Lessons on wellness and prevention from surviving a blizzard
This week's Editor's Corner comes to you from a very snow-covered Boston area. I bring up the storm and its aftermath not to brag--especially since readers around the Great Lakes rightfully consider 30 inches of snow a mere dusting--but, rather, to make a few points about advanced preparation.
We knew what was coming, so we hit the grocery stores Monday (or Sunday, if we were smart) to stock up on essentials. We made the most of white-out conditions on Tuesday, when there was a travel ban throughout the state of Massachusetts, clogging social media feeds with pictures of dogs and children frolicking in the snow. No, we couldn't make it to Dunkin' Donuts for our iced coffee--because, even when it's snowing, we drink iced coffee--but we survived nonetheless.
That said, advanced preparation can be tricky. Contrast Boston with, say, New York City. The Big Apple prepared for 30 inches of snow but was lucky to get a foot. Mayor Bill de Blasio faced numerous questions about what, to many, seemed like an overreaction.
Healthcare, in a way, is also a matter of advanced preparation. Make healthy choices early in life and you prepare yourself, in a way, for a healthy and happy adulthood. Yes, genetic, environmental and socioeconomic factors also help determine one's overall health, but good decisions matter.
The healthcare industry as a whole increasingly understands this. Wellness programs are everywhere, encouraging employees to get their blood pressure checked, lose weight and go to the gym, all in the name of cutting healthcare costs.
There are a couple issues here. Some wellness programs go so far as to penalize non-participants. That's flat-out wrong--but that's another topic for another day.
The bigger issue is that this approach rarely works. Think about it. Who usually signs up for the Most Steps challenge? The Type A personalities willing to put their pedometers through the dryer or hardware store paint-can mixer to maximize steps and the people who are in such great shape that 10,000 steps a day is, pardon the pun, a run in the park.
These contests in particular, and wellness programs in general, rarely appeal to the people who need them most--the workers who sit at a desk all day, the commuters who spend two hours in rush-hour traffic every day, the residents of a food desert who through no fault of their own live nowhere near a grocery store that sells fresh, wholesome food.
That's why lawyers and consultants Al Lewis and Vik Khanna want to redefine wellness as well-being. Instead of mandatory screenings--which, like New York's storm preparations, are so often an unnecessary overreaction--focus on what makes employees happy. That means flexible hours, healthy options in the office kitchen and no dirty looks when an employee decides to get up from his or her desk.
Let's go back to the snowstorm. (Metaphorically, that is. We have enough snow.) Did the people pouring into New England's supermarkets need beer? No. Bread? Doubtful. Milk and eggs? Maybe. Batteries? Yes. Potable water? Certainly. Shovels? Definitely.
Today's wellness programs offer bread, milk and eggs when they need to offer batteries, water and shovels. (Possibly coffee.) They need to eschew the things we've been told we need in lieu of the things we actually need. They need to get to the root of why people are unhealthy and unhappy instead of just telling them what they already know.
Like the first car ride after a blizzard, the process of reframing wellness programs as well-bring programs will be a slog. There will be potholes, poor sight lines and occasional set of choice words.
In due time, though, the sun will come out, the snow will melt, spring will begin and we'll all be ready to take a more meaningful journey to better health. --Brian (@Brian_Eastwood and @HealthPayer)
Redefining wellness as well-being could help programs succeed
For wellness programs, choice is often sharing personal health data or paying a fine
Holistic-focused wellness programs helped lower employees' health risks
Why wellness programs should use positive incentives instead of negative consequences
Judge: Wellness programs can penalize non-participants