Health care costs can get out of control if you don’t keep a close eye on what’s happening in your business. The worst-case scenario occurs when employees take on unnecessary or even harmful health treatments. Helping your employees avoid health care they don’t need — while still letting them know that you really are looking out for their best interests — can be challenging. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Why Does This Happen?
All of us have a tendency to guess wrong when it comes to the benefits we’ll get from health treatments versus the costs, according to a report by Vox on a recent JAMA Internal Medicine study. It’s easy to focus on the benefits of health treatment, no matter how slight, and ignore the harm that the same treatment might inflict. According to the study, 65 percent of patients overestimated the benefits of medical treatments, and 67 percent underestimated the harms. Those numbers are huge! Regardless of the treatment, whether it was a routine mammogram or an ultrasound to detect problems in a pregnancy, patients by and large overestimated the benefits. This optimism bias, as the researchers called it, contributes to unnecessary diagnoses and treatment.
How can you help your employees avoid optimism bias when it comes to health care costs?
Share Illustrative Stories
Educational programs are imperative to help employees know that optimism bias exists, but these programs should be presented with care. One way to help employees understand that you’re trying to help them, not harm them, is by sharing real-life stories that illustrate the very real problem of optimism bias.
For example, The New Yorker tells a story about a patient who was told he needed his spine fused to overcome severe back pain and degenerative disk disease. When he went to the best spine center in his region, he learned that disk disease didn’t cause his pain and he didn’t need the risky surgery. Instead, he needed pain medication and injections that fixed his problems in just a few weeks. True stories like these can show that wrong diagnoses and incorrectly prescribed treatment plans are real problems that can cause more harm than good.
Replace Unnecessary Care With Necessary Alternatives
To best help your employees, encourage them to find less-expensive treatment options that will benefit them more than unnecessary, expensive options. When a patient is simply told not to pursue a certain kind of treatment, she feels cheated. But if she’s given a better alternative, she’ll know that people are looking out for what’s best for her.
When you’re educating your employees about overdiagnosis, don’t just discourage them from spending money — encourage better treatment. Advise your employees to have one primary-care doctor who coordinates all their specialists’ recommendations and can ensure that tests aren’t duplicated. This will save time and money all around.
Offer Additional Options for Improving Health
Remember that sometimes prevention is the best medicine. Stopping problems before they develop can be key in cutting unnecessary costs. For example, stress and anxiety play huge roles in health problems. Offer counseling or stress-reduction classes, such as yoga. You might even consider flex time or work-from-home options to cut down on stress. In addition, programs that encourage taking prescribed medications regularly or programs that waive co-pays can help employees stay healthier in the long run.
Unnecessary and harmful treatments are, unfortunately, a very real problem in today’s health care environment. Use educational programs to educate your employees and encourage them to seek better alternatives, and provide exercise classes and stress-reduction options that will improve their health before they get sick. Happy employees who feel they are truly valued will trust their employer’s advice and have fewer health problems overall.
Stephanie Dwilson has extensive experience providing expertise on topics including health, law and marketing. She’s a science journalist published by Fox News, a marketing expert and an attorney with expertise in personal injury law. She’s also a small business expert featured by Businessweek and Millionaire Blueprints magazine and has worked as a marketing consultant for ministries and as a PR lead for one of the largest churches in America.