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The Tension Between Healthcare and Wellbeing

Emma Tekstra > Corporate HR  > The Tension Between Healthcare and Wellbeing

The Tension Between Healthcare and Wellbeing

The majority of employers worry a lot about their company health plan. It’s a big expense. If employees are sick productivity goes down. If they get hurt on the job it’s the responsibility of the employer to support their recovery. Wellness or wellbeing is indeed an area of focus for the majority of employers according to WTW’s latest Benefits Trends Survey. However there is a little-discussed tension between the healthcare consumption encouraged and incentivized by the health plan and the behaviors that drive wellness.

Here’s a few examples:

After years of unexplained symptoms and visiting many different doctors in the health plan network you are finally diagnosed with an autoimmune condition and prescribed a variety of high-cost drugs, none of which are able to reverse or cure the condition which is almost entirely due to lifestyle and nutritional deficiencies.

It’s a similar story for diabetes or any number of chronic conditions which evidence shows are impacted far more by nutrition and lifestyle changes than pharmaceuticals.

After a year or more of trying to get pregnant or suffering miscarriages you are shuttled into an uber-expensive fertility treatment with drugs and procedures that are detrimental to health, without first looking at how your diet and lifestyle may be affecting your ability to conceive and maintain a healthy pregnancy.

You’ve been suffering with a general malaise, not sleeping, a poor appetite, and decide to visit the conventional physician covered by your health plan. Not seeing anything obviously wrong with you (as told by the numbers on a standard blood test) you are prescribed an antidepressant and sent on your way.

Working in the factory has taken its toll on your body with back pain becoming unbearable and starting to affect various aspects of your life. The health plan drives you to a conventional orthopedic specialist of some kind and more often than not, an appointment with a surgeon. The fact that you are severely overweight, lunch on McDonalds every day, and have been on statin medication for years, known to deplete various nutrients including Coenzyme Q10 (critical to muscle function), is never considered.

There are alternative solutions available for all of these situations that get at the root cause of the symptoms and strive to reverse the condition, resulting in an overall improvement of health. Usually at a fraction of the cost of conventional healthcare. However, they are typically advertised as wellness solutions offered by individual vendors, and given second billing to the large expensive health plan that is the default destination of the average employee trained to rely on the health plan if they are not feeling at their best. Many employers don’t have the bandwidth to review these alternative solutions nor promote them adequately.

The new paradigm focuses on wellbeing. Healthcare and the health plan itself become the minor players on the team.

The new paradigm focuses on wellbeing. Healthcare, and the health plan itself, become the minor player on the team. Useful for emergencies and life-saving heroics, maybe some diagnostic testing, but an employer that leads with wellbeing will see its healthcare costs dramatically reduce. Nutrition, uncompromising sleep, regular movement, social connectedness . . . are not just nice-to-haves. They are essential to health. Pharmaceuticals, imaging, surgery and other procedures lining the pockets of the modern medical industry do not drive health and longevity. They can save lives unquestionably, but none of the examples above are life-threatening. The human body has an amazing capacity to heal itself if given the right support and patience. No man-made intervention, no matter how high-tech, can improve on nature.

It is true some employees may prefer to take a pill than make any lifestyle changes. But assuming everyone feels that way is simply wrong. In my experience once you educate the individual on their options, with full disclosure of the prognosis via each route, the majority of people would opt to avoid conventional medical care as long as they received adequate support to embark on the alternative.

The system is currently rigged against them though. If their health plan only covers pharmaceuticals and surgery that’s what they’ll accept. They usually have no idea there is another way. If they do find out, they quickly discover they can’t afford the out-of-pocket expenses of a functional medicine consult and there are no subsidies for the vitamins and supplements that will turn their health around.

These days there is a wide range of innovative start-up companies now offering various forms of functional medicine sold as wellness solutions. For an initial low monthly fee, employees with certain specific conditions like diabetes or an autoimmune label can get access to these resources to coach them back to health. Often the employee is on a high-cost drug that the health plan is heavily subsidizing. This enables these new vendor solutions to demonstrate significant ROI (returns on the investment) of 2,3, even 4:1 savings by addressing nutrition and lifestyle factors to reverse the condition and get the employee off the medications.

Employers need to lead with these solutions not tack them on as an extra aimed at employees who are already sick.

I welcome these solutions but their availability is not enough to move the needle on employee health or runaway healthcare costs. Employers need to lead with these solutions not tack them on as an extra aimed at employees who are already sick. True “prevention” is not flu shots and statins which only add to the negative burden on a body. Nor is it the early detection of disease with mammograms and colonoscopies. Prevention is education, good nutrition, understanding what actually drives disease, and what it takes to be a healthy human.

For more background on this new paradigm with over 300 scientific references, read my new book How to Be a Healthy Human; What Your Doctor Doesn’t Know About Health and Longevity (Skyhorse, June 2024).  Or get in touch to see how to take back the health of your whole organization.

Emma Tekstra
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