With Non Communicable Diseases (lifestyle diseases) taking toll on population’s health by contributing heavily to both mortality and morbidity, prevention of Lifestyle diseases is the main focus in corporate wellness programs.
Mental health issues are increasingly prevalent in our society. Measures that promote psychological well being, such as nurturing work life balance, counselling for stress relief, helping resolve interpersonal conflicts and offering disease management programs for chronic conditions like depression and anxiety, are invaluable components of wellness programs.
HR managers are focusing on promotion of wellness to minimize employee attrition, decrease in “lost work days” and reduction of insurance premiums.
When it is time to choose a wellness program for employees, HR managers are looking for programs that provide value for their buck. Many wellness programs offer components in bits and pieces making it hard for HR managers to put together a comprehensive program for their employees. While they are taking care of their other responsibilities, making appropriate connections between these programs and offering components in a cohesive manner becomes an additional burden. They are also looking for a program that can provide analytics for measurable outcomes.
Benefits to employees from (Health care) wellness programs
- Increase in health awareness
- Improvement in physical fitness
- Feeling of being taken care of by their employer
If condition management is offered by doctors in the team, additional benefits include:
- Decreased clinic visits
- Disease education for chronic diseases
- Prevention of long term complications as a result of chronic disease management.
- Continuity of care through well maintained records
- Circumvention of excessive expenditure by avoiding duplication of tests
- Reduced hospital admissions
- Availability of a reliable health advocate
Employers get in return:
- Happier employees
- Healthier employees
- Less attrition
- Less burn out
- Less sick leaves and most of all
- Loyal and committed employees who love their workplace
- In pursuit of this laudable goal, are they missing an important piece of the puzzle?
- Are physicians being adequately utilized to optimize these programs ?
To understand how a physician can empower you with your employees’ health care needs, read on .
With lifestyle diseases affecting people at a younger age than before, especially the urban population with sedentary desk jobs and stressful lifestyles, corporate employees need more than just annual health check ups and intermittent engagement with random onsite programs.
Diabetes, Hypertension, Thyroid disease, Obesity, Allergies, Asthma, Respiratory Infections, PCOS in women, Infertility issues, Stress related physical complaints, Sleep issues, Anxiety and Depression, Neck pain, Back pain, Headache and Body pains, Hand and Wrist related conditions, Nutritional deficiencies, complaints related to Digestive system, Circadian rhythm related problems, Eye strain and other vision problems are some of the conditions that are affecting corporate employees.
Clearly, emphasis needs to be on both primary prevention to prevent diseases and secondary prevention to address chronic conditions like Diabetes, Hypertension, Obesity, Stress, Anemia and Depression by chronic disease management.
Many employees postpone going to the doctor when they suspect onset of a medical disease, or get overwhelmed with anxiety or stress related issues due to the long time needed for commute and clinic waiting times. If they can consult a doctor from the comfort of their home or office desk, they are less likely to postpone taking doctor’s advice.
In this scenario, a corporate wellness program that is offering various components in a cohesive manner keeping patient in the center, with a personal physician as the leader of the health care team, using all the components to provide best possible care, while providing appropriate metrics regarding prevalence of medical conditions and measurable benefits that accrue secondary to implementation of disease management and preventive strategies, is one cut above the rest of the programs.
If a health care program (wellness program) matches all the above requirements, it is definitely a good bargain for their buck for HR managers.
Here are some ways a physician can enhance a wellness program
1.Physician adding value to Automated HRA reports
Most of the employee engagement programs have health risk assessments that are automated. They take important health data like employee’s family history, age, eating habits, physical activity level, habits like smoking and alcohol, stress level and generate a report card and suggestions to improve their health.
One time health risk assessment is good, but a well thought out plan to address the employee’s problem areas related to health and well-being coming from a physician, based on the risk assessment is a good start for a patient in the path to wellness. Follow Up of the condition to determine progress is always required.
In these scenarios, a dialogue can happen between the person and their physician and knowledge transfer takes place about the measures that reduce the employee’s risk for a particular health condition.
Example: Physician advice on weight loss appears to have significant impact on people’s efforts to change behaviors related to their weight.
2.One time physician visit vs continued care with a personal physician
After the tests for annual health check up are done, the problems are addressed at a physician’s visit, if the employee keeps the appointment with the physician.
But the fact is that every person needs to have a personal physician, who is reachable, takes ownership of the patient, and who can provide care for her/him for a long time. Providing one time advice may not lead to required behavioural changes in a person.
Many people need a follow up consult to evaluate the progress. Some people need more engagement and disease education.
Example: Understanding and implementing weight loss regimen for blood pressure control may need more than one consult with a physician. Similarly to understand the importance of diet modification for their blood sugar control in Diabetes requires few follow ups with the doctor. A woman may need to be engaged by the doctor, certainly more than once, about how important exercise is for managing her PCOS.
3.Acute care alone vs Both acute and preventive care
Some corporations have kiosks in their campus, where a physician is available for some time in a day. Employees can reach out to this doctor for any health related queries and concerns. It is a mutually beneficial relationship both for the corporate and the hospital; corporate get their employees’ acute health care issues taken care of and Hospitals get revenue and branding by having their doctor there.
While this arrangement is good for taking care of the employees’ acute health issues, it can be an expensive proposition and prevention takes back seat. Employees in this scenario often consult the doctor for illnesses rather than for preventive advice.
Similarly, mental health issues of employees are neglected in this scenario. How often does an employee discuss his/her stress issues or struggle with her/his depression in their workplace? Management needs to ensure that their employees have privacy and secured health records, so that they can discuss their problems openly without apprehensions. Telemedicine consults provided by trusted health care team offer best solutions to mental health problems like Anxiety, stress, depression etc.
With cutting edge technologies in medicine like telemedicine consults using electronic communications for disease education and psychological health issues, using a wellness program that does not address prevention hinders the progress of medical care from “reactive” approach to “proactive” approach.
4.Follow up is important
Some corporations spend money on random dental checkups, eye check ups and other check ups. Again this one time engagement misses an important component of medical care, i.e follow up of the condition.
Example: If bone density is measured in an employee and a report was given stating their risk of developing thinning of bones (osteoporosis) and measures to be taken, it is just recognizing the problem and initiating prevention. If a follow up is not done to see whether advised measures are followed, whether the condition got better or worse, if additional medications are needed in case the condition worsens, the care is incomplete. More importantly if the person’s worries are not addressed, we are creating apprehensions without providing long term solutions.
5.Health talk vs Focus sessions and support groups
Some corporations also get doctors to give health awareness talks in their campuses on various health conditions. These talks do familiarize people with disease conditions. Support groups and focus sessions led by a physician where people participate and share their experience and get guidance to manage their ailment are superior to lectures.
6.Electronic health records maintained by physicians provide continuity of care and save health care money by circumventing duplication of tests
In the end a physician taking care of your employee can create a health record of the employee which is a valuable tool in the long run.
In fact corporate benefit more from building long term relationship with a wellness program provider who has physicians who take care of their employees’ health, rather than building new relationships every year with the intention of offering something fancy and new to their employees. After all some things don’t change in life and in health care.
Ultimately, knowing your employees, knowing their main concerns regarding the matters of health, helps you in choosing a good wellness/care program. Encouraging medical consultations by employees helps them take care of their problem areas and utilize ancillary resources. Finally, identifying pertinent metrics of the company’s employees’ health allows one to continually evaluate the program and facilitate making timely changes to improve intended outcomes.
Promoting a system wide culture of health awareness, beyond individual programs, adds to the overall mission and purpose of the company.