Work affects health, and health affects work

By | August 1, 2017

As we focus on improving the health of those we serve, we must remember the interaction between one’s health and one’s work. When we think about work-related events, we tend to think about injuries and taking time off when we are sick. The interactions between the two are much greater.

There has always been a focus on employee wellness. Many programs exist to help identify medical issues sooner for employees, such as health risk assessment forms and programs that are designed to incent the employee to exercise, eat right, etc. There are also financial incentives that are tied to healthier living and even getting your yearly well visit.

But the literature is mixed on the results of these programs. What is also very interesting is that as these programs increase in use, so does the usage of high-deductible plans. High-deductible plans increase out-of-pocket expenses, which have been shown to depress all utilization of services, not just those services that are not needed. This latter fact has led to increased health issues due to the financial stress of paying for needed services. An interesting evolution of wellness companies is that they are now selling services that promote organizational culture change to create healthier workplaces.

The need for organizational culture changes and an underlying shift in how we think about improving workplace health is paramount if we want to improve the well-being of those employed and improve workplace productivity. The increased age of the work force, working until later in life and the rise of chronic conditions in the workforce all play into the worsening of the issue. Work-related healthcare costs are influenced by both physical and cognitive difficulties of the job.

In order to address these difficulties, companies will need to take an integrated approach. This integrated approach will need to focus on improving the fit between a worker’s duties and abilities, both physically and cognitively. This fit does not mean a person is not appropriate for a job, but that attention must be paid to how one on boards, trains, and monitors a person’s progress.

Worker’s compensation is another area that requires great focus. Once a person has a claim, the risk of them having further claims rises significantly. This requires working with those that have had an on-the-job injury closer to prevent further problems. Also, doing a root cause analysis of every worker’s compensation claim will help identify themes or workplace issues that should be addressed to protect others from similar issues.

Also, disabled workers account for a disproportionate share of healthcare costs. We usually do not segment those we treat into such categories, but there is great value in thinking about the needs of specific patient segments differently as they have different needs and issues. Focusing on work with those employees with short-term disability in new and creative ways will help hold down employer healthcare spending.

The health of our workforce is of extreme importance. We must remember that the issues at work are multifactorial and will need to be addressed in a coordinated fashion if we want to improve health and well-being.