Saturday, August 03, 2013

Wellness and illness and corporates

It always amazes me what a wide disconnect there is between wellness and illness - not only in our own heads , but in society at large. Logically, your health is a continuum, but this is not the way we approach this topic. When you are well , you think you are immortal and that everything will be fine. We take our health for granted , and don't really about worry about things like exercise or fitness , because we naively assume that everything is always going to be fine. It's only when we fall ill that we realize what a precious gift health is , and how important it is to maintain our health by keeping our body and our mind fit. Unfortunately it's not only within our own heads that we have this dichotomy between wellness and illness - it exists in the real world as well.

We all know that often illness is a result of not observing healthy lifestyle practices. This is so obvious , that there should be no need to repeat this, but because we seem to live in different worlds when we are ill and when we are healthy , this is a message which needs to be reinforced.

When you're healthy , to make sure that you remain fit, you go to a dietitian to eat healthy food ; or sign up at a gym in order to build up your muscles or to improve your physique . No one ever goes to a doctor in order to remain healthy ! The truth is that doctors understand very little about health. Not only are most doctors in pretty poor health themselves , they often are not able to add much value to healthy people's lives . Doctors specialize in illness care, not health care, because all they see are sick patients !

The problem is that it’s only when matters get out of hand that a person goes to the doctor – but by that time, the damage has already been done, and there's precious little which the doctor can do to undo the damage. So, while he will do his best to try to correct the problems , the fact remains that those problems were building up over a lifetime of your abusing both your body and your mind .

Of course, when you're young , you couldn’t care less. You understand the theory , but because illness is something that happens to someone else, why should you worry about your blood pressure or BMI ? These are abstract numbers, and because you look and feel absolutely fine, why should you bother about them ?

However, the bigger problem is that this schizophrenic attitude is not restricted to the individual alone – this divide between wellness and illness occurs within the corporate world as well ! Now obviously there is a continuum between wellness and illness, but as far as companies are concerned, wellness is a topic which the HR department provides as an employee benefit . They will run stress management seminars; invite a nutritionist to tell employees how to eat healthily ; or distribute videos on why it's important to stop smoking. However, when it comes to illness care, this is not something which the HR department takes care of , because payment for medical care is provided by the health insurance company which the company has signed up with.

Since paying for health insurance coverage is a expense item, the decision as to which policy cover to buy is taken by the Finance dept . Their approach is - we will take out a health insurance policy to cover you, and when you fall sick, we will pay for your hospital bills.  The tragedy is that the Finance department and the HR department never talk to each other, which means that a lot of the illness for which the finance department needs to foot the bill could have been prevented if the wellness programs which the HR department pays for were integrated more closely with the illness care.

After all, if people can be encouraged to maintain a healthy lifestyle , the chances of their falling ill are much less. The trouble is that it takes a long time to realise these benefits, and most companies are so focused on short-term benefits , that they don't understand the value with providing these lifestyle improvement programs . Ideally, all this is something which should be done within one department itself.

As healthcare becomes more expensive, many large companies will realize that it’s much more cost effective for them to fund the health insurance of their employees themselves, rather than to pay a health insurance company to do this. Once this happens, they will realize the long-term benefits of integrating wellness and illness programs , so that these are offered seamlessly to all their employees.

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