Simple Preventative Steps Lead to Large Returns

When employers promote preventative care, they help create a culture of wellness that dramatically improves the chances that employees and their immediate family members will be more aware of potential health problems, get diagnosed earlier and avoid more serious health conditions down the road. Healthy employees are productive employees, and the goodwill generated when employees see their employer vested in their wellness is invaluable for improving teamwork, morale and service.

Employers can take an active role in health and wellness education, including communicating health provider benefits and encouraging workers to get annual physicals and recommended health screenings. That can include setting up preventive screenings for items such as blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol, reinforcing the value in timely immunizations, and reminding employees to get annual physicals, mammograms, prostate and cervical cancer exams.

Chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are responsible for seven of every 10 deaths among Americans each year and account for 75 percent of the nation’s health spending. These chronic diseases can be largely preventable through close partnership with patients’ healthcare providers, or can be detected through appropriate screenings, when treatment works best.

Health screenings measure key physical characteristics such as height and weight, body mass index, blood pressure, blood cholesterol and blood sugar. Over the past several years, organizations have started introducing workplace health screenings as a way to evaluate the overall health of their employees and identify the biggest risk factors. This also gives organizations the information they need to work with their health insurance carrier to better address specific needs.

Health screenings, however, are definitely not a replacement for regular medical examinations or wellness visits with a health care provider. They are also not intended as a way to diagnose disease.

Understanding Resistance to Screenings

There are many reasons why employees don’t want to mix work and their personal health. But one of the most common is a fear of exposing personal health information and not understanding how it will be used. Employees also may believe the information will be used against them later, and they might be subject to consequences, penalties or discrimination.

In addition, employees could just be more comfortable going to their own doctor. In those cases, organizations can choose to incentivize annual physicals wherever the employee wants to go. That way, the employee sees his or her personal doctor and gets the same tests, but their employer doesn’t see the results and the organization still has proof that it happened.

Today, the majority of U.S. employers offer employees some sort of wellness incentive. Monetary incentives have become the most common, as well as raffles for gift cards, time off, meals and other motivational rewards.

Under health care reform, organizations can offer incentives based on a percentage of the total annual cost of individual coverage. That could mean contributing to a health savings account, discounting premiums or waiving cost-sharing responsibility, which refers to deductibles, copays and coinsurance.

The Cost of Inaction

But no matter what you elect to do, education and effective communication is the key to help employees get past any concerns they may have, especially if those concerns involve their personal health information. It’s simple to remind employees of the value in counseling, screenings, wellness visits, prenatal care and other essential steps they can take to improve their health and secure early interventions.

It’s also important to create a culture of health, regardless of whether you offer an incentive or how much it is. When employees feel like they are in it together, they share their experiences, like losing weight, reducing tobacco or alcohol use, eating more nutritious foods, exercising together or getting an early diagnosis that might save their life. Those kinds of personal messages, from people they know, can be powerful motivators.

Health problems are a major drain on the economy, resulting in 69 million workers reporting missed days due to illness each year, and reducing economic output by $260 billion per year. Increasing the use of proven preventive services can encourage greater workplace productivity and cost savings for everyone.

Eating healthy, exercising regularly, avoiding tobacco, and receiving preventive services such as cancer screenings, preventive visits and vaccinations are just a few examples of ways people can stay healthy. The right preventive care at every stage of life helps avoid or delay the onset of disease, keeps diseases employees already have from becoming worse or debilitating, and reduces costs.

If you’re not enjoying the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!