Having healthy employees can result in a happier and healthier work force. But it’s not always easy to keep people healthy, especially in the approaching flu season, when germs spread easily throughout an office.
And then there are the larger health issues, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
But as an employer, there’s something you can do about it. By taking advantage of preventive care offerings and screenings included in your health plan, you can help keep your employees healthy by preventing them from developing a particular condition or helping in early detection. And it doesn’t have to be expensive for you, because most health plans already include these tests and screenings.
“Many health plans are taking away the financial negatives, such as high co-pays and deductibles, that prevent people from getting preventive care,” says Dr. Bruce Niebylski, associate vice president of medical affairs at Priority Health.
Smart Business spoke with Niebylski about the preventive care offerings available in health plans and how to encourage employees to take advantage of them.
How has preventive care evolved?
Preventive care has evolved a lot over the last 20 to 30 years. Back then, we were seeing tremendously sick people because they weren’t taking care of their blood pressure and didn’t know about cholesterol or osteoporosis. People were eating high-fat and high-salt foods and not exercising, and it showed. The 40-year-olds were having heart attacks, and the 50-year-olds were having strokes. Now, there’s much better treatment and care for these conditions.
Children are also being immunized, and diseases such as asthma are being treated at an early age. We have a healthier population because of improving lifestyles, with people eating better and exercising more often.
What type of preventive care offerings should be included in a health plan?
The plan needs to reflect your company’s population. A typical health plan insures a wide range of ages.
You need to include childhood preventive care measures, such as immunizations, as well as screenings for breast cancer and prostate cancer.
It’s been proven that if people get these tests and immunizations or take prescribed maintenance medications, doing so will prevent them from becoming ill or getting worse if they are already sick.
How can an employer encourage employees to take advantage of preventive care offerings to help maintain healthy lifestyles?
The No. 1 thing is awareness. There has to be some type of communication to employees regarding the types of preventive care measures that they should be getting.
For example, you may want to bring in representatives from a local hospital or health plan to offer preventive care tests on site, such as cholesterol screenings, mammograms and flu shots.
Another good idea is to include preventive health care reminders in birthday cards. Inside the card is a listing of preventive care screenings that you should get based on your age and gender. For example, a 55-year-old male should be taking his baby aspirin each day, have a colorectal cancer screening and get an annual prostate check.
If there were any small children on his health plan, there would also be reminders about vaccinations. It just revolves around awareness.
Many health plans offer products designed to reward members for staying healthy or getting healthier. For example, with some plans, if you get regular preventive screenings, such as a cholesterol check or weight and body mass index assessment, and have a signed form from your doctor, you will save money with lower insurance co-pays and deductibles.
Some employers may also give employees $50 or $100 for filling out a health risk assessment form by a certain date.
How can preventive care help keep employees healthy in the upcoming flu season?
There’s been a lot of talk about what to do at businesses, since flu is an airborne illness that tends to be passed along when people are in enclosed spaces with others. Companies may decide not to hold large meetings and could instead host conference calls.
Many companies are also discouraging shaking hands, because that’s a surefire way to pass the flu bug along. You should also encourage people with signs of the flu to stay home from work so it does not spread to other employees.
Most companies have been supportive of offering flu shots on-site, but doing so hasn’t been 100 percent successful because some people are afraid of the shots. However, there’s been enough press regarding the seriousness of the swine flu that people are beginning to understand the need for a flu shot as a way to prevent it.
What are the benefits of preventive care?
Employees receive peace of mind through preventive care, and they’re not worrying about whether a bad medical problem will happen to them. The regular checkups and monitoring give them peace of mind that nothing bad is about to be sprung on them.
While some of the procedures, like colonoscopies, are bothersome, they help you rest easier when you receive good results.
Dr. Bruce Niebylski is associate vice president of medical affairs at Priority Health. Reach him at (248) 324-2763 or firstname.lastname@example.org.