Helping employees make healthier choices
By Kirsty Jageilko
The benefits of a healthy workforce are obvious, but taking the decision to invest in long term solutions can seem like a giant leap. When you consider the statistics, however, it's a leap worth taking. Almost half of patients in England are now waiting three days or more for an appointment with their general practitioner (GP), according to NHS England's GP Patient Survey from January 2015.
Meanwhile, the Office for National Statistics' Sickness Absence in the Labour Market found that 31 million working days were lost in 2013 due to back and neck pain. In the past six years, there has been a 24% increase in absence due to stress, depression and anxiety, according to the chief medical officer's 2013 annual report. As the working population continues to age, these figures are guaranteed to rise. That's why it's more important than ever for businesses to invest in a long-term healthcare strategy that meets their needs.
Engaging employees with their health is not an easy challenge. Being healthy in our fast-paced society is complicated and hard work. Well-being is multi-faceted and means different things to different people. For some it's about their physical, emotional and social needs, and for others it includes their financial and spiritual well-being. There have never been so many aspects to maintain to "be healthy".
Employees are more likely to feel healthy and cope with the challenges they face if they have easy and quick access to the right support and advice.
There is a growing range of tools available, which can help employers encourage their people to make good lifestyle choices. Health and well-being portals are a great tool for engaging employees and sharing information. Employers can share top tips for healthy living and information on how to manage living with various health conditions by providing access to websites that offer additional support. These tools can help employers that are looking to manage their employees' health in a cost-efficient way.
Online support tools, such as Cigna's Health Navigator, are also available. Working alongside nurse and customer helplines, online tools can help your employees make the most of the choices available to them at every stage of their health journey. This also helps employees to make the most of their medical plan while accessing resources that support their well-being. Employees need support at every stage of their health journey, not only when they make a claim.
How do health and well-being strategies support business growth? Health plans should save employers money by promoting choice, not restricting it. By providing members with choice and flexibility, health plan providers can actively engage people to make healthy decisions. Employers will see improvements in their employees' health and healthcare spending by shifting behaviours, rather than increasing costs.
This is demonstrated by practices seen in the US, which involve the active engagement of employees with the costs of their treatment. Results have shown medical costs are reduced by 12 percent within the first year, in a comparison of the Cigna Choice Fund versus traditional plans in 2011 and 2012. The level of demand for these types of products is increasing. Within the US, Cigna has seen a 65 percent increase in the number of people covered by these types of plans between 2008 and 2013, in a similar comparison from 2013. Employers give staff responsibility for their health plan funding and reward them for the right health behaviours. By reducing health risks and plan utilisation, this helps organisations drive down longer-term plan costs.
In the UK, access to GPs is an issue for many people. Another option that increases choice and helps to reduce plan costs is self-referral for various treatments, including physiotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy. Self-referral provides a solution by offering direct access to care, removing the need to see a GP for a referral. Not only does this promote cost savings by reducing unnecessary consultations and time away from work, but they're also a route to faster recovery.
Healthier people drive a healthier business. Promoting choice and health engagement ensures long-term cost control and better utilisation of plan benefits. The only way for employers to manage long-term costs is to help staff become healthier. By helping employees to make the best lifestyle choices, employers can help maintain a healthy workforce in a cost-efficient way.
Investing in a health plan is part and parcel of this long-term approach. Focusing on health engagement will drive down usage costs and help employers to attract and retain key talent, manage absence and productivity and promote a healthy, engaged workforce.
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