National summit urges action to improve workforce health, productivity
The event, Workforce Health and Productivity Summit in Santa Ana Pueblo, N.M., was organized by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine and the Integrated Benefits Institute. As a follow-up to the summit, the group issued 10 consensus statements, accompanied by a list of recommendations intended to enhance worker health, strengthen the health care system, and benefit the nation's economy by focusing attention on the unique relationship between workforce health and productivity.
Summit participants -- who represented employers, physicians and health care providers, consumers, academia, and government -- engaged in two days of discussions. The group concluded that urgent action is needed to shift the nation's employers to a more proactive and preventive approach to workforce health.
According to the group, not enough employers are familiar with the fundamental linkage between health and productivity, nor are they utilizing the many resources and tools already available to help build a healthier workforce. A more consistent system of workforce health measurement is needed, and the nation's employees must be engaged with employers as partners in a systemwide effort to improve health, they said. The group called for a number of action steps, including an effort to include workforce health policy as a fundamental part of the health care system reform debate.
"The resounding consensus from the summit is that staying with the status quo of our current health strategies in the workplace is not an option," said Ron Loeppke, cochairman of the ACOEM section on health and productivity and one of the event's coordinators. "With a growing economic burden of health conditions and health risks in the workforce, and an increasingly competitive global marketplace, we need to focus urgently on steps that can be taken to improve overall health and productivity in the workplace. The clock is ticking, for both the health of our workers and the health of our economy."
Aging workers, chronic conditions driving costs. ACOEM and IBI cited the aging American workforce and the rise of chronic health conditions among all workers as key factors driving the need for adoption of health and productivity strategies aimed at the workforce. The group said that some studies suggest that more than 80 percent of medical spending goes toward care for chronic conditions, such as diabetes, depression and cancer.
When an employer's medical and pharmacy costs are added to health-related productivity losses such as absenteeism and presenteeism (a situation in which employees are on the job, but not fully productive due to a health condition), the average estimated full-cost impact in the United States is nearly $13,000 per employee. The group said that using U.S. Department of Labor statistics showing approximately 137 million nonfarm employees, the overall annual cost impact on the workplace is an estimated $1.7 trillion.
Health and productivity tools measure workforce health and productivity levels to determine full health-related costs, including the impact of specific health conditions on productivity. The group said that this allows employers to design integrated prevention and intervention programs to address their unique needs. Innovative employers use integrated health strategies to lower risks among employees, reduce the burden of illness and health-related costs, and improve productivity as well as the quality of life for workers.
December 1, 2008
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