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Trends In Workplace Health Promotion

One-On-One With George Pfeiffer

President & Founder, The WorkCare Group

2005: Volume 2, Number 1


Christopher Breuleux, PhD, RMT

President, Medical Wellness Association

 

Medical Wellness: Mr. Pfeiffer, you started your career in health promotion, over 30 years ago. What have been some of the notable changes you have seen during your career?


Pfeiffer: I started out as an Executive Fitness Specialist for Xerox Corporation. I worked with senior managers in promoting cardiovascular health and risk reduction. This model was common to most corporate programs back in the early 1970s—exclusive, medically oriented, and highly personalized. In fact, my responsibilities and expertise would be very similar to what we call personal training and wellness coaching today.


Into the 80s, corporate wellness programs evolved into comprehensive health management programs that involved health risk assessment, periodic health screenings, awareness/education, and risk intervention. Within the past decade, disease management programs have been introduced, reflective of an aging workforce and the increasing prevalence of chronic health conditions.


Finally, the concept of health and productivity management has become part of the health promotion vernacular and is being cautiously received by the employee benefit community.


MW: Is the concept of health, performance and productivity management something new to worksite health promotion?

Pfeiffer: Not at all. Productivity enhancement has always been part of our benefit statement. It is intuitive that health and productivity are inextricably linked—that healthy employees use fewer health resources, are less absent, disabled, and better engaged in their work, as compared to employees who have a lower health status. Today, through integrated data warehouses and new metrics, we are able to quantify these associations. For example, the concept of “presenteeism”—being physically present on the job, but being task impaired because of health status, is an evolving indirect cost metric that can be two to three times direct medical costs. This type of metric, challenges decision-makers to rethink the value proposition of employee health and wellness from exclusively a cost center to that of performance management.


MW: How realistic is this proposition?


Pfeiffer: It is very challenging when we are faced with double-digit annual increases in health care spending. The litmus test will be when decision-makers understand that keeping employees healthy and helping others manage a chronic condition has greater potential cost savings, then focusing exclusively on direct expenditures. The bottom line is that quantifying productivity impairment or enhancement in relation to health and risk status is complex.


MW: What role do you see wellness and complimentary medical practices playing within worksite health promotion?


Pfeiffer: First, employees like any other health care consumer are already trying CAM approaches. I believe health promotion practitioners in conjunction with employee wellness should provide information and support on the benefits, risks, and costs of the most popular practices. At a minimum, companies should provide information, research and wellness programs. Some health plans are already subsidizing wellness and CAM therapies for selected conditions.

 

Finally, the growth of health and productivity management provides opportunities for practitioners to work with companies in the management of such health conditions as musculoskeletal pain, arthritis, gastrointestinal problems, asthma, and diabetes, migraine, and depression.

 

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(C) 2006 The Medical Wellness Association