Improve Your ROI With a Wellness Diagnostic

Studies have shown that businesses that implement health and wellness programs see improvements in productivity, recruiting efforts and workplace morale, as well as decreases in absenteeism, insurance costs and internal conflicts. Studies typically demonstrate a $4 to $5 saving for every one dollar invested in health promotion. With a well-structured program, employees will perform at their maximum potential because they are more invested in their work and more loyal to the company.

However, every workforce has a different profile when it comes to the health of employees and the health of the business as a whole. Therefore, before implementing a wellness program and making costly investments (such as installing a fitness centre, for example), it is essential to identify the specific issues that are affecting the workforce and the company’s bottom line. Simply put, employers must conduct a diagnostic to assess the wellness of their employees and their organizations. However, not all diagnostics are created equal.

Objectives of a wellness diagnostic

A wellness diagnostic must provide an organization-wide measurement of the health and wellness of employees and determine those employees’ needs. A practical diagnostic will identify the specific health and wellness issues that have the biggest impact on the company. The diagnostic should also generate an accurate picture of the general health-and any health risks-of the company as a whole. In other words, simply analyzing the physical health and lifestyle choices of employees won’t cut it; employers must assess the wellness of the organization itself, by analyzing communication efforts, job satisfaction, workload balance and the causes of stress in the workplace.

If a diagnostic achieves these objectives, it will provide a foundation upon which employers can build a structured wellness program. A corporate wellness diagnostic will allow managers to identify problems, set goals, and measure the results and the impact to the organization. It should also provide a comparison to past initiatives and to the competition.

After understanding the objectives of a diagnostic and the reasons for conducting one, managers must determine what different types of diagnostics are out there, and which particular diagnostic is right for their business.

Elements of a successful diagnostic

Most large companies rely on a health risk assessment (HRA) to diagnose the health of their employees. While this type of diagnostic has advantages, HRAs do have some shortcomings. For instance, employees cannot participate anonymously, because they each take part in a one-on-one health assessment. The upside of this is that each employee is provided with an individualized health report, but their responses are likely to be censored if they know their employer can review them. What’s more, it can be difficult to incite healthy habits among employees when they are each working off of an individual report. For a wellness program to truly be successful, it must focus on the bigger picture, so an HRA needs to be complemented with a more thorough diagnostic.

A good corporate wellness diagnostic must be easily accessible and not overly long or complicated, in order to ensure strong employee participation. Participation should be voluntary and employees must feel comfortable taking part; ideally, they would do so in a calm, non-stressful place, and they shouldn’t find the survey too tedious or too personal. To obtain honest answers about sensitive subject matter such as drug and alcohol use, employer approval and job satisfaction, employees should be assured their responses will remain anonymous. To facilitate maximum participation and honesty, the diagnostic should be conducted by an objective source and the importance of answering honestly must be well communicated to the workforce. This last point cannot be stressed enough.

The diagnostic should provide a global perspective on the health of a business, while also providing detailed statistical analyses of each individual issue addressed. It should be made up of at least three different sections that correspond to the three essential components of health and wellness: lifestyle choices, physical health and psychological health.

Any diagnostic must include a focus on lifestyle aspects that strongly correlate with wellness, such as nutrition, exercise, sleep and tobacco, alcohol and drug use. Lifestyle choices have a huge impact on health costs; in fact, preventable illness makes up approximately 70% of the burden of illness and the associated costs. Unfortunately, most people do not prevent these illnesses simply because they are making the wrong lifestyle choices.

Separate from issues related to lifestyle, but equally important, is the assessment of physical health. This section should cover medical problems and physical disorders that may affect employees; it should take into account chronic diseases and other health problems that affect insurance claims. (If you have operations in the U.S., bear in mind that questions related to family medical history are not permitted by U.S. law if employees are given an incentive to take part in an HRA.)

A smart diagnostic will include an evaluation of what is sometimes known as organizational health-that is, all the factors that affect employee productivity and morale in a given workplace.

The next critical section of a good corporate wellness diagnostic is an assessment of the psychological wellbeing of employees. It is not necessary to test employees for mental instability or psychological issues, but rather for their ability to handle stress at home and work, and their ability to maintain healthy relationships with their colleagues. Stress has a huge impact on productivity and insurance claims, and the current trends of layoffs and increased workload are only serving to further increase stress levels.

I should point out that health-related costs and weak productivity are not caused solely by employees and their behaviors. As mentioned earlier, many employers rely on an HRA to diagnose the health of their business, but neglect to analyze workplace issues that are affecting employee health. This can create an environment where employees feel they are under the magnifying glass, and even a sense that they are being blamed. It also leaves employers with an incomplete understanding of health and wellness in their company.

This is a common problem with unsuccessful wellness programs: there is a narrow focus on individuals’ health-related attitudes and behavior, often to the exclusion of job, organization and management factors that affect employee health and wellbeing. A smart diagnostic will include an evaluation of what is sometimes known as organizational health-that is, all the factors that affect employee productivity and morale in a given workplace. These factors could include job satisfaction, workload, stress and co-worker relations, including relations between managers and employees.

A thorough employee wellness diagnostic is an essential tool; every successful wellness program is based around the results of a diagnostic. By analyzing potential problems in the workplace, the lifestyle choices of employees and their physical and emotional wellness, employers can determine which problems are directly impacting the organization. Building their program to focus on these problems maximizes the potential return on investment.

In essence, a comprehensive diagnostic provides employers with a clear and detailed understanding of the health of their business as a whole, so they know what goals their wellness program needs to achieve.

Health Risks – How to Assess and What to Do

Common causes of health risk:

Modern life in the industrial society brings not only many benefits but troubles as well. Health risks, both physical and psychological, are among of them. There are many reasons and the following are the most serious:

Global environmental pollution;
Intense pace of life;
Lack of physical labor in daily life;
Over-population in some areas;
Informational over-load;
Continuous struggle for economic survival;
Emotional conflicts at work and home;

Health risks are subtle, most acting slowly and inconspicuously. Nature gives humans a strong sense of survival, and allows us to cope with health risks efficiently for a long period of time. However , over time, the means to cope becomes weaker and weaker and we begin losing our health.

Unfortunately, human nature being what it is, we ignore the small signs and health risk factors because we’re busy and initially they are not very noticeable. However, once these health problems grow larger and interrupt our daily life, we realize something is wrong and we have to seek professional help.

Health risks: early diagnostics.

The truth is that health risk factors are always present, but their negative effects appear much earlier than we notice consciously. Various tiny functional disturbances occur that could only be detected by means of special testing procedures. It is only with time that they become more profound and catch our attention (e.g. periodic pains, dizziness, poor sleep etc.).

A serious disadvantage of our modern healthcare system is that it treats patients with well-established common practices, such as ordering certain diagnostic tests, treating symptoms, and dispensing prescriptions – all of which is dictated by the medical insurance business. Healthcare today is not geared toward prevention. Physicians also look at statistics, such as smoking – if you smoke, you have a higher risk of heart disease or lung cancer. If your blood relatives have diabetes, you have greater odds to develop diabetes as well. Although this is all true, this approach is too abstract from the point of view of an individual human being. In other words, you may have enough health risk factors in your life to have certain diseases, but they may never occur.

A serious disadvantage of the modern healthcare system is its excessive inclination to business merits. We have to admit that such system is more targeted not to curing patients (not even mentioning about disease prevention) but to the process of treating patients in accordance with well-established common practices. The system works in such a way that a doctor is usually limited in choosing modern diagnostic and treatment means. Those means are dictated not only by medical necessity but economical expediency. This is due to involvement of medical insurance business, which does not appreciate using all variety of diagnostic and treatment means without very serious reasons, read without having known clinical symptoms manifesting certain disease.

The goal of an early detection of various health risk factors and prevention of their negative effects is becoming important and popular among healthcare professionals as soon as business organizations responsible for people’s health become aware of its importance. In other words, more and more businesses come to understanding that their employees’ health has a serious material value.

This gives us a good chance to switch to a new paradigm of domination of preventive healthcare when medical professionals will be able to use any means available to assess health risks and choose effective measures to early detect any disturbances of body functions well before their know clinical manifestation.

Health risks: tools for assessment of physiological functions.

Are there any affordable but effective and sensitive tools available to evaluate body’s physiological functions and early signs of their disturbances, which could be used for patients screening in standard healthcare practice? The answer is yes.

It is well known from medical science that most of the body’s organs susceptible to the negative influence of various health risk factors are functioning under constant regulatory control of the autonomic nervous system. Typically the autonomic regulatory function is the main target for this influence of the risk factors causing body’s stress response. Chronic exposure of the body and mind to these stressors results in failures of the complex body regulation and makes its function inadequate. Finally this leads to clinical manifestation of the symptoms typical to certain diseases.

In the past two decades the biomedical scientists have developed fairly simple yet effective methods of assessment of the body’s autonomic regulatory function using analysis of the heart rate variability (HRV). These methods utilize very simple recording of either EKG or pulse wave signal and their respective processing using special mathematical algorithms. As a result they produce data indicating the level of functional activity of the autonomic nervous system, its balance and reserve capacity. Although these methods do not produce any specific diagnostic conclusions, however their ability to quantitatively evaluate the level of the autonomic dysfunction as a result of influence of the health risk factors way earlier than any clinical symptoms occur lets us solve the problem of early detection of various functional disturbances and help the doctor taking proactive measures to fix the problem.