Sick Days... Minimized

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Flu season is here--the time of year employers dread. The unavoidable fact is that employees will become ill and work time will be missed. Sooner or later, all employers will be affected by lost time and productivity due to employee illness. But exactly how big a problem is employee absenteeism (being gone from the job) and presenteeism (on site but lowered productivity) due to illness? How much do sick days really cost employers?

Flu season is here--the time of year employers dread. The unavoidable fact is that employees will become ill and work time will be missed. Sooner or later, all employers will be affected by lost time and productivity due to employee illness. But exactly how big a problem is employee absenteeism (being gone from the job) and presenteeism (on site but lowered productivity) due to illness? How much do sick days really cost employers?

LET’S LOOK AT THE NUMBERS

As of 2014, the average number of sick days that US workers take in a year was approximately 4.9. For a company with 1,000 employees, nearly 5,000 days lost to employee illness per year could create some serious fallout.

How much does this cost employers annually? According to a Forbes article by Bruce Japsen, poor health costs the US economy in the neighborhood of $576 billion annually. These numbers are based on research from the Integrated Benefits Institute, which represents many major employers and business coalitions. Their 2012 study found that 39% of the $576 billion, or roughly $227 billion, is from lost productivity due to absenteeism or presenteeism.

People get sick-- that is a fact of life. But can an employer do more to minimize lost productivity and get their employees feeling better faster?

PREVENTION IS THE BEST MEDICINE

The best way to minimize illness is to practice good preventative medicine. This includes frequent hand-washing and getting an annual flu shot. According to the CDC, the flu shot can prevent 50%-60% of flu infections each year. It can also make the illness more mild if you do get sick. The most important step in preventing illness is frequent hand washing, which can prevent the spread of respiratory infections by 20%.

TELEMEDICINE IMPROVES TREATMENT

When employees or their dependents get sick, however, the faster they are able to see a doctor, the better off they will be. Telemedicine is the fastest and most efficient way to seek treatment for episodic health issues. In a matter of minutes, they can be connected to a licensed physician who will provide a diagnosis over the phone and a prescription, if appropriate, within an hour. Even when employees take vacations, their benefits don't-- telemedicine is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

Telemedicine providers, however, must deliver a service that is easy and affordable to use. Access must be quick and painless, or few people will bother to try it. When employers are looking for a telemedicine solution, there are a few key factors to consider.

1.  Is the telemedicine service embedded with a major medical policy? 

Employers should be wary of embedded services. While it may seem easier to include telemedicine in a health plan, the sad truth is that education is non-existent and the barriers to use the service are high for patients. As a result, very few will use it.

2.  How can a patient access telemedicine? 

Does the patient have to pre-register? Download an app? Find a username and password? If this is the only method to access the service, few will use it. Most people are creatures of habit, especially when they are sick. They won’t think to register or download an app when they are healthy, and they definitely won’t do have the motivation to do so when they are sick. The best bet is to have a telemedicine service that is all-access and gives people the option to simply call a number to request a consultation with a doctor.

3.  How will they know to use it? 

Education is the biggest barrier in the efficient use of medical treatment. Let’s face it-- the healthcare system is far from user-friendly. If an employee is taught how and when to use their telemedicine benefit, they will use it. If a phone number is buried on the back of an insurance card they received months ago, they won’t remember what to do when they are sick.

TELEMEDICINE DELIVERS EXPERT ADVICE

Knowing how best to treat an illness is the key to expediting recovery (and return to work). Understanding when prescription antibiotics are effective (for bacterial infections) and when they are not (for viral infections) is a key factor. There are also many ancillary and over-the-counter treatments that can complement medication and help speed recovery. The doctor will evaluate the situation and advise the patient how long they may expect to be contagious (so that they don't spread illness to co-workers), whether or not they need in-person medical evaluation or even emergency care, and route them to the most cost-effective setting if indicated.

DIAGNOSIS

Time lost to absenteeism and presenteeism can be huge cost-- if you let it. Traditional health care based on in-person urgent care or doctor visits is a major time and resource drain and is simply not necessary for most episodic illness.

The First Stop Health telemedicine benefit solution is here and capable of turning sick “days” into hours or even minutes. Work time and productivity lost to illness can be significantly reduced in the modern workplace. First Stop Health is leading the way by providing fast, zero co-pay, quality care from top medical professionals backed by a commitment to educating your workforce-- ensuring maximum return for both employee and employer.

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