Employee Healthcare: How to Take an Integrative Approach, SentryHealth
For Your Benefits
For Your Benefits
How to Take an Integrative Approach to Employee Healthcare
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Employee Healthcare: How to Take an Integrative Approach

With employee healthcare costs continuing to rise, employers are seeking strategies to help improve workforce health as a means to better manage these increases. During this episode, we chat with Colleen Hekkanen, LCSW, CCM about the importance of taking an integrative approach to health.

First, we discuss what comprises an integrative approach to employee healthcare. Next, we cover how it differs from holistic care. Lastly, Colleen explains how it can be used to reduce stress among employees. She also offers tips on how employers can take an integrative approach to improve engagement and wellbeing. As a result, employers will see increased productivity, retention, and better-controlled costs.

Evaluating the value of your employee health and wellbeing solution can be tricky. To get a true picture of what you’re getting from your investment, you’ll want to look at Value on Investment, or VOI. It takes into account everything that makes your business successful, particularly human capital. Read this blog post to learn more.

In This Podcast

Colleen Hekkanen, LCSW, CCM

Colleen Hekkanen, LCSW, CCM advises and consults with the employee healthcare team on operations, communications and business strategies. Due to her behavioral health background, Colleen also assists participants who have complex psychosocial needs. She believes to be healthy, you must look at the whole person and is passionate about addressing a participant’s mental health wellbeing while working to dispel the stigma associated with mental illness.

Colleen has extensive experience in providing direct patient care to children and adolescents and has published a therapeutic technique in the book Assessment and Treatment Activities for Children, Adolescents, and Families: Practitioners Share Their Most Effective Techniques, Volume Two.

Meghan Henry:

Hey everyone, welcome back, and thanks for joining this episode of For Your Benefits. I’m Meghan Henry, Marketing Director for Sentry Health, creators of WellOnMyWay, a leading employee health and wellbeing solution. Today’s guest is Colleen Hekkanen, Vice President of Health Care Operations with MAP Health. Colleen, we’re so honored to have you with us today. And you’re going to talk to us about the importance of taking an integrated approach to employee healthcare. So thanks for joining us today, Colleen.

About Colleen Hekkanen

Colleen Hekkanen:

Thanks, Meghan. Thanks for having me. I’m really excited to talk today to everyone.

So just a little bit about myself. I’m a Licensed Clinical Social Worker by profession. I started out my profession by providing direct mental health therapy in an outpatient setting to children and families. And anyone that’s provided direct care to patients knows how rewarding that is, but just how emotionally exhaustive it can get. So I decided to switch things up and I actually went to work for a managed care company. And boy, was that a change in pace. But the good thing about that is it really allowed me to see how fragmented our healthcare system was.

We understand the importance of addressing a person’s mental health. We understand the importance of addressing their physical health. But for some reason, we really struggle in providing that integrated approach to employee healthcare. And that’s when I became really passionate about looking how we can provide better solutions to our patients.

I’ve been with MAP, which stands for the Medical Advocate program for about seven years now, and it’s really allowed me to look at better solutions for patients and providing a more integrated approach to their health. And so that’s why I’m really excited today to be talking about this topic. I think it’s going to be wonderful for everyone to hear why it’s important. And I’m hoping that employers can leave the discussion today with some really good, exciting ideas that they can bring back to their teams.

What is an Integrative Approach to Employee Healthcare?

Meghan Henry:

So let’s go ahead and get started. Let’s talk a little bit about the importance of taking integrative approach to employee healthcare. Can you give our audience some information about what is an integrative approach to health and then maybe give us some examples of what that that looks like?

Colleen Hekkanen:

Sure. So I think I briefly mentioned, it’s looking at the patient’s care as a whole. So you explore all the aspects that influence health, wellness, and disease. And those aspects could be anything from physical health to mental health to even social or environmental factors. And when I’m talking about environmental factors, I think a lot of people will assume that we’re talking about a person’s home setting or their neighborhood or their community, but I mean it in even a more macro way and that the way our society views health and the value we put on health influences a person and how they handle their own health. So it even goes that far out, it’s a very future-oriented approach to employee healthcare.

So the idea is to meet the person’s immediate needs, but also have them work towards a goal of continuing on a path to health and wellness. So it really expands through time and space for for that person. It’s very individualized. So the one size fits all approach does not work here. And I think that’s probably what we struggle with a lot. We want to put in programs that are going to meet the masses, but it’s really bringing down the interventions to an individual level. And we’ll really talk about that more today. I’ll give a lot of details into how to do that for everyone.

So I think two really good examples of why this is so important for people with depression actually have a 40% increased risk and developing metabolic and cardiovascular diseases, 40% increased risk. Now, if you flip it on the other side of the coin, 36% of individuals with chronic illnesses suffer from some type of mental health issues, and that’s about a rate of three times more than their non-disabled counterparts. And I think those two facts in and of themselves just show the importance of addressing both the physical and the mental health components of a person’s health and wellbeing.

Integrative Approach Vs Holistic Approach

Meghan Henry:

So a lot of our listeners have probably heard about a holistic approach to health, but maybe not an integrative approach. So is there a difference between the two? And if there is, what is that difference?

So I think the integrative approaches is holistic health to a point, right? It’s the next version up. And I think probably people will use those terms interchangeably. You know, a holistic approach does look at the person’s body, mind, social influences. I think the integrative approach takes it a few steps further. Again, it really looks at a future-oriented aspect and that you’re not just giving the person the tools and resources to get themselves healthy at that point in time, but really set them on a path to health and wellness. So while I think it’s similar, I do feel like the integrative approach takes a little bit further than just the holistic approach.

Meghan Henry:

Right. And I think giving them those tools, that’s super important for them to sustain their active or actively sustain those behaviors and keep going as opposed to kind of a one and done sort of attitude. So I think that’s fantastic.

Colleen Hekkanen:

Right.

Employee Healthcare Engagement

Meghan Henry:

So Colleen, as you know, employee health care costs continue to rise. And so a lot of employers are looking for ways to improve their workforce health as a way to better manage these increases. But a lot of them are facing challenges with engagement. So talk to me a little bit about how taking an integrative approach to health can help with employee engagement.

Colleen Hekkanen:

So I think we have to take a step back and look at what’s not been working in order to realize what we need to do for the future, right? And so that traditional biomedical model just focusing on disease and physical ailments, we know that that approach doesn’t work. And everyone’s at that point now where we have that realization. And we understand, I think, better as a society that the mental health conditions, they’re pervasive, they’re expensive, and they impact physical health. And I don’t think anyone’s arguing that.

But what I think we’re still seeing a lot of is kind of wanting to pass the patient almost as a ball back and forth. You know, they don’t want to look at the patient as a as a person as a whole. They just want to kind of segment the treatments. So just from a perspective of cost containment, we know that the costs of treating people with both comorbid mental health and physical conditions are two to three times higher than those without co-occurring illnesses. So just from that perspective, I think employers are ready to start addressing this.

So I’m sure from a perspective of how does that help with an employee and and how does it benefit them? I think we’re going to really talk today about the importance of being able to provide these solutions on an individual level, because I think everybody here probably cares about the cost. But I hope that they also have an altruistic purpose to and to help their employees. And so we’ll talk a little bit more about how to really drive down those interventions to an individual level to help with engagement, to help with wellbeing.

Stress Management

Meghan Henry:

During these days of COVID, we know there are a lot of employees who are feeling higher stress levels than they really have before. Let’s talk about the value of taking an integrated approach for stress management. And can you give me some information on how that’s valuable to employees and employers?

Colleen Hekkanen:

So I think probably the one positive takeaway we all can have from this pandemic is it’s really opened the door to allow us more to talk about stress, to talk about mental health. It really has. So, I mean, that’s the, if you want to look for the silver lining, maybe that’s the silver lining.

I think when you’re talking about an integrative approach to health, there is really no better topic than stress because it is universal. We all experience that at some point. We probably all experience it within a 24 hour period, but it also will impact almost every aspect of a person’s health and wellness. So if you’re talking about physical health, we know that stress can make us more susceptible to things like ulcers and headaches and muscle tension and even more susceptible to colds and flu. And then if you have chronic stress that can lead to even more debilitating illnesses like diabetes and gastrointestinal disorders and even cancer and things of that sort. So we can’t ignore the impact stress has on the physical health. From a mental health perspective, stress will lead to more symptoms of depression, anxiety, feeling overwhelmed. But then there’s also the cognitive impact, and we forget about that a lot. I think you are more likely to have difficulty with paying attention or even memory.

Impact on the Workplace

Now, consider that in terms of being distracted and how that can lead to injury and illnesses. Then there’s just the impact stress has on our behavior. So if you are stressed, you typically don’t engage in the healthiest coping skills. You may not be eating nutritional foods, you may be drinking alcohol or smoking, your sleep patterns and your habits are probably not the best. Take all of those things and then put it in the context of an employee in a workplace setting. And this is what you’re going to see. You’re going to see employees who are not as productive, probably not as engaged in their work. So you’re probably going to see not as many staff working on problem solving or collaborating with our co-workers. And you may even see some conflicts between co- workers, because stress doesn’t always bring out the best social interactions.

And then there’s just the ability to physically function and perform your duties. And so when you’re looking at all of those types of things, I think as an employer, you really want to start looking for some solutions to offer to your employees that really can tackle stress. And it’s a great way to start having those conversations and leading into health and wellness and the impact our mental health can have on our overall functioning.

Meghan Henry:

Sure. And I think also remote working. A lot of people have not experienced that before and have never had to do that before. And I think that that can cause a lot of stress and not feeling connected with your co-workers,  not feeling connected to your organization, I think can cause a lot of stress too.

Colleen Hekkanen:

I think everyone’s been put in this situation that’s really tested our ability to manage stress and and address mental health. But again, I think the one silver lining in all of this is that people are more ready, I think, to hear solutions.

Look for Opportunities

Meghan Henry:

So Colleen, you talked about some of the solutions or things that employers can do to help their employees deal with stress. So could you dig a little deeper and just give us some actions and some advice on what what our employers can do to help them?

Colleen Hekkanen:

So here’s the really good news. We have a good understanding of stress and the tools that we can implement to help employees. So the good news is you have a lot of options. Employers can start really small, even in terms of just offering educational materials to their staff, providing webinars, disseminating some videos on stress management. And then you can delve a little bit deeper.

You’ll notice that I really wanted to focus today on the stress management part of health and wellness and not so much mental health. And there’s really a reason for that. So I think people are more open to discussing stress than discussing more complicated issues with mental health like depression and anxiety. So it’s kind of a foot in the door technique, if you will. I would really encourage employers look at the tools and resources you already have structured for your employees, and you probably offer things like mental health counseling already through EAP services or even your health benefits.

So here’s the challenge. Look and see if there’s any opportunities to expand on those benefits that would encourage employees to take advantage of those resources. So even things like lifestyle coaching or self-management programs, you may see employees more willing to engage in those type of services than the traditional mental health counseling or therapy. And again, it’s just a really good way to introduce people to thinking about their mental health, to start taking some action steps.

How Employers Can Help

And then there’s two other things I really want to encourage employers to consider that maybe are are not the typical things you would think about in terms of applying some interventions and resources to staff. One of those would be look at your management. Look at your supervisors and consider offering some training for them, because those are the people that are dealing with staff on a day-to-day basis. So if you can offer some training to them so that they can recognize signs and symptoms and their own staff and get some interventions and resources to those who are maybe struggling with stress or any type of mental health issues, it’s a really good way to get people introduced to some resources.

And then the only other thing that I would really encourage, and this is a little bit outside of the box, but actually a sense of control can reduce a person’s stress levels. And so take an opportunity to look and see if there’s any ways you can make changes so employees can have more control over their day to day life and that can actually reduce their stress levels. So just things like that can can have a real impact on on the workplace, in the culture.

Addressing Immediate Employee Healthcare Needs

Meghan Henry:

That’s great. And you had mentioned your first point was, you know, that sometimes people maybe aren’t willing to or maybe are fearful of seeking help when when they’re experiencing issues, and that was a conversation that we just had yesterday in the office. One of the cool things that we do at SentryHealth is we offer digital programs. So maybe somebody’s not ready for that face-to-face conversation yet, but maybe just some sort of of online training or something. It is kind of that foot in the door that gets them a little familiar with with that and doesn’t require them to go into an office, doesn’t require that face to face session or visit or whatever, and really can just get them started on a good path.

Colleen Hekkanen:

Right, exactly. And that and that’s the whole goal of that integrative approach is to address the person’s immediate needs. But that set them up so that they can continue to develop the behaviors to address future needs as well.

Chronic Disease Prevalence

Meghan Henry:

Colleen, in a recent podcast, we talked with SentryHealth co-founder Dr. Richard Goldstein about the prevalence of chronic disease and what employers can do to help their employees that are living with those chronic diseases. What we didn’t talk is about the psychological interventions that can help people cope with chronic illness. So can you talk to me a little bit about that?

Colleen Hekkanen:

So I think this is where we’re going to get probably into the meat of the discussion today. Everyone can agree that chronic illnesses are prevalent and they are expensive. So in terms of just prevalence, I think the CDC estimates that 60% of Americans have one chronic illness and 40% could have two or more. So we know it’s something that has to be tackled.

And then in terms of just the expense of what it costs to to manage a chronic illness and the complications that come with that, you know, typically people with chronic diseases, they account for up to 75% of an employer’s medical costs. So, again, we know where we need to really put our focus and where we need to put our energy.

Integrative Approach to Chronic Disease Management

Colleen Hekkanen:

I think there’s some things we have to really understand about chronic illnesses and diseases. They don’t typically occur overnight rates, so it’s usually very slow onset, but then the disease will intensify over time. So the goal really is trying to slow that progression, that disease progression.

But again, let’s look at the integrative approach. There’s usually multiple causes. So it’s not usually just a physical symptom that creates the chronic illness. It’s usually has some people’s behaviors, have some influences, their choices and their lifestyles. And we can’t ignore that that important aspect when we’re focusing on chronic conditions. And then the focus really becomes more in a management and we start to look more at management of the chronic illness, then taking a curative type of perspective.

So all of those things are really important to understand if you’re going to take that integrative approach. And here’s where I think I need to start talking about what do employers need to do in terms of addressing that for their employees. And so I think the best way to approach it is the “knowledge is power” mantra. You have to kind of take that on. And that’s where SentryHealth, I really think, comes into play, because there’s a lot of different companies out there that offer the population health management, which is great. And I don’t want to discount that. But again, if you’re taking an integrative approach, you have to understand that one size fits all is not going to work. You have to start drawing down the information to an individual level.

Individually-Focused Employee Healthcare

Colleen Hekkanen:

And so, Meghan, you asked earlier about what are the psychological interventions and components that we need to consider that an employer needs to consider for their employees. And that’s really where we start to have to drill it down to the individual level. Does that make sense? So what does that mean essentially? OK, right. Let’s get down to it. Everyone wants to know the answer. So adherence and compliance is a big thing and part of managing a chronic illness. And what are one of the biggest things that influence adherence and compliance in a patient? It’s actually their belief system. So if you can start addressing what a person’s belief system is and how important they feel it is to follow medical recommendations in order to get on a path of health and wellness, you can actually have a very big impact.

And then we can’t forget about what dealing with a chronic illness does to a person on a day to day basis. And so some psychological interventions that help them feel more empowered. Again, we come back to that idea. Control and how that can really influence a person’s behavior so you can start putting some of these things in the play and again, you have to have resources available to your employee where there are professionals that can provide these interventions.

So, of course, this is not something I would want an employer trying to do directly for their employee. They would have to put some of these programs in place, but really strongly encourage you to look at resources that will address the person’s psychological needs, really understand what their belief systems are, start removing those barriers to adherence and compliance so that a person can not only manage their current disease state, but again, that future oriented aspect, how to get them on a really good path to health and wellness.

Meghan Henry:

So I think it’s safe to say that with this approach, you know, we’re not looking at just saying, “Ok, Susie is living with diabetes, so we’re going to give Susie medication and that’s the end of it.” What we’re looking to do is, is to help Susie make significant behavior changes, psychological assistance, or whatever that may be, to have sustainable behavior change and by owning that responsibility and making those changes, then Susie may not need medication later on if she’s able to do those things. But providing her that support and guidance…

Colleen Hekkanen:

You got it, Meghan. I mean, that’s really what it comes down to, is that you can’t just address the physical illness in the chronic condition. You have to address all of the different components that not only led up to that chronic illness, but to hopefully prevent the disease progression, that you really want to put some interventions in place so that you don’t have exacerbations down the line because that’s when it gets really, really expensive. Is the common and having that disease progressed to more complications. And so you want to put those interventions and resources in place and help that person get to their optimal their optimal place of healthiness.

Tips for Employers to Improve Employee Healthcare

Meghan Henry:

Colleen, as we wrap up today, are there any guidelines or challenges that might help employers who are considering implementing an integrative approach to their health and wellbeing offerings?

Colleen Hekkanen:

So I think probably one of the questions I get most is, “Why does the burden fall on an employer to offer this for their employees? It’s their responsibility.” And my response is really, you are at an advantage because you have a captive audience. You know that you have your employees spending a majority of their time in one setting. And so you have to look at it as an advantage rather than a burden.

And then there is some other advantages. You already probably have a communication structure in place. You probably have programs and policies that come from a very central team. Social networks are already available to patients to take advantage of.

And then you have access to data, which is huge, because once you start putting in interventions and programs, you can start measuring to see if they’re really helping and you can make adjustments that way. And then you have advantages in terms of being able to offer incentives and rewards to employees.

So I want everyone to walk away today feeling like this is a win-win situation and there’s really nothing better than a win-win situation, right?

Meghan Henry:

Right.

Increasing Satisfaction, Improving Absenteeism and Retention

Colleen Hekkanen:

So I think you’re doing something to help someone’s wellbeing. So you can walk away feeling really good about that. And just in terms of what you should expect in return, you’ll see that as an employee feels better about themselves, that they’re happy you’ll have an increase in productivity.

There are studies out there that show just a little bit of increase in happiness can increase productivity up to 12%. I think you start to see employees who are more engaged in their jobs, that they’re more willing to problem solve and collaborate and work together with others. And then there’s just the benefit of employees not taking unplanned leaves of absences or length of stay. There is the increase of employee retention. And I think every employer here can agree that the cost to have to recruit, hire and train is astronomical. And so if you can retain an employee and keep them in that position and keep them loyal, you’ve reaped the benefits of that. And then, of course, there’s just the overall lowering of health care costs. And so that will be a benefit.

So really, I just want everyone to kind of walk away today feeling like they have some ideas. They have a place to start. You know, I think, again, it’s really important to understand your population and their needs to spend some time with some data management, really understand where you can put in some programs and interventions, get the most bang for your buck. Essentially, you can start small and then you can always build from there. But hopefully everyone can can walk away feeling like they have at least some ideas that they can start to implement pretty soon for their employees.

Meghan Henry:

I think absolutely. People are going to get some great ideas from you, Colleen. And I really appreciate you joining us today! This was fantastic. Such great information. We really enjoyed having you.

Colleen Hekkanen:

Well, thank you. I enjoyed being here.

Meghan Henry:

That wraps up this episode of For Your Benefits. We want to thank you, Colleen, for such great insight. If you like what you heard today and you want to hear more. Don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast. We’ll continue to keep you on the cutting edge of what’s happening in the world of corporate wellness. Thanks for joining us. And we’ll talk to you all soon.

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Want to learn more about SentryHealth? Simply fill out this form to request a consultation and learn more about our solutions.