The 'e' in e-health could be 'employer'

    Dieter Stalmann argues that e-health needs a partnership between employers and the health system

    The term 'e-health' is normally associated with the management of health at a national level, where government attempts to provide data on a person to medical practitioners and institutions. Yet this model excludes the most important source of information: the workplace.

    The management of health information in the workplace is an unexplored field, and the benefits of doing it right can have far-reaching consequences for the health industry as a whole.

    The data obtained from clinics, hospitals and doctors does not constitute a complete picture, because the information paints the picture of patients that are already seeking help for an existing problem that is costing the healthcare system money. Health-related information obtained an organisational level could indicate possible future problems, which do not yet cost the taxpayer anything, and could cost much less to manage if caught in early stages.

    Knowledge of the health and the clinical profile of an employee could be used proactively by the medical community to predict whether there is a risk to the national health system in terms of an upcoming medical condition, and could be used by clinicians to identify the source of an illness even before the person has the need to see the practitioner.

    Historically, health in the workplace is 'managed' on spreadsheets, in paper files and various other media. Reporting involves counting the ticks on various pieces of paper and consolidating the data into a readable format.

    If that data is consistent, accurate and in an interchangeable format so records can encompass a worker's time at several employers, ROI can be high, as it becomes possible to measure sick leave days taken, the increase in production and other metrics.

    The ideal e-health scenario would be to obtain the complete health picture from all organisations, even to the level where private organisations manage employee health internally by conducting baseline and annual health assessments. The latter type of data could provide proactive information to the health sector to ensure that data about the origin of the medical problem, the workplace, becomes part of the total health picture.

    If we could identify patients proactively, their health could be monitored in a better way. Patients' chronic illnesses could be monitored by employers, who can encourage visits to appointments, as this will increase productivity in the workplace, and also portray the employer as caring. Unfortunately, the employer is often overlooked as being an important contributor to monitoring health. The irony is that most patients spend more time with work colleagues, who are aware of the condition of the person, and who could assist in the monitoring thereof. Of course, personal health is a sensitive issue, but so is absenteeism, and even worse, 'presenteeism'.

    Moving to total health management is like eating an elephant - you can only do it one piece at a time. Larger organisations that have onsite healthcare facilities typically cover all aspects of healthcare in the workplace, while smaller companies might only have certain monitoring like 'health and safety' available to their workforce.

    The ideal would be to design software that integrates all aspects of the state of health into a single database, to cover capturing of data such as primary healthcare, occupational healthcare, health and safety, employee assistance programs (EAP), food safety, and so on.

    The aim would be to provide impact analysis on various levels, for example:

  • Reducing absenteeism by means of leave management or introducing EAP;
  • Increasing employee productivity by defining and analysing all job profiles;
  • Management of chronic diseases and the possible causes thereof in the work areas; and
  • Risk management of the workplace in terms of health and safety.

    The benefits of doing it are numerous:

  • Having a significant investment in data - data that contain critical information about every aspect of your employees.

    Today, more than ever, you need to get the best return on the data you have collected.

  • Enabling you to uncover hidden patterns, trends and relationships, and transform this information into action.
  • By leveraging sophisticated statistical and modelling techniques, you can anticipate future events and be proactive, rather than reactive, by using the data you already own to help you.
  • Your business is dynamic. With predictive analytics, you can automatically deploy results to internal clinicians and to the national health system as changes occur, helping to guide employee interactions and decision-making.

    Dieter Stalmann has been researching health and wellness (and the integration thereof into organisations) for numerous years.

    Australian Government Technology Review, page 58 (January 2010)

"Government Technology Review, page 58 (January 2010)"