Medical Savings Piggy Bank Published last week, a report by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine has provided new detail and direction around the potential medical savings return from risk-reducing workplace wellbeing programs.

Considering a comprehensive suite of personal and public health variables, the research aimed to diffuse the inconsistencies in possible and probable long-term medical savings resulting from wellbeing interventions in the workplace, and deliver an accurate real-world savings benchmark.

Researchers analysed the risk factors that directly correlate with some of the world’s most common and costly preventable medical conditions - commonly termed “lifestyle diseases".

Key health risk factors addressed:

  • Physical inactivity
  • Smoking
  • Low plant food intake
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Hypertension
  • Hypocholesterolemia

Key “lifestyle conditions” analysed:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • (some) Cancers
  • Alcohol-related conditions
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Hypercholesterolemia
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
  • (some) Mental & nervous disorders
  • Osteoarthritis

Washing publicly-available World Health Organization Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study data against Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) cost estimates data (cost of illness by age and condition), the research team deduced a medical cost saving of 18.4% or USD$650 per average worker as the “realistic” potential benchmark for an effective risk-reduction workplace wellbeing program.

What’s more, when it comes to workplace health impact on medical costs, it appears that age does matter. A lot. Given today’s aging workforce, this observation is more timely and more critical than ever before.

Significantly, the report highlights age as an important variable in effective workplace wellbeing program design. For maximum effect – and ROI - effective program design must cater to the specific risk factors, medical conditions and abilities for each distinct health group and facilitate risk reduction and management accordingly. Specifically, with older workers’ potential medical cost savings calculated at 9 times greater than that of younger employees - on average USD$1,947.10 versus USD$217.30 respectively – wellbeing programs that effectively cater to the needs and conditions of this “silver army” stand to return the greatest potential annual savings to their employer.

Case in point: A comprehensive, behavioural change program, the GCC is designed to be appealing, accessible and beneficial for employees across all age groups and risk levels. Multi-dimensional, the GCC empowers employee uptake across a suite of healthy habits: from increased daily physical activity to improved nutrition, to stress/energy management. Year-on-year, GCC participants reflect the demographics of the global workforce, ranging in age from 18 through to 65+. Significantly, of the almost 600,000 employees who have participated in the GCC, 50% have been over 40 years of age. Year-on-year, GCC participants of all ages have achieved significant health risk reduction – benefiting both themselves and their workplaces.

Albeit a US report most pertinent to the region’s unique healthcare context, this report contributes to a greater global understanding of the impact of workplace programs on employee health risk reduction for avoidable conditions. What’s more, it also helps to illuminate the complex area of workplace wellbeing ROI in general.

The full “Medical Care Savings From Workplace Wellness Programs: What Is a Realistic Savings Potential?” report is located at The Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine, January 2013 - Volume 55 - Issue 1 - p 4–9

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