The Pharmacist's Role in Corporate Wellness

There has been a huge emphasis on wellness programs over the last several decades. Companies are continuing to learn that their employees perform better, take fewer sick days, and are happier when they are healthy. Companies like Zappos have “wellness adventures” for their employees, where they can take one-hour golf lessons, trampoline lessons, or play laser tag. Sign me up! Google brings in massage therapists — and for good reason: a calm employee is a happy employee.

Pharmacists can play an integral role in corporate wellness — in fact, having a pharmacist involved in wellness programming is key to reducing healthcare costs. Pharmacists have been trained in motivational interviewing techniques and can help tailor programs for a company’s needs, and aid in educating employees about disease risk reduction.

Is it cost effective to have a wellness program in the corporate environment? According to a recent report, which summarized seven cost analysis studies, there is a $3.48 return on investment for each corporate dollar spent on wellness programming. (1) For every dollar invested in employee wellness, the company actually makes money!

Chronic conditions, in particular, have enormous costs for the employer. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that three of every four dollars an employer spends on health costs are for treating chronic conditions (e.g., hypertension, obesity, diabetes, asthma, and depression). The top ten most costly conditions, in decreasing order of cost, are: cardiovascular disease, smoking related diseases, alcohol related diseases, diabetes, Alzheimer's, cancer, obesity, arthritis, asthma, and stroke. . . . The old adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” comes to mind.  

According to a recent Gallup poll, only 13.9 percent employees (or one in seven people) is of normal weight with no chronic health conditions. There is a direct relationship between an employee’s body mass index and the number of sick days that employee takes. A normal weight employee takes an average of 0.34 sick days per month. An overweight employee with less than two chronic conditions takes 1.08 sick days per month. An overweight employee with more than two chronic conditions takes three sick days per month, or 42 per year.

Unhealthy behaviors lead to health risks, which lead to chronic disease and increased health care costs. Encouraging healthy behaviors is a preventative measure employers can take to improve the health of their employees and reduce overall health care costs for the company. Additionally, employers can encourage healthy behaviors by hosting health fairs, offering healthy snacks in vending machines, or hosting healthy potlucks. Wellness challenges, which involve the creation of employee “teams” to hit predetermined health targets (e.g., steps logged, food intake, gym attendance), are another way to get everyone involved and increase employee morale. There are also targeted incentive programs that can help motivate employees to get involved. Two examples are a random selection and a benefit-based incentive. A random selection program might include a raffle prize, offered to a select number of people who participate. Everyone gets involved since there is a chance to win something (like a gift card or game tickets). Benefits-based incentives might include a contribution to a Health Savings Account (HSA) card, paid time off, or discounts on an insurance plan. Companies can also look at retrospective health data to discern which conditions their employees have, and tailor a program for their employee population. They can also choose to focus on broader topics — like stress management, meal preparation, or healthy cooking — and offer workshops on those topics.

Countless studies have shown the cost effectiveness of having wellness programming in a corporate environment. Happy and healthy employees perform better, are sick less and have greater overall health outcomes.

References

  1. Annand-Keller P, Lehmann D, Milligan K. Effectiveness of corporate well-being programs. J Macromarketing. 2009; 29(3):279-302.


Dr. Christina Tarantola, PharmD, CHC, CHt is a licensed pharmacist, certified health coach, certified hypnotherapist and founder of Enlightened Wellness Solutions, a wellness company in Pittsburgh geared toward empowering women to break free from food addiction. She works at Rite Aid Pharmacy. This article was previously published in PharmacyTimes.

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