Business of Well-being

Medical Self-Care: We Can't Afford to Ignore It

A comprehensive workplace wellness program can positively impact the wealth of businesses and nearly 60 percent have embraced this concept with aspirations to avoid the economic strain of the current healthcare crisis. However, it should be noted that approximately 95 percent of existing wellness programs are not meeting their potential.  

Creating strategies that will decrease the unnecessary utilization of healthcare and empower employees to become better medical consumers must be an integral part of any program. Implementing a carefully designed medical self-care program provides opportunities for greater success.

A Damaged Healthcare System: Who is Paying for it?

Our healthcare system is badly damaged and we, as a nation, simply cannot afford it.  It is well documented that our current healthcare "crisis" has economically stretched our belts to their limit. In 2010, we as a nation spent nearly $2.6 trillion on healthcare and it is predicted that by 2020 we will reach $4.6 trillion (CMMS).  

We don't have to look very far to identify the cause for these rising costs. It has been found that 91 percent of our hospital systems are overcrowded, 70 million Americans take at least one prescription daily, and the availability of highly expensive and state-of-art medical equipment all contribute to our rising expenditure. Chronic disease continues to be on the rise and with 80 million baby boomers at tow; together, these two factors place an increased demand on our health system is expected to grow (KFF).

Who is paying for all of this? For 303 million Americans of whom 170 million are working, it is estimated that 49 percent of health care costs are employer and employee sponsored, making them the largest payers of healthcare in the U.S.  The other 50% is being paid by government funds (taken in from working Americans) through Medicare, Medicaid, and a small portion of uninsured non-working Americans.  

Ultimately, we have placed a tremendous amount of strain on employers and this could lead to catastrophic outcomes.  It is also important to mention that we have a staggering 50 million uninsured Americans of whom will inevitably feed into the system. The stress of bearing the astronomic costs associated with health care expenses has taken its toll on employers.

In 1999, the average employee family paid an estimated $1543 for health insurance premiums with employers contributing $4247 due to the ever rising costs. In 2009 we saw a 128 percent ($3,515) increase in employee paid premiums (graph 1).

Because so many baby boomers are getting older, and profits are stale in our current economic state, employers have begun to shift the costs.  They simply cannot afford it and their decisions may cause permanent damage to their business and the economy.

Avoiding a Disaster

In the "Society for Human Resources Management" the shift becomes transparent. In 2006, a survey showed that 66 percent of the companies increased co pays, 59 percent increased participant costs, 56 percent increased deductibles, and 55 percent of the companies made employees pay for prescriptions. This reckless decision-making will ultimately decrease company morale and competitiveness.In an article of the NY Times by David Leonhardt, it is suggested that "healthcare matters to employees."

He explains that an employee's decisions and job satisfaction are based more on the employer-sponsored benefits package and not on career advancement .In 2005, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that the greatest concern for American employees was health care.

With the increased financial contributions required by higher co pays and increased deductibles, employees are now feeling the backlash of our current healthcare crisis and current business strategies are beginning to wreak havoc on their personal and financial health. This can be seen by the 1.5 million reported foreclosures per year, which studies suggest are partly due to medical expenses.

Embracing a Preventive Strategy in the Workplace

Approximately 75 percent of our healthcare expenditures have been reported as "modifiable." Consider the facts: on a yearly basis, 69 percent of employees will get a cold, flu or respiratory infection; 30 percent will sustain a minor injury; 24 percent will have a non-respiratory infection and 12 percent will have a digestive disorder.

The similarity in each of these circumstances is that they could have been avoided through self-managed care without any medical intervention. Leading studies suggest that workplace wellness programs can have a significant impact on altering these associated costs. There are over 400 peer-reviewed studies documenting improvement in health spending and cost effectiveness.

The literature also suggests that a well-implemented worksite wellness program can provide a Return on Investment (ROI) of nearly 3:1. To address this predicament, businesses have begun to implement workplace wellness strategies to help their employees' lead healthier lifestyles and avoid unnecessary medical costs. The need to integrate a workplace medical self-care program is relevant now more than ever.

What is Self-Care?

Medical self-care programs are a critical component for the success of any workplace wellness strategy. They help empower employees to live healthy lifestyles through preventive maintenance. They also create awareness towards knowing when to treat common illness or minor injuries at home and when to get medical attention.

Self-care programs provide a sense of preparedness for responding to emergencies, while cultivating ongoing communication between doctors and caregivers. Medical self-care programs have the power to help contain employers escalating costs and contribute to the solution of our health care crisis.

David Hunnicutt, President of the Wellness Councils of America, and his team of wellness experts have designed a three-phase process to help employers design and implement their own medical self-care program.

Phase 1: Collecting and Contacting

The goal of phase one is to cultivate a culture that promotes collecting "your own personal health data" and contacting a primary care physician. Creating awareness around prevention is critical to avoiding disease. Providing the tools and resources to help employees engage and manage their own personal health data will empower them to become more responsible consumers of health.

Phase 2: Recognizing and Reacting

The second phase of a well-designed medical self-care program includes strategies that educate employees how to recognize and manage their medical symptoms and react appropriately.

There are a number of simple, low cost tools that can be utilized to help facilitate this process. Teaching skills to help identify common illnesses that can be treated with self-care will dramatically impact unnecessary health care spending.

Phase 3: Preparing and Performing

Lastly, preparing employees to perform as professional medical consumers will help them confidently manage their own health. Our current medical system can be daunting to navigate and having the tools to carefully make informed medical decisions can alleviate stress.

It is critical that businesses begin to design medical self-care programs into their current workplace wellness strategies. The costs associated with preventable medical expenses are stifling the ability for survival. Taking a cost-shift approach simply will not stem the tide and there needs to be a more proactive approach.

The evidence is becoming more convincing that a properly designed wellness program can and will positively impact the health of your employees and business. Understanding the components of medical self-care program is vital to ensuring success. Implementation will help foster employee accountability towards personal health and allow for better population management.

About The Author

Jamey Bednez MS, CHES, CWWS acts as the Director of Corporate Wellness for BABB Inc. He drives the development and implementation of wellness programs that focus on population management. Jamey also provides consultative services for hundreds of small to midsize companies. Bednez earned a B.S. in Health Education, M.S. in Wellness Promotion and is nationally recognized by the National Wellness Institute, Wellness Council of America, and The National Commission for Health Education Credentialing.  Contact Jamey at

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