Bringing Preventive Care Back to the Forefront of Employee Health Priorities
Continued measures to restrict the spread of the coronavirus have led to disruptions and delays in health care—especially in preventive care where missed or later diagnosis will likely result in poorer clinical outcomes. Preventive screenings help to identify the onset of disease in earlier stages before signs or symptoms are present. But in the age of COVID-19, preventive care appointments, screenings, and rates of cancer diagnosis have plummeted. One study saw a 94% decline in breast and cervical screenings and an 86% decline in colon cancer screenings following the onset of the pandemic, and it is now projected that an excess of 10,000 deaths from these cancers will occur as a result.
This is certainly alarming, but employers can do something about it. They can help drive the focus back to preventive care so that one public health crisis does not lay the foundation for more health emergencies in the future. After all, one in three employees has at least one chronic disease (obesity, hypertension, diabetes, or depression) that can be identified through screening, and based on the research that IBI released today, there is a lost productivity cost when screenings are missed. Disability leave costs are 4% to 52% lower when employees take time away for a milder form of the disease than for a more severe form. We also saw that employees who take leave for cancer at younger ages take less time off from work than those who enter the disability system at a later age, reinforcing the importance of screenings and early diagnosis for not only reducing lost work time and leave costs but also quality of life for employees.
To help close gaps in screenings among their workforce, employers should consider following:
- Be proactive in promoting preventive screenings: Employers can encourage employees to undergo routine screening by identifying at-risk employees, raising awareness of available testing, improving access to care, and reducing barriers or creating incentives to get screenings.
- Emphasize to leadership the value of screening programs: As the research published today does, use data to emphasize the costs of absence for preventable conditions and the financial burdens of avoidable medical, sick-day, and disability costs.
- Tailor your communications around screenings: A tailored communication plan that provides screening information regularly, emphasizes available options and costs, and delivers its message with empathy around employees’ specific concerns is essential to a successful screening effort.
- Plan for care continuity during emergencies: As the current pandemic has shown, health needs do not disappear even when disruptions and barriers arise. Preparing alternative options to ensure care can continuously be accessed should be incorporated into every company’s business continuity plan. Options can include in-home alternatives, telehealth services, and more.
For more details on our research on closing the gap of preventive screenings and the health and productivity implications, please join me on September 9 at 1:00pm ET/ 10:00am PT for a complimentary webinar. IBI President Kelly McDevitt and Nationwide’s recently retired Associate Vice President, Wellbeing & Safety Kathleen Herath will join me for a conversation about lessons learned from their screening initiatives, and guidance on how to address barriers to preventive care throughout the pandemic.