Baseline Testing in Corporate Wellness Programs Offers Better Results
The Benefit to Corporations
Many corporate wellness programs include incentives for exercise, nutrition and weight loss goals that promote a proactive attitude toward health. Studies have shown that wellness programs do provide a financial reward for the companies that implement them. The Meta-Evaluation of Worksite Health Promotion Economic Return Studies published in the Art of Health Promotion Newsletter compiled results from a variety of studies and stated that Health Promotion Programs are associated with a lower rate of absenteeism and lower health care costs.
The cost benefit ratio averaged 5.93%1. But organizations that actively promote these objectives while recognizing a reduction in both their healthcare costs and a reduction in lost productivity may not be going far enough. Changes on the outside, a number on the scale, amount of time in the gym, and looking better are certainly valuable, but the changes that occur on the inside when people exercise or lose weight is what ultimately counts in the battle to improve your health.
Establishing a health baseline for each employee before starting other programs offers additional benefits to the achievements employees make when they reach health goals. While educating people on the rewards they will reap as they move forward to improve their health, corporations need to include information and resources to help employees track their progress. When was the last time you had a checkup? Can't remember?
Waiting until something goes wrong and landing in the hospital is the scenario that could be lurking around the corner. Corporations are in a powerful position to dislodge employees from this rut and get them the information they need to make significant changes in their long-term health, but they may be missing the opportunity. According to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control2, 75% of health care spending pays for diseases which are preventable.
Organizations that implement comprehensive wellness programs that include health assessments to identify employees with high risk factors and then provide incentives and access to information and healthy lifestyle options showed the largest improvements in critical factors such as absenteeism. While studies at Dupont and General Mills found 14 - 19% reductions, Centers for Disease Control reports an astounding 45% decrease in absenteeism3.
The largest gains will be seen over time. Initially health care costs may rise as employees discover risk factors or health conditions that weren't evident through health screenings. For example, a surgical procedure may cost $15,000 in surgical costs, but the costs for acute disease can average as much $40,000 per incidence.
The Benefit to Employees
To highlight the benefit for individual employees, take John's story. John hadn't been to a doctor in years for numerous reasons, including his long hours at work. When his company sponsored a free health care screening as part of a new wellness program he decided to take advantage of it. His father is in a nursing home after a severe stroke and he suspects he has some risk factors beyond stress and poor health habits.
The screening results show that his cholesterol is moderately high and his company wellness representative suggests he get a VAP (Vertical Auto Profile) test to pinpoint his risk. The results indicate that John has a very high Lp(a) level, a clear warning sign for cardiovascular disease. Because of his other risk factors and his father's stroke John also has a PLAC test which shows that although his cholesterol is only moderately high, the type of arterial plaque that he has is the type that ruptures causing strokes.
Because he doesn't want to end up debilitated and in a nursing home like his father, John takes advantage of all the information and exercise facilities that his company provides to change his diet and exercise. He works closely with his doctor to use the right combination of statins and supplements. John loses weight and is able to reduce his Lp(a) level and his LDL or "bad cholesterol" level and feel better about his health. The company incentives for his weight loss, the better cholesterol levels, and his hours in the gym don't hurt either!
Helping Employees Establish Health Baselines
Sponsoring health fairs in the office that allow employees to get clinical tests without leaving the office or taking time off are an incentive for employees to establish their health baselines. Even for corporations who can't afford to set up complete health assessment programs, many diagnostic tests are available without making a doctor's appointment and spending hours in the waiting room every time employees want to monitor their health.
With recent changes in the healthcare system some tests may not be covered by insurance, but many independent laboratories offer medical tests at reasonable prices. Getting tested and establishing your health baseline takes only a few minutes. The test results can be shared with the employee's doctor and they can maintain a copy in their files as well.
Unique Baselines and Monitoring
Each individual has a different baseline and knowing what that is presents the opportunity for employees, in partnership with their doctors, to create a treatment plan that is appropriate for their specific needs. The information obtained through baseline testing can allow the tracking of small changes over time. These changes may be indicators of problems that are slowly surfacing or they could be positive responses to advances people are making in meeting health objectives.
Because baseline information is unique for everyone, it is important to know what your baseline is. The PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) test for men measures the level of this substance in the blood. Although anything under 4.0 ng/ml is considered normal, an increase over time, even below the 4.0 ng/ml threshold, can indicate a possible prostate issue. This early warning can allow men to monitor changes more frequently, perhaps every 6 months, to determine if a problem is surfacing.
At a minimum, if all test results are normal, people should be tested annually to look for changes from previous results. Frequent follow-ups, even as frequent as every 3-6 months, can help to track specific things that people may want to monitor because they are taking supplements or specific medications, or have made major lifestyle changes. This can allow almost real time adjustments in supplement intake, exercise and/or diet so that employees can see whether their actions are effective.
Some alternative treatments, such as Niacin or Red Yeast for high cholesterol, have been shown to be effective in combination with statins and tracking the results more frequently provides insight into how they are affecting health. New research is also emerging that tracking your thyroid levels can detect sub-clinical hypothyroidism that is manageable if properly diagnosed.
This is frequently overlooked because results appear to be in the "normal" range but it has been suggested that the TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) should stay closer to the high range and that the T4 Free level should be closer to the low range. Beginning an exercise program or adjusting your diet to include better food choices often creates dramatic changes in health. These are just a few examples of changes that can be periodically monitored to track progress toward very specific health goals such as lowering blood pressure or cholesterol levels.
Some Recommended Baseline Tests
Some of the tests that help to provide a clear picture of your health and establish a baseline include: Basic Check- Up Tests in a basic check-up might include:
- A Complete Blood Count (CBC) which tests for blood disorders such as leukemia, anemia, and blood clotting.
- A chemistry panel which includes multiple tests that provide information on glucose levels, electrolytes, and kidney and liver function.
- A lipid panel to measure cholesterol, HDL, LDL and triglycerides which can identify possible risks for coronary artery disease or stroke.
- A Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) test to monitor thyroid function and can identify the presence of hyper- or hypothyroidism.
- A urinalysis that looks for substances in the urine that could indicate metabolic or kidney problems.
- A blood pressure check.
These basic tests are generally administered during an annual physical in a doctor's office and provide valuable information on normal bodily functions. Results from these tests can be used to determine whether more in-depth or further testing is needed in specific areas.
PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) Test: PSA is produced by the prostate gland in men and is recognized as an indicator of prostate health. Regardless of age, getting an initial test to establish a baseline against which periodic tests are measured over time has been shown to be a valuable preventive measure for men.
Thyroid Panel: The thyroid gland regulates the body's use of energy and abnormal levels of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH), T3 or T4 can cause an array of symptoms including fatigue, weight fluctuations or hair loss. A thyroid imbalance can make people susceptible to additional health problems such as osteoporosis, heart disease and infertility.
Glucose (Serum) Test: Abnormally high levels of sugar in the blood may indicate metabolic syndrome (pre-diabetes) or diabetes. Comparing later glucose levels can identify early signs of diabetes. Preventive treatment and lifestyle changes can dramatically delay the onset of diabetes.
C-Reactive Protein: The amount of this protein increases in the body when inflammation is present. High levels of CRP (C-Reactive Protein) can indicate cardiovascular disease, inflammatory bowel disease, some forms of arthritis, or pelvic inflammatory disease, among others.
VAP Test: The VAP or Vertical Auto Profile test takes a deeper dive than a standard lipid panel by measuring the density of the lipid particles directly and looking at the level of Lp(a) which is correlated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. Smaller, denser particles indicate higher risk than can be identified by HDL, LDL and total cholesterol numbers.
PLAC Test: The PLAC test measures Lp-PLA2, a vascular specific inflammatory enzyme that is associated with a very high risk of stroke. This enzyme indicates the presence of rupture-prone plaque that can cause strokes. This is the only test that can identify stroke risk specifically, as opposed to general cardiovascular risk.
Rewards for a Proactive Attitude toward Health
The ability to be more proactive with our health by taking tests to monitor critical bodily functions may help individuals to feel empowered and not frightened by test results. In most cases, you can do something about the test results. Knowing their own bodies and their internal status on several fronts allows people to be healthier and, in the long run, prevent serious diseases that can become disabling.
The rewards for reaching health goals are usually visible to everyone on the outside, but the changes on the inside are the ones that will prolong lives. Changing numbers, whether on the scale or on lab reports, highlights improvements that translate into a "pat on the back", financially, physically and emotionally, for individuals who have made a positive difference in their health.
Corporations that endorse a healthy work environment supported by on-site gyms, access to healthy foods in the cafeteria or snack machines, and encouragement to seek medical testing either through promotions or on-site health fairs will see positive responses and solid action from employees and a positive change to their bottom line. Who wouldn't want to work in such a supportive environment?
1. Chapman L. Meta-Evaluation of Worksite Health Promotion Economic Return Studies. Art of Health Promotion Newsletter 6(6):January/February 2003
2. The Burden of Chronic Diseases and Their Risk Factors, February 2002. Fries, New England Journal of Medicine, 1993
3. IRSA, Association of Quality Clubs, “The Economic Benefits of Employee Fitness”, 1992, www.fitresource.com
About the Author
Maureen Young is a Consumer Education Advocate for ANY LAB TEST NOW, a healthcare lab testing facility. She is a writer, health care advocate, and fitness enthusiast driven to explore advances in the health care and medical industries and share her research with the public. Ms. Young started her career in high tech sales and marketing but quickly found her passion in education, training and health issues.
Ms. Young's background in technical writing and research enables her to translate medical and technical information into laymen's terms. Her recent experience includes work for not-for-profit membership organizations, website development and optimization, and health related blog, E-Book and article writing. ANY LAB TEST NOW provides health and wellness tests, drug and alcohol tests, and a variety of DNA tests for individuals and corporations throughout the country.