By Dierdre Wheat, M.D., Medical Director, Quality, Disease & Case Management, Independent Health

According to the CDC, up to 90% of health care costs are related to care for individuals with chronic conditions. We know that many of these chronic conditions may be preventable, and therefore associated costs may be avoidable.

Rising health care expenses are a main concern for businesses of any size.  Engagement of employees in effective, efficient health care can help address the unnecessary costs.

With that in mind, here are six small, individual things employers can encourage their employees to do to eliminate unnecessary care and expenses, and improve overall health.

1. Have a primary care doctor

One way to help make the health care system simpler and efficient is to encourage your employees to choose a primary care physician (PCP). Having a PCP means more effective coordination of care, which can eliminate unnecessary visits and their associated costs. It also means improved communication between the patient and his/her doctor you and your doctors – keeping everyone informed about your health care needs.


2. Be proactive – schedule annual preventive visit and preventive screenings

Perhaps one of the easiest things we can all do to help address health care costs is to stay up-to-date on our preventive visits and screenings (which is why having a PCP in the first place is important.) Plus, almost all preventive services are covered in full with most health plans – even with high-deductible health plans. Make sure your employees know that their preventive services are covered in full.  If they aren’t covered in full, it might be time to look for a new plan.

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3. Get a flu shot

On average, a person with the flu is sick and out of work for three-to-five days. Since flu can be easily transmitted between people, especially among close contacts such as coworkers, friends and family, the impact of one case of flu can multiply quickly.  Flu shots are even offered at a variety of locations in the community, and some providers will conduct onsite flu shot clinics at work.


4. Become more physically active

It’s easier than people think to become more physically active.  Encourage employees to try parking farther away from your work entrance, or to take the stairs instead of elevators – the benefits might surprise employees.  Based on previous research, one academic group estimated that up to 90% of adults could prevent weight gain by changing their energy balance by as little as 100 calories daily, through a combination of reducing calorie intake and increasing physical activity.

Exercising more and eating healthier can help combat conditions such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and cancer, among others. They also have other beneficial effects, such as increasing feelings of well-being and improving energy.


5. Use the Emergency Room for emergencies only

A typical emergency room costs at least five times more than an office visit. Your employees may be unaware there are alternatives if they know it’s not an emergency.  A phone call to their doctor before seeking services at an urgent care center or emergency room can help avoid costly and unnecessary bills.

Other alternatives include telephone or online consultations with physicians, which is growing among health plans. For example, Independent Health offers Teladoc, which gives members convenient access to a physician by phone or mobile app 24 hours a day, seven days week, which eliminates the need for them to have to take time away from work to get treated.


6. Ask about alternatives to hospital services

Patients may have choices about where they will receive services, especially for procedures that don’t require a hospital stay.  Free-standing facilities are typically less expensive than hospital-based facilities (especially for high-deductible health plan members).  It’s OK for a patient to ask the physician if they can have a pre-planned test done at a freestanding facility instead of a hospital.


Bonus tip: Quit smoking

This final tip applies to around 15 percent of the population of the United States. Although smoking rates have decreased significantly over the years, smoking is still one of the leading causes of preventable death in our country. For those who feel reluctant, afraid or powerless to stop smoking, there is very effective help available.  To obtain more information, your PCP, health plan or the New York State Smokers’ Quitline are good places to start.


We know the majority of chronic disease is preventable, and that healthy lifestyles can play a big role in this.  But some of the steps toward wellness are more difficult to take than others.  Whether it’s beginning your day with a walk, or attending a preventive visit with your doctor, the things we do and the choices we make can help us get healthier and save on costs, now, and in the long run.

Share this brief video with your employees to encourage them to see their doctor for an annual visit.

(Inset photo by Hyttalo Souza on Unsplash)