have you covered. 

Identify your target audience.

The APTA recommends starting small by creating partnerships with local employers and developing employer-based wellness programs. Employers have a vested interest in lowering healthcare costs, maintaining a productive workforce, and reducing workers’ compensation cases. Securing employer buy-in might seem like a challenge, but with the right approach—and a little health research—getting employers on board could be easier than you think. 

Before you go out and start pitching your idea to employers, figure out which ones are the most likely to be responsive. Think about the demographics in your area and research the health risks associated with prevalent industries in your region. Once you’ve determined where your efforts would be most effective, create a set of talking points tailored to the employers you’ve chosen.

To better help you figure out how to find and target your audience, consider the many channels available to you for marketing your services and who is using those channels. If you are looking for a deeper dive into marketing your practice, check out this free guide to modern marketing for your practice.

Talk to employers.

In one of the breakout sessions at Ascend 2023, Scott Hebert, PT, DPT, CEO at Second Door Health, highlighted the space PTs can fill in marketing their services directly to employers. Hebert notes that in 2023, more than a third of all businesses in the US are looking to change insurance vendors and they want to affect direct change to how MSK disorders are managed. Never before has there been a better time for you to reach out to employers in your local community.

Regardless of your stance on direct-to-employer, you should be prepared to sell your services to potential customers. During her talk at the 2017 PPS conference, Dr. Heidi Ojha, PT, DOPT, spoke about her experiences with convincing employers to focus on employee health and wellness. She stressed the importance of providing relevant data to employers to support your argument. Here are some examples:

  • Nearly 40% of deaths in the US can be avoided with preventive care.
  • More than half of American adults have some kind of chronic condition—and many have more than one.
  • Employers are taking on a larger financial burden as a result of increasing insurance premiums. According to estimates from the 2017 Milliman Medical Index, “coverage for a family of 4 will cost nearly $27,000 per year, with employers contributing about 56% and employees paying the other 44%.”

Generate and maintain interest.

Of course, providers will only remain interested as long as your efforts are effective. That’s why it’s crucial to prove the efficacy of your preventive services by sharing your outcomes within the group. That means avoiding overly technical language and providing real-life examples. 

One way to do this is to leverage the data you collect through outcomes tracking. Specifically, you can show employers how the overall health of their employees improved after those employees participated in your wellness initiative. This data is also crucial for generating buy-in from additional employers. By tracking outcomes data and building your own case studies, you can effectively communicate the benefits of your services to prospective participants.

Market your efforts with patient health in mind.

It’s also important to come up with a marketing strategy to get employers on board with population health. For example, if you offer free wellness screenings to employees, it could inspire those individuals to start thinking about their health and seek out additional services—or even encourage them to make positive lifestyle changes on their own. Another PPS 2017 panelist, Holly Johnson, PT, DPT, Cert. MDT and her team found success with marketing their direct-to-employer services in several ways, such as:

  • hosting free “Workers Compensation Symposiums” at different clinic locations,
  • participating in employee health fairs, and
  • offering free early intervention screenings to injured workers.

Johnson found that direct-to-employer services have significantly impacted the workforce in her region, which is largely comprised of workers in the coal mining and manufacturing industries. And that impact extends beyond merely preventing injury and getting injured employees back to work more quickly—it improves the health of the community as a whole.

If we want to create real change in the American health care system, we have to start considering the health of the whole population—not just individuals. After all, lasting widespread change doesn’t happen at the individual level. Luckily, you can start to affect population health change today with these tips and a little gusto.


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