The impact of employees' health on the workplace has long been a key issue for business. The bottom-line question is this: How can we enhance productivity by leveraging improved health?
The place to start is to understand how health is influencing work groups and then how to best make health care resources beneficial to all.
This requires getting a grasp on the increasing prevalence of chronic disease. It's become the leading cause of medical need, responsible for 68 percent of all deaths globally according to 2013 World Health Organization statistics. Cardiovascular diseases are now the No. 1 cause of death worldwide. And this is only the tip of the iceberg of a burgeoning health trend.
According to research over the past decade, topping the list of U.S. health care costs are heart disease, at $107 billion; joint/pain disorders, $62 billion, and digestive disorders, at $51 billion.
If we dig into how other chronic diseases affect workplace costs, we see issues such as migraines, which affect approximately 17 percent of the population with a cost of care and lost productivity as high as $17 billion per year. Almost 10 percent of the U.S. population has diabetes, with an estimated $69 billion in lost productivity and indirect costs.
One in three Americans are said to have at least one of the top seven chronic diseases, with a current overall economic impact of $1.3 trillion — of which $1.1 trillion is lost workplace productivity.
The challenge for businesses in dealing with chronic disease in the workplace is that someone often suffers from symptoms for years before the disease itself has fully manifested. This means heart disease may begin decades before as fatigue, poor sleep and inadequate diet long before the disease itself is identified. The trouble is that from early symptoms through disease manifestation these experiences are real and they influence your team members and their ability to perform.
So what can we do to leverage health care resources to our advantage? First we need to understand that chronic disease, especially in the early stages, is like an algebraic equation in that we look for variables that help us identify symptom patterns as a means of developing a strategy for success. As the variables are identified and a pattern emerges, we then develop a treatment or ideally a prevention strategy accordingly. This is where integrative health care comes into play.
Terminology is always a challenge when creating an effective dialogue. While integrative medicine and integrative health care are not yet used with consensus, research literature offers some reasonable points of reference. Integrative medicine is generally referred to as the customizing of a medical program to the determined diagnosis. Integrative health care is generally referred to as customizing health care resources for the benefit of the individual in both diagnosis and desired wellness.
Business leaders should learn more about integrative health care as a strategy of personalized wellness that can begin within the workplace. Integrative health care used effectively is the hub in which the spokes of therapies, procedures and wellness strategies plug into one custom application. It is rooted in principles of health cultivation, understanding how stress, diet and sleep influence an individual's health. Then, care can be customized to reduce chronic disease and promote wellness.
To leverage integrative health care resources, business will want to look for partnerships where the primary service is advocating for holistic personalized health/well-being followed integrating therapies, learning modules and lifestyle engagement resources to cultivate ongoing wellness. Such partnership possibilities may be scarce at the moment, but they do exist and they can be easily tapped by businesses that are proactive in their commitment to having a healthy workforce.
Why is this especially important for businesses? Chronic disease costs every business through employee absenteeism, even more via presenteeism, increased health care demands, disability, workers' compensation claims, temporary injury and stress. As businesses make the choice to leverage integrative health care in improving workplace productivity, both the wellness of their staff members and their bottom line will be positively impacted. This business trend will be gaining momentum in 2015 and will force the U.S. health care system to adapt more quickly in meeting the demands of a workforce that wants to function without the debilitating effects of chronic disease.