Least Healthy Employees? Hospital Workers

When it comes to healthy behaviors, don't look to hospital workers as role models

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A new study from Truven Health Analytics, formerly the Healthcare business of Thomson Reuters, reports that hospital employees are less healthy than the general workforce and cost more in health care spending.

The study looked at health-risk and health care use among 740,000 hospital workers and their dependents in 2010 and compared them with 25 million general workforce employees and dependents. They found hospital employees are more likely to be diagnosed with chronic conditions like asthma, obesity and depression, and were 5% more likely hospitalized. These workers spent 9% more in health care costs than the general workforce.

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Previous studies have documented the unhealthy habits of health care workers, including their relatively poor eating habits. The current study shows that even rates of preventative screening, one of the best ways to avoid disease and lower overall health care costs, were lower among health care employees. They were consistently less likely to undergo cholesterol testing and breast, cervical and colorectal cancer screening. The findings may seem unexpected, but the study authors weren’t surprised. “Although we can’t say for certain, some theories are that hospital workers are very much involved in patient care and sometimes at the expense of themselves,” says study co-author Dr. Mike Taylor, vice president and national business-medical leader for Truven Health. “They may go to the ER more often than they see their primary doctor, or they have a good professional relationship with the doctors on staff, but do not want to see them for personal reasons.” The authors also speculate that hospital workers may feel they have enough knowledge to improve their own health without seeking outside help.

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Additionally, the study found that caring for health care employees is expensive. Health benefits eat up 4% of hospital operating revenue, and the average medium-sized hospital could see as much as 68% of operating profit siphoned off to pay for health care benefits for employees and families. They report that a hospital or health system with an average of 16,000 employees could save about $1.59 million a year in medical and pharmacy spending for every 1% decrease in health risk.

The paper outlined 10 strategies for reducing health risk including identifying whether certain groups of workers are more prone to certain health problems, and targeting screening or treatment programs for them; modifying current health programs and incentives to promote healthier behavior; and providing more objective ways of measuring health and healthy outcomes among employees.

“Ideally, the health care workforce would be a model for healthy behaviors and the appropriate use of medical resources. Hospitals that tackle this issue can strengthen their business performance and community service,” concluded study author Dr. Raymond Fabius, chief medical officer for Truven Health.

Taylor says large, general market employers have already taken up corporate wellness programs but hospitals are just beginning to get involved. Still, it’s an important first step. “As hospitals get engaged in wellness programs for a longer duration, we can see improvements,” he says.

Read a full copy of the study here.

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