Employer Forum: Preventative Workplace Health Strategies

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A panel of regional health experts discussed the importance of vaccinations and access to preventative health and wellness support for employees amid the current public health crisis during the Detroit Regional Chamber’s recent employer forum. 

Speakers included Cindy Bjorkquistdirector of well-being at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM), Michael S. Kobernicksenior medical director of clinical account management at BCBSM, and Suzanne R. White, regional medical director at Merck & Co. Inc. 

Below are key takeaways from the forum.  

Resources discussed: 

White discussed the importance of primary prevention in employee population healthEmployer investment in employee health care has increased steadily over the last ten years, however investment in preventative care is lagging. 

“Population health is not easy,” said White. “Preventing disease, prolonging life, and promoting health takes a lot of work, effort, and informed choices.” 

The Triple Aim Framework  

This is an approach used by organizations to improve the health of individuals, quality of care as well as reduce per capita cost of health care.  

  1. Primary interventionKeeping people healthy. Routine vaccination is one of the most effective and important forms of primary intervention 
  2. Secondary intervention: Reducing risks. Lifestyle modification for employees with diabetes, hypertension, who are obese, or smoke. Detecting disease through screenings is another form of secondary intervention.  
  3. Tertiary prevention: Providing appropriate care for those who are already sick. Improving quality of life and reducing symptoms is the goal.  

“Traditionally, most [health care] dollars are spent on the second and third of these strategies, with vaccination tending to be one of the most forgotten but one of the most important in addressing prevention,” said White.  

For a population health management strategy to work, it needs to be designed around a particular workforce or community 

Strategies in the workplace include:  

    • Adult vaccination (including on-site clinics) 
    • Individually focused interventions targeted to each participant  
    • Support network of health professionals  
    • Disease prevention strategies for at-risk individuals 
    • Access to healthy foods and nutrition education  
    • Strategic use of employee participation incentives 

Why include vaccines in employer wellness initiatives?  

According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ia generation is appropriately vaccinated, society could avoid:  

    • $1.3 trillion lost in wages and decreased productivity.  
    • 732,000 premature deaths 
    • 21 million hospitalizations. 
    • $295 billion in direct costs for hospitalizations and medical care.  

Vaccine programs are easy to implement in the workplace since vaccinations takes place in a single setting such as an occupational clinic, provider’s office, or pharmacy. They are typically a one-time or infrequent event. Vaccination does not require employees to alter their lifestyle like other disease management programs might.  

Preventative strategies from a clinical perspective 

Kobernickdiscussed preventative strategies from a clinical perspective.  

We can feel discouraged, frustrated, and very stressed, and yet, we have trouble asking for help, said Kobernick.  

The first step is to simply acknowledge to yourself how you are feeling and encourage employees to do the same. There are a lot of environmental stressors right now, but it is up to us as individuals to maintain our own health and personal sense of well-being.  

Virtual well-being resources 

“We are social creatures. We underestimated the effects of telling people to stay apart, said Bjorquist 

To help employers support employee well-being, and cope with added stress, anxiety, and fear, the BCBSM team hosts live webinars every Thursday at noonSubject matter experts share strategies for creating a culture of well-being in the workplace, especially during COVD-19. Topics include: 

  • At-home workouts. 
  • How to practice gratitude. 
  • How to work from home. 
  • Dealing with loneliness and isolation.  
  • How to journal with your children.

As we move into colder months, many employees will face the challenge of seasonal depression alongside the effects of COVID-19. Bjorquist urges teams to continue to stay connected frequently through camera-on video calls. She also encourages employers to talk about their own self-care methods. Doing so will better normalize self-care among employees and help them see the importance in prioritizing mental and emotional health.  

How to address common flu vaccine myths in the workplace 

Many employees choose not to receive the flu vaccine each year due to common myths. These include fears the vaccine will give them the flu and doubts about effectivenessDuring the Q&A portion of the forum, White discussed two strategies for addressing these myths among employees:    

    • Try to focus the conversation on the overall disease burden to society. “People don’t realize how many are affected by the flu each year and it’s significant impact on children.” 
    • Highlight the vaccine’s track record. The flu vaccine is given 179 million times each season and has a proven record of effectiveness and safety.  

Next steps for protecting your team’s health  

To help you prioritize employee health and well-being, Wellness Works has developed a digital guide, Protecting Employee Health and Well-Being Amid COVID-19, outlining key elements that contribute to employee mental, emotional, and physical health, especially amid COVID-19. 

Download your complimentary guide for helpful tips on having meaningful discussions with your employees about the importance of maintaining health and well-being in the coming months, including the significance of flu vaccination.