The Power of Prevention
Dr. Larry Luter, Chief Medical Officer, Meritain Health
Corporate Wellness Magazine
January 4, 2010
It's easy to go through life thinking everything with your body is ok, especially if pain and discomfort rarely rear their ugly heads. But some of the most devastating medical problems are quiet with their damage, and without regular preventive healthcare, it's easy to be blind sided by a serious diagnosis.
With these facts in mind, why are people so reluctant to seek preventive healthcare and make long-term behavior change? The issue is a lack of education. There are many ways employers can provide this crucial information to their employees, improving the overall health and productivity of their workforce, and in the process, reducing costs, especially during these unstable economic times.
Disease management depends on early intervention
The goals of any disease management program are as straightforward as they are ambitious. Early identification of a serious health problem (such as diabetes, hypertension or heart disease) allows an interdisciplinary team of health care professionals to slow its progress or prevent complications, improve quality of life and work toward a better outcome.
At the center of this team are patients. After all, it is the patients who ultimately must take responsibility and make healthier choices in their daily lives. Any successful disease management program should be well-rounded enough to provide counseling for all aspects of a patient's condition - including education and ongoing motivation to help patients reach their goals. Identifying barriers to compliance is also important, and those barriers can be different for people with the same condition.
Prevention warrants more than a brochure
Employers who have already implemented these management programs know that the return is received when the need for acute - and expensive - employee care is reduced. From the outset, all disease management programs are designed to have a direct effect on this type of costly care. But the goals of a good disease management program are much easier to articulate than to accomplish.
Many companies implement disease management programs quickly and merely as a means towards reducing health care costs. When implementing a disease management program, educational materials are extremely important, and employing them effectively is key to its success. But a slick brochure isn't enough to fully educate employees and make them feel comfortable with what's to come.
Building out time, well in advanced of implementing a program to communicate with employees through email, printed materials and onsite Q & A's, will aid to the success of the program and a higher rate of participation.
Making your employee's comfortable with the program
Employers must understand why certain employees may resent or mistrust an intrusion into what they feel are their own personal decisions. In particular, employees in lower-compensation brackets may have a longer-standing cynicism about any "new" program from their employer.
If you're implementing a disease management program, it is important to explain HIPAA and reiterate that healthcare information is entirely private. Highlighting this point will make employees feel more at ease with the program and increase participation level.
The benefits of any disease management program must be made clear to every employee. By reducing health care costs across the company, the rising costs of individual contributions can be contained. Understanding employees, and addressing their health issues early, is paramount for wellness and disease management.
Rely on an objective opinion
Perhaps the most important benefit of a disease management program is the ability to put aside political correctness when discussing health issues. Most employers are not at all motivated to discuss obesity with their employees, even if that obesity results in lower productivity or higher health care costs. If employers cannot state the reality of a health condition, though, how can they effectively provide health management tools to address the condition?
Employers who utilize wellness and disease management programs gain not only medical expertise, but an objective, outside opinion. By putting the onus for blunt health care discussions on a third party, the employer no longer has to be the "bad guy." While the health management vendor starts the conversation, prescribes lifestyle changes and monitors progress, the employer reaps the rewards of reduced health care costs.
Informed prevention reduces costs
By detecting chronic conditions early, employers can work with disease management vendors to guide employees toward healthier choices. Employees get help sticking with those choices through targeted and ongoing education and motivation.
In order to reach these goals, employers must first strive to understand what keeps employees from leading healthier lives - and why they may be reluctant to seek regular medical care. When these barriers are understood and overcome, the power of prevention truly works to an employer's benefit.
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Larry J. Luter, M.D., F.A.A.F.P., Chief Medical Officer, works with clients and Meritain Health's management team to develop innovative programs to improve the health of employees. Dr. Luter is a highly respected member of the healthcare community and veteran speaker at health and wellness seminars across the country. With an extensive clinical background and 10 years of experience in medical management, Dr. Luter was the Senior Medical Director of CIGNA HealthCare of Florida, where he chaired the quality and credentials committees and was a member of the local management forum. Prior to this, he was the Medical Director for AvMed Health Plan in Florida. Dr. Luter retired from the United States Navy Medical Corps in 1992 after working as head of the Family Practice Department and serving as the Director of Medical Services at the Naval Hospital in Orlando, Fla. He received his M.D. from the University of Texas Medical School, San Antonio.