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Prevention Looks Different Depending On Who You Are

To Support Employee Wellness, Plan Providers May Opt To Loosen Benefits Restrictions To Allow The Pursuit Of Individual Wellness Priorities

Employee Wellness

Years ago, when we first started out, our client base skewed toward people who identify as male. But over time the trend has moved toward equalization, until this year, for the first time, we’ve achieved approximate parity, with 51% of our clients identifying as male, and 48% as female.

Men's and Women's Health Services by appointment

When one examines the data closely, some fascinating differences emerge. First, by some measures our client base skews more female than male, because females tend to visit Medcan for more appointments than males.

Average Appointments men and women

Further differences emerge in the health status of our clients. For example, 60% of our women have body-mass indexes that qualify as normal, whereas 26% of our male clients do. Which in turn makes our male clients much more likely to suffer from all sorts of health risk factors, to the extent that four times as many of our male clients are high-risk for diabetes compared to women.

In turn, higher proportions of our female clients reported issues with self-reported stress and sleep, to the extent that 67% of women reported feeling nervous, anxious or stressed sometimes to very often, compared to just 51% of our male clients. The differing health status by sex is in turn reflected by major differences in the reasons that our clients come to see us.

Men's and women's health by appointment type

The key takeaway? Our male and female clients can and should have very different priorities as we partner with them to achieve their live-well goals.

So how does a plan sponsor encourage men and women to focus on preventive lifestyle behaviours in a way that addresses their idiosyncratic needs?

Public funding tends to be biased toward a problem-cure approach to health care. There’s very little attention devoted to preventing the problems from ever occurring in the first place. The same is true about the health care benefits that most employers provide to their employees. Health insurance benefits packages are overwhelmingly skewed toward the cure-based paradigm, with little funding support for preventive measures.

That’s ironic because prevention can be so effective, and represents a great investment.

According to one RAND Corporation report, “The simple logic is that effective investment in health and wellbeing can save a company more than it spends on the interventions through reduced productivity loss as a result of lower absenteeism and presenteeism, as well as lower healthcare spending.”

For example, analysis in the RAND report depicts one company’s prevention budget providing a return on investment, in terms of increased employee productivity and reduced healthcare spending, of between $0.26 and $2.12 per dollar spent.

Medcan stands for prevention. As a health and wellbeing company, Medcan prioritizes prevention precisely because we believe it provides a strong return on investment. Our business basically entails that we partner with our clients to achieve their best health through our Eat Move Think philosophy whether healthy or not—and we don’t shy away from complexity.

Consequently, we encourage plan providers and plan sponsors to consider ways to incorporate prevention into their healthcare investments. How? We suggest examining ways to remove the restrictions and stipulations that many benefits plans include in their funding packages—because doing so would provide greater opportunity for people of all sorts to personalize their investments in prevention according to their individual priorities.

In practice, that entails creating mechanisms that might allow men, who, our stats suggest, may be struggling with higher-than-recommended body mass, to hire fitness trainers who provide confidence-boosting instruction that may encourage more trips to the gym. Similar mechanisms may encourage those suffering from sleep or anxiety issues—which our stats suggest are more likely to be women—to seek help designed to address those particular problems.

I want to be clear: I’m not suggesting that plan providers earmark benefits specifically to men or women. Sure, proportionally more men than women are obese—but it would violate the edicts of personalized medicine to suggest that men should get more funding than women for things like gym memberships, or to spend on fees for team-sports leagues because that would encourage them to become more physically active. Rather, I’m suggesting that plan providers remove the stipulations from some of their benefits to allow employees to engage in preventive wellness strategies, according to their individual priorities.

Prevention is the key to living well—to a long, active and satisfying life. Plan providers and plan sponsors have an opportunity to empower their staff by removing restrictions from health benefits, to encourage the individual pursuit of prevention-focused lifestyle strategies, such as going to the gym, eating a nutritious, balanced diet, and engaging in sound sleep practices. After all, each one of us is unique in our own way.


Ashim Khemani is the president of Medcan. He is the author of Canadian Group Insurance Benefits—A Practitioner’s Guide and Reference Manual, and the co-author of Global Health Care Systems: A Perspective on Issues, Practices and Trends Among OECD Nations.

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