Written by Frank Tucker
I’m an Occupational Health and Preventive Medicine Physician Assistant by trade. I still see patients on a volunteer basis. A centerpiece in my approach is wellness and improved health outcomes. Generally speaking, I really try to implement practices that enable people to increase control over their healthcare in order to improve their health. A key component of health promotion has been education and empowerment. Certainly traditional activities like health fairs, health education, medical screening, wellness newsletters, tobacco cessation and weight management programs to name a few have been a staple of my approach. In the Army we had a captive audience, which made it much easier to carry out these wellness initiatives. In the civilian work place it has been more of a challenge, so we have to re-think our approach in order to be culturally sensitive and appropriate to economically challenged minorities and other underserved populations.
At MicroHealth we have some amazing offerings that promote health and wellness, such as flex time for exercise, on-site gym, on-site eating areas and active lifestyle promotion with programs such as the Virtual Walk to San Francisco challenge. However, it is simply not enough to create a culture of health within the organization. Our Chief Medical Information Officer is taking on the daunting challenge of building aculture of wellness within the organization to keep MicroHealthers fit and healthy. It doesn’t mean having a “beach body”. It does mean helping our employees achieve a work-life balance while living healthier and happier lives. . This means taking a holistic approach to fighting some of the most common health challenges such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, cholesterol, diabetes, stroke, cancer, depression and much more. Many of our employees are disabled veterans and war veterans so we must also customize our program to address issues specific to this population.
While some companies have taken Corporate Wellness to extremes focused on simply monetary outcomes, we believe in cost sharing…not cost shifting. Some companies have taken drastic measures by varying the amount paid for employees for health insurance in an effort to incentivize health. True, the result of successful wellness strategies shows that a comprehensive corporate wellness program can return $3 – 6 for every dollar invested. However, we believe that negative types of incentives actually create barriers to health prevention and treatment in the long run and are counterproductive to better health outcomes. Better health outcomes can be achieved through reward and partnership rather than a punitive approach. The MicroHealth Corporate Wellness Program will include 7 major intervention and prevention strategies from Healthy People 2010:
- Health education, which focuses on skill development and lifestyle behavior change along with information dissemination and awareness building, preferably tailored to employees’ interests and needs.
- Supportive social and physical environments. These include an organization’s expectations regarding healthy behaviors, and implementation of policies that promote health and reduce risk of disease.
- Integration of the worksite program into organizational structure.
- Linkage to related programs like Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) and programs to help employees balance work and family.
- Worksite screening programs ideally linked to medical care to ensure follow-up and appropriate treatment as necessary.
- Support for individual behavior change with follow-up interventions.
- Evaluation and improvement processes to help enhance the program’s effectiveness and efficiency.
Simply put, we want to make healthy choices easier for MicroHealthers. What also separates our program from the typical approach is simplicity and FUN. Challenges like the Virtual Walk to San Francisco created an increased level of awareness in activities. We quickly saw people making small changes in their daily lives to walk more. While some have increased their exercise routine, others parked their cars farther and took steps rather than elevators. People were amazed how many miles can quickly accumulate by just making small changes that resulted in greater levels of activity. The World Health Organization considers the work place as one of “the priority settings for health promotion into the 21st century” because it influences “physical, mental, economic and social well-being” and “offers an ideal setting and infrastructure to support the promotion of health of a large audience.” We hope to see the lasting effects of a number of easily adoptable positive changes from our Corporate Wellness Program result in better health for our team.