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Helping employees manage chronic health conditions


Health care workers assist patients in the quest for good health. Employers can lead the charge by ensuring staff have access to care, too.

employee wellness concept on chalkboard: © hadjanebia -

© hadjanebia -

Chronic health conditions are a major problem for employers and employees alike. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, more than half of adults in the United States have one chronic condition and more than 25% suffer from multiple chronic conditions. These high-risk health concerns, including diabetes, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and hypertension, can lead to increased health care costs, absenteeism and lost productivity. Thankfully, employers can lead the charge to help employees manage their chronic health conditions and improve their overall health. While it's important to provide a comprehensive health insurance plan that covers preventive care, it’s even more important to provide convenient access to primary care, including health coaching, to manage and prevent chronic conditions.

© Marathon Health

Lauren Hutchens
© Marathon Health

Dedicated employee health centers in or near the workplace and virtual care continue to grow in popularity. Unlike the fee-for-service model where providers are incentivized to see as many patients as possible, employer health centers generally allow us to spend more time with patients to get to the root cause of unhealthy behaviors like poor diet and exercise.

Surrounding the patient with an integrated care team can be a key to improving those unhealthy behaviors. For example, we can talk to the patient about their biometric results and motivate them to achieve their health goals. If a patient tells us stress is taking over their life, we can do a warm handoff to the behavioral health specialist just down the hall. That collaborative care can really make a difference in helping employees improve their health.

Wellness programs can also help employees make healthy lifestyle choices. These programs are typically taught by health coaches and can include group sessions or one-on-one coaching visits that focus on:

  • Weight loss
  • Heart health
  • Diabetes or prediabetes management
  • Smoking cessation
  • Nutrition education
  • Stress management

Programs like these provide the necessary support in a patient’s health care journey. Many programs, for example, require participants to receive a biometric screening upfront so that we know where to focus our efforts. Education and lifestyle modification coaching sessions help to motivate employees to keep up with the wellness programs. With these tools, we give employees what they need to learn how to create smart goals and strategies. The result: Healthy choices become daily habits.

Claims data can help you make informed decisions on which programs to offer. For example, if a large portion of your employee population suffers from diabetes, consider diabetes prevention and management programs. Keep seasonality in mind, too. In February, which is American Heart Month, you could offer a healthy hearts program.

Here are some additional tips for helping employees manage chronic health conditions:

  • Encourage employees to be open about their health. The first step to managing a chronic health condition is to acknowledge that you have one. Offer your employees incentives, like insurance premium reductions and gift cards, for taking care of their health. Offer employees wellness points if they get a biometric screening, annual exam, dental exam, eye exam, health screenings and more. We often see that once an employee sees their biometric numbers it can give them the push they need to get healthy.
  • Allow employees to visit the health center or participate in group challenges anytime during the workday without having to clock out. It shows your employees you believe in the healthy choices they’re willing to make to improve their chronic conditions.
  • Create fun monthly challenges your teams can participate in to earn points toward their yearly incentive, gift cards or giveaways. Example challenges could include: walking/tracking steps, hours of physical activity, water intake, nightly hours slept, or participating in a specific number of wellness webinars.
  • Make sure employees have access to the resources they need to manage their chronic health conditions. This could include things like offering low-cost or no-cost medications through your employee health center, offering high-quality health care referrals through a concierge service, a transportation assistance program and employee assistance program.
  • Promote any wellness programs you offer at least once a month. To encourage engagement, communication is key. Regularly remind your senior leaders and managers to “walk the talk.” When employees are pleased with the programs you offer, word-of-mouth spreads quickly.

Lauren Hutchens, NBC-HWC, MBA, has more than 10 years of experience as a certified health coach. For almost seven years, she’s been with Marathon Health, a leader of advanced primary care employer health centers in 43 states. She is the National Director of Health Coaching and manages health coaching, wellness programs and Marathon Health's National Board for Health and Wellness Coaching (NBHWC)-approved health coaching training program.

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