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Disease Management – Is it the Workplace Solution?

Monday, March 23, 2020
Warren Olaya

In a recent article on Managing Pharmaceutical Costs, we dove into how using predictive modeling can help reduce the cost of pharmacy out-of-pocket expenses for the employee, while also briefly touching on overall disease management.

Top companies, often those who are self-insuring, spend a fair amount of resources to deeply understand the aggregate health of their employees and how they can better support them on a healthier journey.

It’s no secret that as a whole, the U.S. population is “unhealthy,” and many deem it a crisis.  According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), “More than 34 million Americans have diabetes (about 1 in 10), and approximately 90-95% of them have type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes most often develops in people over age 45, but more and more children, teens, and young adults are also developing it.”

Type 2 Diabetes is often tied to lifestyle – eating a highly-processed diet, lack of exercise, and obesity.  The lifestyle starts a snowball effect that includes high cholesterol, elevated blood pressure, and risk of stroke and heart disease.  All of these conditions require medications, additional doctor visits, and concern of evolving health-related issues.  

Is it the employer’s responsibility to help “fix” the current health crisis in the United States?  No, but it’s in every employer’s best interest to do so.

While it seems evident that healthier employees are more productive, many businesses still struggle with justifying the cost of wellness programs and tracking the return-on-investment back to the bottom line. 

From Wellness to Wellbeing.

 A 2018 Study from SHRM suggests we may be a bit short-sighted and are underestimating the value of wellness programs. The interesting data shows that although companies indeed can’t prove direct cost savings from instituting such programs, they found they do attract talent that is healthier and more health-conscious just by having the programs.  

Having a robust wellness program is indicative of the type of culture the company has by putting the employees’ health and wellness at the forefront. This is a big step towards the ever-coveted work/life balance employees are seeking.

A Program that works for you.

Simple changes can have a considerable impact.  Your Wellbeing Program doesn’t have to include adding a gym, having massage therapists on staff, or adding in a gourmet kitchen. Although these are fabulous ideas, they are also cost-prohibitive to many companies.  

Assess your team, analyze the data, and start smallYour program is employee-centric – so it’s important to give your employees what they want AND what they need.  Start with an overall wellness check of your employees. What are the adverse health trends (if any), and how can you best support a healthier lifestyle to improve or help them?

Let’s use the earlier example of Type 2 Diabetes.  If this is a trend at your company, we know based on already published research, that lifestyle plays a significant role – diet, lack of exercise, and stress.  

Here are some ideas you can implement in for your Wellbeing Program:

  1. Movement. Sitting behind a desk for 8+ hours a day isn’t healthy.  Encourage movement with stand up work stations, moveable work stations – pick up a laptop and go or even create walking groups and programs.  Anything that encourages your team to sit less and move more is a huge step.
  2. FUN!  Have contests that reward good behavior but don’t punish those who are struggling.
  3. Create an Awareness!  Many people aren’t aware of their health issues.  So offering them a baseline is important – blood work, check-up, and an overall health assessment as part of your Wellbeing Program are important. Next, add regular check-ins so they can see their hard work paying off!
  4. Diet.  Ensure you have healthy options available in the vending machines and/or cafeteria lunchroom.
  5. Support. Offer reimbursements for nutritionists or healthy cooking classes – be creative!
  6. Third-Party Programs. Many programs, such as WW (formally Weight Watchers), offer onsite meetings and coaching for businesses.
  7. Reduce Stress. Don’t forget the effect of stress on the body and the power of mindfulness, mediation, and self-care.  Encourage employees to NOT eat at their desks during lunch or breaks but to take a break from work. ]
  8. Create Space.  Have an empty office?  Perhaps you put in some comfy chairs, a yoga mat or five, and make it a place to escape and distress space.
  9. Balance. Work-life balance is important, and companies who embrace this concept for their employees are thriving and attracting top talent.  Offer flexible work schedules, have telemedicine options, and if you can add things like easy access to daycare, dry cleaning services, and other day-to-day needs to help your employees have a 24/7 blend of balance between their work and their home life.

Disease management in the workforce is just smart business.  Happy and healthy employees mean a better customer experience that will trickle down to a more robust bottom line.  If your employees feel better, they will indeed be more productive, and as a result, so will their health care cost and yours, be it in the short-term or over the long haul.  

Material posted on this website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a legal opinion or medical advice. Contact your legal representative or medical professional for information specific to your legal or medical needs.