In terms of today’s health care, keeping focused on the prevention of illness and disease can mean multimillion dollar savings annually to our national, state, and local governments, to employers, and to individuals. Most important, it mens people will live longer, healthier, and more productive lives.
And that is why wellness is a concept whose time has indeed come. It is a concept that can help us put a stop to the seemingly inexorable rise in the cost of health care in this country.
Americans currently spend more for health care than on either national defence or Social Security. It seems impossible to imagine, but every day we spend $1 billion, not necessarily keeping ourselves healthy, but on health. And if we continue as we are, we will spend twice as much in the future.
Beyond the fact that wellness is just good, common sense, wellness programs make good economic sense as well. They can complement savings being generated by a host of new initiatives now appearing under the banner of health-care cost-containment.
Wellness can complement “prospective payment,” a federally endorsed concept in which costs for particular health-care encounter are set in advance.
Wellness should be considered as a cost-saving tool along with the growing use of ambulatory care and the avoidance of hospitalization–by far the most expensive treatment in today’s health-care system.
Wellness should be nurtured just as are preferred provider organizations–those hospitals or medical groups that guarantee cost-efficiencies. And wellness programs can work well in conjunction with health-maintenance organizations, which are a proven method of reducing costs providing fixed-rate, prepaid medical service.
Wellness can be as cost-effective as any of these innovations. This is especially true when one realizes that smoking, poor nutrition, and stress problems–all life-style and habit patterns that wellness programs challenge–are the underlying causes for diseases the treatment of which constitutes a significant percentage of our health-care dollars.
It’s unfortunate that, for so many years, preventive medicine has taken a back seat to crisis-management medicine. Business managers know that solving small problems today often can prevent larger, more costly problems from developing tomorrow. Wellness programs can keep us focused on preventing problems, rather than having to fix the crises after they develop.
The business community has played–and must continue to play–a major role in the development of wellness programs. Now there are sophisticated, comprehensive programs that help employees fight everything from lower back pain to smoking to stress–and more.
All of these programs have a common thread: the individual shares the responsibility for success. That participation–the fact that the individual can indeed have an impact on his or her medical future–is important to the overall effectiveness of any wellness program. And, given the mounting body of evidence available to us, it is increasingly clear that wellness works:
* New York Telephone estimates an annual saving of more than $2 million in reduced absenteeism and lowered medical costs–just from a stop-smoking program.
* A year after a company in Houston introduced a wellness program, medical costs plummeted nearly in half, disability days were cut by 20%, and the company saved roughly $230 per employee–after expenses for the program.
* Kennecott Corp. has reduced its medical-care costs by more than half among 12,000 employees participating in its wellness program.
* Massachusetts Mutual has found that a wellness program for hypertension reduced hospital stays among participants by 10%.
Literally hundreds of such wellness programs exist or are being created around the nation. But much more needs to be done.
I believe that the corporation is one of the best places in which to spread the wellness doctrine–the place to provide the motivation, to establish the control, and to erect the infrastructure. Many people spend most of their waking hours at their workplace. That is where attitudes and life-styles are moulded and reinforced. The workplace is where feedback and response can be monitored and controlled.
Part of the business community’s self-interest is obvious. We know that these programs can reduced absenteeism and lower medical costs. But there’s a more subtle self-interest as well. Something hard to define. Maybe it’s company pride, a feeling among all of us that we’re helping to make people’s lives better.
Inasmuch as more companies are becoming aware of the obvious advantages of these programs, I am optimistic about the future of the wellness movement.
And frankly, it’s about time. Right now, we’re spending far too little for an ounce of prevention and far too much for the pound of cure. If we can redress that imbalance, even slightly, we will have done more to reduce the cost of medical care and improve our health than has ever been done