Health and Safety
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A healthy workforce is a productive workforce – and here’s how you can help

By Dr. James Aw

We know that wellness programs save companies money. Research has shown that companies that take their employees’ health seriously outperform the S&P 500 by a whopping three to one.

When leadership recognizes that their greatest asset is their people, they create a culture that reinforces health and wellbeing. And employees respond with higher levels of engagement, productivity and satisfaction. But what are the new ways businesses can ensure their workplaces adopt and maintain thriving cultures of wellness?

Take the guesswork out of medications with precision medicine

Pharmacogenomics (PGx) is a growing field and could fundamentally improve the rate at which employees match with the right medication and recover from illness. Physicians often need to prescribe medications by trial and error in order to find the most effective treatment for a patient. A single PGx test can help patients find the right drug for their individual genetic make-up and metabolism. Just compare the time and costs associated with a hospital stay as a patient endures medications being tried and tested versus the one-time genetic test to get the patient on the right drug with outpatient management. This is particularly true for mental health. This PGx process increases the patient’s adherence to treatment, decreases risk of adverse drug reactions and is a third of the cost.

Offer online and in-person medical care and counseling

Employees with digital access can receive quick, personalized support from a primary care physician, registered nurse, psychologist or wellbeing coach. Virtual care has been shown to be effective for patients presented with non-acute health concerns, such as musculoskeletal, skin, cold, flu or straightforward neurological or cardiac issues. Medcan is currently studying the impact of video visits and – around 90 per cent of the time – clients don’t require a follow-up visit after their virtual health consult. Giving your employees the choice to engage virtually enables them to choose the program that works best for their needs and schedules. Employers lose approximately three to four hours of productivity when employees wait prolonged periods of time to receive in-person care, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

Provide meaningful engagement with one-on-one health coaching

Over 87.5 per cent of healthcare claim costs are due to an individual’s lifestyle choices, according to research. How we eat, move, think and sleep determines the majority of our health outcomes. When an employee needs help in one of those lifestyle areas, an app is the tool, not the answer. Impersonal, one-size-fits-all digital programs may be good for extensive reach, but research shows they have little impact. To ensure lasting, positive behaviour change, employees need to develop a relationship with a professional who will act as their personal coach. Regular, one-on-one communication for at least 16 weeks seems to have the most “stickiness” for positive behavioural change impact. That change doesn’t seem to activate without follow-through and interaction with a trusted clinician.

“When leadership recognizes that their greatest asset is their people, they create a culture that reinforces health and wellbeing.”

Make support easy to get

Simple design works best. Whatever wellness options you offer your employees, make sure they are intuitive or they won’t be used. For example, offer patients access to case management support. Knowing how to navigate the health care system can be a large cause of stress in itself, especially for employees with a complex health issue. This support – from booking specialist appointments to ensuring follow-up care – can provide peace of mind for employees, reduce delays and get them back to work faster.

Include all your employees with your comprehensive wellness initiatives

Historically, exceptional wellness programs were a benefit or bonus exclusively for high performers. The future of employee health is inspired by population health. All employee health results in broad impact across the organization.

Encourage mental health champions in the office

“You want to retain your workforce as much as possible. In order to do that, you’re going to have to notice the signs,” said Dr. Gina Di Giulio, director of psychology with Medcan, who recommends appointing champions of mental health awareness within the organization.

One great program for potential champions is Mental Health First Aid by the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Early recognition can lead to treatment options or further medical attention before symptoms accelerate. This can also help change the mindset that people are people, and not defined by their disease.

Sleep is the next vital sign

Not long ago, Type As bragged about how little sleep they got. Today’s research shows that sleep is a weapon for performance and productivity. An emerging area of focus is on defining and supporting precision sleep. If you can figure out how many people in your workplace aren’t getting proper sleep, you can offer the right interventions. Many professionals in the medical field are energized about the science of sleep. 

Dr. James Aw is the chief medical officer at Medcan.

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