19/04/2021

Improving healthcare accessibility with preventive care

Our employees’ health is a key factor in determining their productivity and engagement in the office. Offering comprehensive preventive care benefits is therefore one of the best ways to promote a more proactive approach in staying healthy, which in turn increases healthcare accessibility and reduces the burden of healthcare costs on businesses and the society at large.

While those of us living in Singapore are likely to experience longer lifespans, simply relying on reactive treatments may no longer be sufficient as we continue to age. A local study1 revealed that more than half of Singaporeans aged 60 and above suffer from more than one chronic condition, resulting in a growing phenomenon referred to as ‘multi-morbidity. As our life expectancy continues to increase, it is likely that more of us will begin to fall into this category and subsequently experience the rising healthcare costs that come with it. The same study had 49% of its respondents mention that Singaporeans are, to some degree, unprepared for the health-related expenses of living longer.

With growing healthcare costs on the horizon, more of us will be faced with challenges pertaining to healthcare accessibility. Prioritising preventive care can therefore go a long way in empowering our employees to take charge of their health and in paving the way for more accessible healthcare. Here’s why.

Preventive measures

Preventive measures can help detect diseases and conditions earlier

The fundamental rationale for preventive care is that it either helps to tackle various conditions in their earlier stages or before even they begin. This is because preventive approaches can detect a wide variety of chronic diseases and conditions such as cancer, obesity, diabetes, and depression, even if there are no outward symptoms present. By studying modifiable health risk factors that are associated with these conditions, the relevant preventive care measures can then be put in place to prevent said conditions from deteriorating further. In fact, there is further evidence that modifiable health risks can be improved through workplace health initiatives and disease prevention programmes, leading to further reductions in health costs2.

Preventive care can reduce chronic absenteeism and presenteeism

In the workplace, preventive care not only helps to reduce absence-related productivity loss (absenteeism) but also productivity loss attributed to employees functioning at less than ideal levels (presenteeism). We discussed the growing culture of presenteeism in a previous article, whereby employees are led to believe that their work is more important than their health. As a result, they feel obliged to put aside their mental and physical health problems entirely, out of fear that they may lose their position or reputation otherwise. Cigna’s 360° Wellbeing Survey found that almost 70% of global employees still go to work when ill or burned out, even though this causes their productivity to drop by approximately 21% while further delaying their chances of recovery3. The indirect costs of on-the-job productivity loss are ultimately three times greater than that of absence-related productivity loss4. Investing in proper preventive care in this regard will therefore provide more opportunities to identify and rectify both physical and mental health concerns for your employees. This allows for a more holistic approach in achieving Whole Person Health and ensures that employees will be happier, motivated and productive in the long run while keeping the associated healthcare and productivity costs down.

It helps to reduce overall healthcare costs

The main reason why preventive care makes healthcare more accessible is that it greatly reduces overall healthcare costs. When dealing with chronic conditions, the necessary treatments required to deal with these conditions are often expensive and thus make healthcare gradually more inaccessible to those that cannot afford it. On the other hand, preventive care is relatively more affordable as it allows the diseases to be diagnosed earlier, reducing the complexity of the treatment required. This often results in better treatment outcomes, meaning that there is less need for the patient to keep returning for further treatment, which lowers overall healthcare costs and makes healthcare much more accessible.

Beyond detecting diseases earlier, preventive care can even help us avoid getting afflicted by these conditions altogether. Measures like workplace health promotion and disease management programmes allow individuals to stay fit and healthy by reducing major modifiable health risk factors, which in turn, prevents the occurrence of chronic diseases. Studies have shown that individuals that were enrolled in a preventive care programme went to the emergency room or required urgent care less frequently, as compared to their peers who were not enrolled. As a result of this, both employees as well as their employers experienced more accessible and affordable healthcare costs5.

Prioritising and investing in preventive care for employees

The advantages of offering holistic preventive care are undeniable. Even better, committing to it can be as easy as providing resources, convenience, or incentives. The following are three simple tips that can help you do so.

1. Raise awareness via education

As with most organisations, there should already be some preventive care benefits in place. The challenge, however, is communicating them to your employees so that they are aware of the services that are available to them. Rather than simply relying on uni-directional communication techniques such as sending out emails and newsletters, consider engaging your employees in two-way discussions. Organising lunch and learn sessions is one easy way to do so as it will provide unique opportunities for you to pinpoint and address specific concerns that your employees may have.

 2. Bring preventive care to the office

Inconvenience or the lack of time is often one of the biggest reasons that we neglect our health. One way to counter this is by bringing preventive care services to the workplace, which can go a long way in encouraging your employees to take charge of their health. Some common examples include organising on-site health screenings, putting together company wellness days, or even providing on-site flu shots. With social distancing measures still in place, these can also be adapted into virtual events or by utilising mobile screening or vaccination services, such as those offered through the Cigna Virtual Clinic. These events can also allow you to remove the guesswork via data collection, which will help you base future healthcare decisions on firm, quantitative information.

3. Link preventive care goals with your employees’ interests

Beyond providing and communicating your organisation’s preventive care efforts, the subsequent challenge typically boils down to boosting employee participation rates. This means that a strong understanding of your teams’ demographics and interests will be needed if you are to provide compelling incentives. For instance, we found it especially useful to link our preventive care health challenges with various social causes as our employees are especially dedicated to giving back to society and being socially responsible citizens. Linking these unique interests with preventive care goals can therefore help kill two birds with one stone while providing employee-specific motivations.

Over to you

Carving out a world with more accessible healthcare and better quality of life can be as simple as deciding to be more proactive in taking care of our health and wellness. However, behavioural changes take time and every little nudge matters, which is why employers have a crucial role to play in empowering employees on their individual health journey. Given its universal benefits, there is a strong incentive for us to focus more of our resources on it. When that happens, everyone wins. 

 

Resources:
1. Economic Intelligence Unit. (2018). Healthy for 100? Healthy Care in Singapore.
2. Stepanek, M., Hafner, M., Taylor, J., Grand-Clement, S., & Stolk, C. (2017). The return of investment for preventive healthcare programmes: A calculation framework for GSK's Partnership for Prevention (P4P).
3. Mills, P. (2019). Building a Whole Person Health Approach to Chronic Stress at Work. Cigna.
4. Hemp, P. (2004). Presenteeism: At Work—But Out of It. Harvard Business Review.
5. Musich, S., Wang, S., Hawkins, K., & Klemes, A. (2016). The Impact of Personalized Preventive Care on Health Care Quality, Utilization, and Expenditures.

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