By: Sara E. Armstrong, MS, RN, CDE, CWP
Diabetes can be challenging and costly to manage with high risks if uncontrolled. Uncontrolled diabetes can increase the risk of heart disease, kidney failure, blindness and amputations.
The Center for Disease Control estimates that 21.9 million (or nearly 10 percent) of Americans have diabetes and more than $245 billion is spent annually on medical costs related to diabetes and lost productivity.
In the past, preventing and managing health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes has fallen to individuals and their health care providers. However, employers are increasingly becoming a partner in the effort to help individuals prevent and manage the condition. The reason is clear: employers are committed to doing all they can to help their employees remain healthy and productive.
When an employee’s health is improved, unnecessary health care costs are reduced and complications of the disease prevented. For the employee, controlling the disease improves their quality of life and reduces their out-of-pocket expenses. For the employer, preventing and managing type 2 diabetes increases productivity and performance while controlling health care expenditures.
Many employers have programs to help employees improve their lifestyle and prevent poor health. They may have lifestyle management programs that help people quit smoking, eat healthier, move more, get enough sleep and manage their stress. All of these lifestyle changes can translate to improved health – and dramatically decrease the risk of chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes. Expanding on these programs will promote well being and employers should look to initiate innovative disease management programs to help employees better manage their health conditions.
Disease management programs can have an even greater impact on employee health and productivity than lifestyle management programs. RAND Corporation recently found employer based disease management programs saved on average $136 per member per month – or a return on investment of $3.80 to $1.
Health Provider Programs
Priority Health is proud to partner with several employer groups in Michigan to address the growing concern about diabetes. We regularly work with employer groups to offer the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) onsite for their employees. The year-long program was developed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and promotes sustainable lifestyle changes to help participants eat a healthier diet and increase their physical activity. It has been proven to reduce the risk of being diagnosed with diabetes by 58 percent.
Another approach that Priority Health takes is providing a care manager who is a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) for employer groups. The care manager meets onsite with employees, spouses and dependents with diabetes to help them better understand and manage their condition. In addition, the employer encourages participation in the program by reducing the costs of medications and supplies that are important to managing diabetes. This program is entering its second year and has been highly successful in helping participants understand and manage their condition, navigate the health system and improve their overall health.
Changing the Culture
In addition to specific programs, employers can make simple changes in the workplace to reduce the risk of diabetes and other chronic conditions. One of the most important things to consider is if your organization’s culture supports health and wellbeing. A supportive culture is necessary for employees to engaged in and realize the benefits of the lifestyle and disease management programs. Simple steps employers can take are:
- Find ways for top leaders to role model healthy living
- Make participation in lifestyle and disease management programs an expectation and evaluate managers on their teams’ engagement
- Change policies to support making healthy choices
- Encourage healthy food choices by reducing the costs of healthy options in vending machines and the cafeteria
- Consider adding exercise equipment in multiple locations throughout the organization to encourage employees to move more during the day
- Offer “quiet zones” and promote programs that help employees manage their stress and achieve work-life balance
The prevalence of diabetes and the cost to treat it will likely continue to climb. However, employer groups that recognize and address the condition in their workplace will be able to “bend the trend,” resulting in healthier and more productive employees.
About the Author: Sara E. Armstrong, MS, RN, CDE, CWP works at Priority Health in Commercial Care Management. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing from Northwestern University and a Master of Science degree in nursing administration from the University of California, San Francisco. Sara has more than 20 years of experience helping individuals and employer groups learn ways to prevent, manage, and reverse chronic health conditions.