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Diabetes in the Workplace

Trends & Solutions Part 2

Posted by Anne-Marie Smith on April 09, 2019

About this Blog: This is the second in a two-part blog that takes a 360-degree look at diabetes, one of the leading drivers of health benefit spends. In the first blog, we gave an overview of the profound impact diabetes is having on the workplace. In blog two, we share cost-effective strategies employers can use to help employees prevent and manage the disease, while controlling benefit costs.

What employers can do about diabetes prevention and management

Think about this: each and every day millions of Canadians who are living with diabetes come to work juggling the responsibilities of their job, with keeping their blood sugar in check, taking medications and eating regularly to control symptoms. Employers can help their employees balance the needs of their work and their health by taking these simple low-cost steps:

Be accommodating

Create a workplace that makes accommodations for the unique needs of employees with diabetes. This includes allowing them time to measure blood sugar and/or to inject insulin – in privacy. You can install containers in washrooms that are designed to safely dispose of used needles.

Create a quiet space

You can provide access to a quiet area where employees can go if they’re not feeling well or need their blood sugar level to return to normal such as a first aid station.

Have healthy food on hand

A healthy diet and ready access to food are essential in managing diabetes. Offer nutritious choices at the cafeteria and/or in vending machines and at work functions.

Offer flu shots

Did you know that people with diabetes are three times more likely to die from the flu or pneumonia than those without the disease?

An estimated one in five Canadians over the age of 20 has prediabetes - and more are at risk of developing the disease in the future.

Make the connection

The direct link between a healthy lifestyle and diabetes is irrefutable. A workplace health and wellness program can make that connection and encourage employees to reduce risk behaviours, such as smoking and overeating.

When employees adopt healthy lifestyle habits, such as eating healthy foods, getting regular physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight, they can reverse the onset of the disease, even slow or stop the progression of diabetes.

Just 30 minutes of physical activity per day can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 40%.

Raise awareness

Help employees learn the risks and effects of this disease by making diabetes the focus of your education and awareness activities. Provide literature from trusted sources like Diabetes Canada and share information in targeted emails, posters and desk drops. Invite a local diabetes specialist to lead an information session, such as a lunch and learn, to reinforce the importance of a healthy lifestyle.

9 in 10 cases of diabetes could be avoided by healthier living.

Add spending accounts

Adding spending accounts to your benefit plan, such as Health Spending Accounts and Personal Wellness Accounts, can also play a role in disease prevention and management. How? By covering expenses outside your traditional plan that incentivize employees to enhance their health and wellness.

Offer coaching and support

Diabetes management is a long-term process. That’s why making access to health coaching and education is more than a nice-to-have. It’s a must! Our Managing Chronic Disease benefit connects employees with licensed diabetes educators in their communities to help them better understand their condition and develop a personalized treatment plan. The goal is to give them the knowledge and the confidence they need to self-manage their disease.

Provide on-site screening

By warning employees they may be at risk of developing diabetes, it allows them to take action to prevent or even reverse the onset of the disease, or, if caught early, halt or slow the progression of the disease. That’s why employers should consider bringing biometric screening to the workplace – an effective early detection and disease management tool.

Case study

A Toronto company partnered with a provider to make biometric screening available to 12,000 employees at various worksites throughout the city. The program measured weight, waist circumference, blood sugar and blood cholesterols and calculated cardiovascular risks. The findings were surprising: 13% of employees had prediabetes and a further 7% had diabetes, but were unaware they did until presented with the screening results!

Note: Medavie Blue Cross has a number of partners who perform biometric screening including the pharmacies in our preferred provider network.

Analyze, use data

Medavie Blue Cross plans offer a Health Risk Assessment (HRA) tool that can help employers predict the percentage of employees that are likely to have diabetes or are at high risk of developing diabetes, based on an aggregate of biometric measurements, such as blood glucose/blood pressure readings and cholesterol scores. Employers can draw on this data to develop an evidence-based diabetes prevention management plan.

Leverage technology

Metabolic sensors and mobile apps are among the digital tools being added to the diabetes prevention and management toolkit.

The sensors will detect when there is a metabolic change in the body, indicating that the person may be at risk of having diabetes. Acting on that warning could make all the difference in whether the person develops the disease or not.

Mobile apps can be used to improve medication adherence by sending out reminders to take drugs as prescribed, as well as helpful tips to stay active and eat smart.

Research shows that within a year of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, 25% of people are not taking medications as prescribed.

Our final word

Coverage for diabetes treatment is included in virtually every employer-sponsored health plan. But if you’re an employer who is willing to invest in tools and resources, over and above core benefits, you will see returns in the form of healthier, happier and more productive employees who can enhance your organizational performance and company culture.