In recent years, many employers have followed suit by offering workplace screenings for their employees, albeit without the prompting of a presidential directive. Workplace screenings make too much sense for employers to ignore the concept. As Clinton pointed out, "The workplace is a logical place to provide employees with health information and services to help them learn about preventive health."
In recent years, employers have found that work place screenings come with a number of benefits.
* Early detection of potential health problems
* The encouragement of healthier lifestyles
* Reduction of absenteeism
* Increased productivity
* Improved morale
Workplace screenings -- which are conducted in such away as to keep personally identifiable information secure from both the employer and the health plan -- can be designed to measure height and weight, blood pressure, waist/hip ratio, cardiovascular endurance, body composition and cholesterol and glucose levels. The results provide essential information to employees about low-level chronic disease or other conditions that may require immediate attention. It can also alert employees to behaviors that could potentially create costly health problems in the future.
The screening can motivate employees to make improvements in their behavior for their health and to institute lifestyle changes. Studies have shown that many employees understand that workplace screenings benefit them and their families first and foremost, and not the employer or the insurance company that may sponsor it. And screenings get results. A national survey by the Principal Financial Group showed that 47 percent of employees who participated in health screenings eat healthier, 45 percent exercise more and 42 percent think about healthier options more often.
"It's not just the right thing to do from an altruistic standpoint," says Jerry Ripperger, director of consumer health for the Principal Financial Group. "It's a good business decision. The result is improved employee attendance, productivity and morale."
The workplace is an ideal place for such screenings for several reasons.
1. You can reach a high number of people at low cost, including those who would not otherwise seek professional help.
2. It provides easy access for a majority of employees.
3. The involvement and support of colleagues maximizes participation.
4. It allows for a better chance of long-term follow-up measures.
One Pittsburgh-area business instituted a workplace screening program in fall 2004. A recent survey regarding the screening program got encouraging results.
* 85.2 percent to 92.3 percent of respondents strongly agreed or somewhat agreed that the screenings were helpful in understanding their personal health status
* 99.3 percent plan to discuss screening results with their physicians
* 50.9 percent plan to participate in other health promotion events and activities
* 19.6 percent uncovered a new medical condition at their screening
Workplace screenings can be expensive for companies to arrange, but there is a bottom-line benefit. According to a study by the University of Michigan, overweight employees had $186 more in health claims each year than normal-weight employees. Obese employees cost $488 more per year, according to the same study.
Employees with chronic diseases had annual claims of $760 more than those without such diseases. Learning about health risks early and addressing them before they develop into full-blown chronic diseases could save countless dollars.
To encourage participation, some companies provide prize giveaways or run contests. But contests are designed to produce only a few winners. With work place screenings, everyone wins.
Debra Horn is acting vice president of clinical services and network performance for UPMC Health Plan. The Health Plan, with 440,000 members, is part of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's integrated medical delivery system and is the only provider-led health plan in western Pennsylvania. Reach her at (412) 454-5210.