Underutilized Effective Interventions
Healthy People 2020, a set of national health objectives with 10 year targets includes two specific objectives for worksites.
- To increase the number of employers, regardless of size, that offer a comprehensive workplace health program for employees, one in which the following elements are incorporated: health education, supportive social and physical environment, integration of health promotion with the organization’s structure, linkage to related programs, and worksite screening.20 In a 2004 survey of 730 worksites of varying sizes and industry, only 6.9% of worksites offered a comprehensive worksite health promotion program8
- To increase the proportion of employees who participate in employer sponsored health promotion activities.20
Of those employers that are taking action to improve the health and well-being of their employees, studies suggest that they are not purchasing or implementing benefits, policies, and programs proven to prevent disease and promote health.8, 21
Several reasons employers are not taking actions to improve the health and well-being of their employees include:
- Lack of understanding of health issues and effective interventions
- Lack of staff or capacity to implement programs
- Lack of publicly available resources and tools
Many of these reasons are particularly acute for public sector employers and small to medium size companies.
However, there is evidence, for both incremental and comprehensive programs, that many workplace health programs work. A review of 73 published studies of worksite health promotion programs showed an average $3.50 to $1 savings-to-cost ratio in reduced absenteeism and health care costs.22 Another review of workplace wellness programs in mostly large companies with more than 1,000 workers found a return-on-investment of $3.27 to $1 for medical costs and $2.73 to $1 for absenteeism.23
Employers are under-purchasing key clinical preventive services that offer the greatest value for preventing disease. Screening for colorectal cancer (which is the 3rd leading cause of cancer death among men and women) is covered by less than 70% of employers.21 Yet screening tests for colorectal cancer can find precancerous polyps so that they can be removed before they become cancer.
The Task Force on Community Preventive Services recommends eliminating or reducing as much as possible, patient cost-sharing for clinical preventive services to increase the likelihood of their use. Working with benefits managers to ensure colorectal cancer screening is promoted to employees with patient appointment reminders, and access is not a barrier by reducing or eliminating co-payments for preventive services are effective strategies to aide employers in protecting their employees’ health.