ARCHIVE: HEALTH, HEALTH CARE AND WELLNESS
Businesses Have a Role in Healing Chronic Disease Burden
December 20, 2010
The prevalence of chronic diseases is setting off alarm bells around the world, and Canada is not immune to what is fast becoming an epidemic of debilitating, long-term illnesses. More than 40 per cent of Canadians say they live with at least one chronic disease. Heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, and mood disorders are a fact of life for millions of people.
Since many of these individuals are in the workforce, chronic disease is more than just a personal health issue—it affects businesses, too. For chronic diseases not only negatively affect a person’s quality of life; they can also lead to increased absenteeism and benefit costs, as well as decreases in productivity.
A Conference Board of Canada study, Addressing Chronic Diseases: What’s Business Got to Do With It?, outlines the vital role businesses will need to play if they are to reduce the impact of chronic diseases on their staff—and their balance sheets.
Multi-Stakeholder Approach Is Needed
In recent years, federal and provincial governments have acted to address the chronic disease burden. Many have developed frameworks that call for a broad, multi-stakeholder approach to improve the prevention and management of chronic diseases. Businesses have responded to the call, but there is more they can do. They can:
- promote employee health and wellness through, for example, education or financial support for off-site programs;
- sponsor chronic disease prevention and management via fundraisers or similar awareness initiatives;
- partner with health service organizations to develop products and services;
- work with governments or health service organizations on community health issues;
- look for niche business opportunities—firms in the health-care sector can develop products or services tailored to the prevention or management of chronic diseases.
Businesses Are Responding
The Conference Board’s study highlights two examples of how businesses are addressing the chronic disease problem.
The Vancouver Board of Trade, for example, has established a Health, Wellness, and Well-Being Task Force to help shape its advocacy and programming efforts on health policies and activities. Two areas the Task Force is targeting are promoting wellness to reduce the risk factors that can lead to chronic disease, and the relationship of socio-economic determinants to an employee’s health.
More than 40 per cent of Canadians say they live with at least one chronic disease. Heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, and mood disorders are a fact of life for millions of people.
The second example highlighted in the Conference Board study is a joint initiative of IBM and the Victorian Order of Nurses (VON), Canada’s largest not-for-profit provider of home and community care.
In late 2008, the Leveraging Information, Forging Excellence project was launched to modernize VON’s systems and thereby improve services related to patient care and the prevention of chronic disease. The project is expected to lead to innovative and cost-effective technology solutions, such as streamlined and computerized processes that create greater efficiencies.
Technology innovations like these will also promote better staff scheduling and information sharing with other health-care providers, particularly among workers who travel constantly to provide home and community care. As well, a joint research effort will test recommended tools and technologies for improving home support for VON clients with chronic diseases.
What More Can Be Done?
The two case studies highlighted in Addressing Chronic Diseases: What’s Business Got to Do With It? are encouraging signs of business involvement in the collective effort to prevent and manage chronic diseases.
However, the business community can do much more. The growing prevalence of these diseases among workers, coupled with the worrisome trends in risk factors—such as obesity—among the future generation of Canada’s workforce, suggests that it should.
Medavie Blue Cross: Advancing Organizational Health Through the inHealth Solutions® Suite
GP2S—Encouraging the Implementation of Employee Health Programs in Quebec
Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management
Roundtable on Socio-Economic Determinants of Health
Council on Workplace Health and Wellness