A staggering 37 million people in the United States have diabetes — yet as many as 1 in 5 of them still don’t know they have it. What may be more shocking is that an estimated 96 million US adults have prediabetes, but 80% of them don’t have a clue.
What’s behind this phenomenon isn’t a lack of education, as most of us are aware of the health risk of having diabetes. What’s really going on is that when we feel “fine,” — meaning, we’re not in immediate pain or danger — we feel justified to postpone or skip annual wellness visits or preventive lab work. But by the time real symptoms set in (like fatigue, pain, or even a diabetic coma), it’s often too late to undo the damage caused by ignoring our health.
That’s why now is not the time for employers and health plans to let off the gas pedal when it comes to employee wellness. In fact, organizations need to double down, and prioritize it as an essential component to their benefits strategy — even as we stare down foreboding economic reports and become wary of a looming recession.
Multiple studies show that chronic health conditions like diabetes, which are often the byproduct of ignoring preventive health measures, take a huge toll on worker productivity, health and quality of life.
For example, in a study published by the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, workers with chronic diseases were 6.34 times more likely to have increased absenteeism than workers with no chronic diseases.
The cost of missed work and sickness is steep. Just five chronic disease risk factors — including smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, physical inactivity and obesity — cost U.S. employers $36.4 billion per year due to missed work, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That adds up to $1,685 per employee.
We all need mechanisms that allow us to check in on our overall health with greater frequency that are as easy and convenient to engage with as a digital scale — but offer greater context than a standalone scale.
While it can be argued that an annual physical is all we need to stay healthy (assuming we’re already healthy), there are two disadvantages for solely relying on once-a-year wellness visits: One, they’re not always convenient, as most primary-care and internal medicine physicians work normal business hours. If someone is having a busy week and needs to cut something to gain back more work time, it’s easy for that person to rationalize canceling a routine doctor’s appointment, especially if they “feel fine.”
The other disadvantage to annual physicals is that they’re, well, annual. If, for example, someone transitions to a sedentary job and gains weight or takes up a habit like smoking, which significantly raises the risk of a heart attack, the longer that person goes without a physician sounding an alarm, the more likely that person is to become more dependent on excess food, tobacco or another substance. The longer a person has a bad habit, the harder it is to break.
What if employees had the tools and resources to obtain almost instant access to their overall health status?
For example, what if they had access, on a quarterly or biannual basis, to a health testing kit that would enlighten them on multiple health risk factors — an elevated weight/BMI, high blood pressure, elevated blood glucose — on demand? Reperio’s at-home health screening kit enables individuals to self-screen for all of these things in the comfort of their own home, anytime.
By providing access to sophisticated, at-home health screening tools on a regular basis, and even pairing the use of such kits with an employee sponsored rewards points that can be redeemed for high value goods, employers are helping to transform the notion of health from something that can be postponed to something that can (and should) be engaged with.
By arming our workforce with the tools and encouragement to keep tabs on their wellness and enhance their wellbeing, organizations are going above and beyond traditional healthcare benefits.
Health and wellbeing can no longer be relegated to the “annual” check-ups.
More frequent health engagement must be supported by ongoing vigilance and tactics. By encouraging the use of tools that are as easy to use and can be leveraged more frequently than once a year, we’re offering them the power to optimize their health and live their best lives.
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