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Data driven: Using occ health data to lower health care costs
The 'point where health, safety, sustainability meet'
Are rising health care costs a worry at your workplace? Occupational health professionals would be wise to look at the role they can play in getting them under control, according to Margie Weiss, PhD, CEO and community health advocate at the Weiss Health Group, a Neenah, WI-based consulting company that works with companies and communities on health and wellness.
"Employers are faced with an aging workforce, bringing an increased incidence of chronic disease," notes Weiss.
A data-driven strategy is one way to successfully lower health care costs, according to a study which identified drivers of health care costs. The researchers included both direct and indirect costs, such as doctor visits, prescription drugs, absenteeism, disability, and productivity.1 This data can then be used to develop appropriate interventions, prevention programs or case management for employees with specific diseases, they reported.
"Data should drive your decision-making," says Weiss. "Integrate healthcare costs, workers' compensation care costs and sustainability-related metrics."
Healthy workers and their families are likely to incur lower medical costs and be more productive, while those with chronic health conditions generate higher costs in terms of health care use, absenteeism, disability and overall reduced productivity, says Weiss.
"Occupational health is the connecting point where health, safety and sustainability meet," says Weiss, pointing to increasing evidence that health promotion programs are cost-effective.
For example, include data on healthcare costs, Health Risk Assessments, biometrics, presenteeism, workers' compensation costs, incident tracking, near-miss tracking, absenteeism, ergonomic assessments, employee needs and interest surveys, and worker demographics, she says.
"Workplace injuries and work-related illnesses can be a huge financial burden for employers," says Weiss. "Economic costs of occupational illness and injury match those of cancer, and nearly match those of heart disease."
Make your case
Kathy Dayvault, RN, MPH, COHN-S/CM, an occupational health nurse at PureSafety in Franklin, TN, notes that according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), there are four causes of chronic disease that are modifiable:
lack of physical activity
excessive alcohol consumption.
"These four modifiable factors are responsible for illness, suffering and early death related to chronic disease," she says.
Dayvault also notes that the three leading causes of death in the U.S. are heart disease, cancer and stroke. "Heart disease and stroke are among the most widespread, costly and preventable health problems in the U.S. today," she says.
Dayvault adds that the cost of heart diseases in 2010 was "astronomical," with coronary heart disease at $177.1 billion; hypertensive disease at $76 billion, stroke $73.7 billion and heart failure at 39.2 billion.
"Using the above data, you can successfully make a case for addressing chronic diseases in the workplace," she says.
One tool that can help you do this, says Dayvault, is statistical data from healthcare insurers. Utilize this information about the health of the workforce, she advises, to determine the chronic conditions that are prevalent in the workplace.
"Through insurance data, healthcare costs for specific chronic conditions can be determined," she adds. After you've reviewed this statistical data, Dayvault says that you can then determine specific ways to address worker health through wellness initiatives and disease-specific programs.
"The impact of preventing and controlling hypertension and elevated cholesterol are key to cardiovascular health," says Dayvault. She points to CDC statistics that a 12 to 13 point reduction in systolic blood pressure can reduce heart disease risks by 21%, stroke risks by 37% and risk for death from heart disease or stroke by 25%.
"Another case for workplace wellness programs is addressing diabetes, and diabetes risk indicators," says Dayvault. In 2007, the national economic burden of pre-diabetes and diabetes was $218 billion, she notes, and of that amount, $65 billion was associated with reduced productivity.
This loss of productivity was determined to be a result of higher levels of absenteeism, working at less than capacity and early mortality, she says.
"These examples are strong cases for occupational health," Dayvault adds. "A little homework on the financial impact of disease and disease prevention can catch the attention of the CEO. It can increase their understanding of the ROI which can be realized from instituting wellness programs in the workplace."
1. Bunn WB III, Stave GM, Allen H, et al. Evidence-based benefit design: toward a sustainable health care future for employers. J Occup Environ Med. 2010; 52(10):951-955.
For more information on using data to reduce health care costs, contact:
Kathy Dayvault, RN, MPH, COHN-S/CM, Occupational Health Nurse, PureSafety, Franklin, TN. Phone: (615) 312-1242. Fax: (615) 367-3887. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Margie Weiss, PhD, Weiss Health Group, Neenah, WI. Phone: (920) 450-4166. E-mail: email@example.com.