Many of us are aware of the costs of chronic disease in the workplace and to society as a whole. Many of us also feel helpless when it comes to improving the health of our team members.
According to Diana Sherifali, associate professor at McMaster University, healthy behaviour is abnormal. The human brain is wired to approach pleasure and avoid pain. Believe it or not, eating junk food and avoiding exercise is coded into our DNA.
So why bother?
The reality is that employers need to work toward developing programs and incentives to improve health now—or we pay much greater costs for sickness later.
In addition to developing wellness initiatives to increase physical activity, improve eating habits, quit smoking, and reduce stress, you can implement specific measures to improve outcomes for a number of chronic conditions.
How Can We Improve Outcomes For Chronic Diseases?
Here are four evidence-based strategies you can use to improve chronic diseases. Click each of the following to jump to the appropriate section.
- Promote dialogue with their pharmacist
- Provide access to Health Coaches
- Allow access to Pharmacogenetic testing
- Encourage Glucose Monitoring
According to a study of people with at least one chronic condition, 60% of participants admitted that they didn’t always take their medications as prescribed. Furthermore, this non-adherence costs organizations between two to ten lost days’ work per employee per year.
Each year, people requiring prescription medications visit their pharmacist five to seven times more often than their physician. Encouraging employees to develop a relationship with their pharmacist, perhaps through the implementation of a preferred pharmacy plan, can help reduce non-adherence rates.
Health coaches offer opportunities to improve chronic conditions, either through increasing adherence or by replacing prescriptions altogether. In a randomized, controlled trial conducted by professor Sherifali and other researchers, diabetes patients were provided with a health coach for one year. At the end of the year, the health coach clients had blood sugar levels on par with those taking medication.
Through education and lifestyle changes, one fifteen minute session per week improved this chronic health condition. Implicit in this change is a reduction in costs to employers through lower drug plan spends and fewer diabetic medical supplies. Not to mention fewer absences.
Health coaches manage a variety of conditions, such as helping with weight management, reducing the risks of cancer, improving nutrition and reducing the risks of heart disease. Health coaching services are often part of an Employee Assistance Program or can be arranged as a separate service. Most health coaching is offered digitally or via telephone.
No, this type of testing will not determine where your ancestors came from or why you have red hair in a family full of brunettes. Pharmacogenetic testing determines which prescription medications and dosages work best with your genetic make-up. Testing gets patients onto the right dose of the right medication faster and with fewer side effects than the old trial and error method.
Pharmacogenetic testing is currently offered by most insurance carriers to employees on long term disability claims.
Pharmacies and medical labs also offer testing. The average cost is approximately $500, and these tests can provide information on the appropriate medications for a number of chronic conditions including depression and anxiety.
Employers who wish to include the cost of testing in their benefits offering can allow pharmacogenetic testing as an eligible expense through a Health Care Spending Account (HSA).
The benefit to employers is a reduction in drug costs. The medications are more effective because there is less trial and error. Reducing the number of medications your employee tries also minimizes the risk of further health complications.
However, the jury is still out as to whether or not pharmacogenetic testing reduces the length of disability claims.
Another powerful, yet simple way to improve the long term health of diabetes patients is through continuous glucose monitoring. By wearing a small device, patients can effectively manage their blood sugar. In fact, studies show that these devices can reduce hypoglycaemic events by up to 72%. Stabilized blood sugar results in fewer long-term and expensive complications and a reduction in costs to employers.
A Canadian study found that hypoglycaemia can cost a workplace $815 per diabetic employee annually due to lost productivity.
Speak to your benefits advisor to determine if continuous glucose monitors are or can be included as a covered supply in your extended health plan.
Most employers today recognize the benefits of helping employees manage chronic conditions. The vast majority of conditions respond best to wellness initiatives, health coaches, closer relationships with pharmacists, pharmacogenetic testing, and continuous glucose monitoring. Providing concrete measures that can be added to your company’s benefit plans helps control costs and reduce absenteeism.