Seeking A Healthier Workforce? Preventive Care Is Key
by John Brill, MD, MPH
Seeking a healthier workforce?
Receiving recommended preventive care and making healthy lifestyle choices are two key steps in maintaining good health. Employees are more likely to stay current with their preventive care when under the guidance of a primary care provider (PCP). Depending the employee’s age and health history, the PCP can recommend appropriate preventive care, including:
• Diagnostic tests - to check blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol
• Cancer screenings – such as mammograms, colonoscopies and lung cancer screening
• Screenings for sexually transmitted disease
• Regular care to ensure healthy pregnancies, including counseling, screenings, vaccines
• Vaccinations (flu, pneumonia, measles, polio, meningitis and other diseases)
• Counseling on lifestyle topics (quitting smoking, losing weight, eating healthfully, treating depression and reducing alcohol use)
Preventive care pays big dividends
Preventive care can actually stop disease before it starts. An excellent example is colorectal cancer screening. Colorectal cancer usually starts from small benign growths called polyps. Over time, some polyps can turn cancerous. Colonoscopy allows a physician to view the entire large intestine and examine any inflamed tissue, growths, ulcers or bleeding. If something abnormal is seen (polyps or inflamed tissue) it can be removed during the procedure. As a result, removing small polyps early can actually prevent colorectal cancer from developing in the future.
Right-placing care and tapping technology
Two emerging trends that support preventive care efforts involve tapping into technology and telemedicine. At Advocate Aurora our online patient portal encourages open communication between patients and their health care providers. The portal generates friendly reminders to patients about scheduling preventive care. Women may receive a “birthday” reminder about scheduling a mammogram. Other patient groups are sent reminders about recommended screenings and vaccines, based upon their age and health history.
Thanks to technology advances, Advocate Aurora Health also offers convenient telemedicine options (E-visits and V-visits), allowing people to access prompt medical care and consult with a health care provider online 24/7. Receiving reliable medical advice online is a cost-effective way to treat common ailments before they morph into something more serious and expensive to treat.
Workplace trends in preventive care
Employers understand the importance of keeping their workforce as healthy as possible. This has motivated employers to influence healthy behaviors to keep health care coverage affordable, while improving employees’ long-term health. Rising numbers of employers — both large and small — are taking proactive steps to keep their employees actively engaged with their own health care. This may include partnering with a health organization that offers population health management and care management strategies — used to better engage patients and help control health costs — while improving the health of their employee population.
Savvy employers have adopted a wide range of health promotion and disease prevention strategies. These can range from small changes to the work environment, such as providing healthy food options in the cafeteria, to more comprehensive interventions that encourage employees to adopt and sustain healthy lifestyles.
Incentivizing employee engagement
Increasing numbers of employers are using incentives that either reward or penalize certain behaviors to encourage employee engagement in managing their health. Incentives have been used to encourage employees to:
• complete health risk assessments (to track weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, tobacco use)
• participate in a disease management program
• join a weight-loss program
• complete a smoking cessation program
Some employers offer wellness programs that incentivize people to be more active. They may even provide employees with tracking devices such as Fitbits to track their health stats (steps taken, miles walked, calories burned).
Educate and encourage preventive care
Employers are in a suitable position to help educate their workforce, especially during open enrollment. Employees should fully understand their health insurance benefits and be encouraged to take advantage of their preventive care coverage.
Today’s employers realize that the health and wellness of their workforce is vital to the success of their business. Employees who are happy and healthy are more productive and less likely to take sick days. The ongoing challenge is for employers to seek new, creative ways to keep their workforce engaged and healthy, understanging that preventive care is an important piece of that health and wellness puzzle.
John Brill, MD, MPH, serves as Advocate Aurora’s Vice-President-Population Health, Wisconsin