Employers Opportunity Part 1/3

Understanding why people don’t seek better health……. an Employer’s Wellness opportunity

This is part 1 of 3 entries in which we raise questions and look at solutions for every day health mysteries such as why we choose to eat a chocolate bar, not get up early to exercise, do not go to the Doctors and generally make bad decisions when it comes to our health. We all do it, some of us more than others.

But why?

A lot of our time is spent at work, and so we are going to explore things that employers can do to try and encourage better health decisions, starting by understanding why we fall in to certain behaviours.

On SnH’s recent trip to the United States, we discovered that nearly 2/3 of employers there are offering consumer driven health plans as part of their employment packages. There are many reasons for doing this, the obvious being increased productivity, reduced insurance premiums and attracting and retaining high quality staff. Research papers repeatedly demonstrate that the cost of health-related lost productivity is so significant that employer investment in Wellness programs is essential. However; this does create some problems…..

Health care consumers have had their blinkers on, shielded from the actual costs of health care in Australia supported by the now Medicare and in the States by the aforementioned employer funded health care schemes.

This disconnect between health service and cost actually creates a disincentive for people to pursue healthy endeavors or look to privately funded models of care such as Dieticians and Physiotherapists for advice and support. “The difference between the actual cost of health care, that is, what it costs the provider, and what the patient actually pays is known as the “health care wedge” and it continues to grow in Australia.”

In essence we are used to getting our health care for free, so the attitude is “why should I pay someone to help me?”

In Australia we saw a public backlash when the Government hinted that consumers may have to pay a co-contribution for a visit to see their GP. The backlash was so vicious many Medical centres were forced to advertise in local media that they were in fact not charging this $5 fee. This attitude does not extend to most industries; We happily pay accountants to look after our finances, we pay hairdressers to cut our hair without second thought, but our health attracts little expenditure until the hand is forced. Australians, for example, tend to see the dentist only when faced with intense tooth pain or damage, rather than paying for preventative check ups!

Our current health system serves the immediate need for first response medical treatment well. If I am feeling chest pain I know I must call an ambulance, there are no immediate financial boundaries in Australia for me to receive this treatment. In the United States this is very different!

Interestingly, however, is that the health care wedge does not work so well for a preventative health medicine approach. What we are discovering is that the out of pocket expense required to see practitioners that can address chronic disease such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes is preventing people from addressing their health before it becomes an irreversible problem and impacts their roles in the workplace and their life satisfaction.

We as a population continue to travel through our able working lives with these financial blinkers preventing us from seeking quality health care treatment. As an employer, this is an excellent opportunity! Improving health onsite at your workplace delivers improved productivity, reduced LTIs, reduced insurance premiums and attracts high quality staff.

How do you do this?

In Australia, wellness initiatives are only in their infancy and S&H are among the first wave of companies offering these to employers across Australia. As a starting point, We suggest considering the following four questions as an organisation:

a) What are our goals from a wellness program?
– reduced smoking rates
– improved sleep and fatigue
– reduced injuries and incidents onsite
– increased exercise participation

Many organisations do not know where to focus their Wellness efforts, which is why you need to understand what are the current health practices of the employees and what do they want?

b) What is the Demographic of our targeted employee audience?

c) Will we use incentives for participation?

d) Are employees located locally or distributed nationwide?

Employers are perfectly positioned to add value to your organisation and the community by offering Wellness programs that are targeted and measured against your specific goals. By offering these services in the workplace, we are removing the health care wedge that prevents many people from undertaking preventative health actions.

Keep an eye out for my next blog article in which I will explore Present Bias, and how this behavioural economic theory also impacts how we approach our own health.

Yours in health,

Safe & Healthy

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