by Beth Shepard    Beth's profile on LinkedIn  

Lifestyle Medicine at Work

Imagine you’ve been diagnosed with prediabetes and visit your onsite primary care clinic for a checkup. A medical assistant documents your vital signs — including physical activity level. During the exam, your provider asks how you feel about your exercise and nutrition habits, and where you see room for the most improvement.

Along with prescription refills, you leave the clinic with a brochure for the community center’s diabetes prevention program, a coupon for the local produce delivery service, plus a commitment to take action and report on your progress in 2 weeks. You’ve also registered for the workplace walking challenge starting in a month.

In a previous post, we outlined lifestyle medicine and its potential for significant synergy with workplace well-being initiatives. This article focuses on what wellness and HR leaders can do now to accelerate employee and family access to this exciting, life-changing approach to optimal health and quality of life.

What’s Up, Doc?

At the heart of lifestyle medicine is a robust body of evidence showing that many physical and mental conditions can be prevented and treated — in part or in full — through healthy lifestyle changes. These include tobacco cessation, regular exercise, and eating a variety of colorful produce each day while having fewer highly processed, less nutritious foods and beverages.

More providers are weaving lifestyle medicine into primary and specialty care, tapping into the power of everyday habits to prevent and treat the underlying causes of debilitating chronic conditions. Patients following a treatment plan that includes lifestyle medicine may no longer need medication… or need less of it. As fitness level and overall mental and physical well-being improve, they also experience a significant boost in quality of life.

Get Your Medical Plan and EAP on Board

After you, your team, and other stakeholders develop a working knowledge of the lifestyle medicine imperative, light a fire under your medical plan and EAP. Why EAP? Because mind and body well-being are inextricably linked. Regular physical activity, good nutrition, meditation, and other positive habits promote mental as well as emotional well-being. An increasing number of behavioral health providers incorporate these types of interventions into traditional care.

As a purchaser, your organization’s needs and priorities carry clout. Let plan representatives know that integrating lifestyle medicine into primary care, behavioral health, and beyond is a high priority. Find out where they stand in making this care available to members. Questions to ask:

  • Is your plan familiar with the concept, specialty, and practice of lifestyle medicine? If not, provide resources (included in this article) and start a conversation.
  • Are there lifestyle medicine practitioners in your medical plan and EAP networks? If not, ask what steps they can take to fill this growing need.
  • Do your medical plan and EAP encourage and support lifestyle medicine training among their providers? If so, how? If not, are they willing to prepare and launch a lifestyle medicine initiative? Propose performance guarantees for meeting this need.
  • Can members search for lifestyle medicine as a practice specialty on the plan website? As members learn about this, they’ll need an easy way to find practitioners.

Because the lifestyle medicine field is relatively new, chances are your vendor partners don’t have these elements in place yet. Take the opportunity to educate them. Point out that becoming a leader in improving access to this type of care would be a huge differentiator for their brand. Emphasize the win-win-win; healthier lifestyles mean:

  • Better treatment outcomes
  • Shorter lengths of stay
  • Reduced lifestyle-related medical and pharmacy claims
  • Greater purchaser satisfaction
  • Most important, healthier, happier employees and families.
Mobilize Onsite Clinic Providers

If onsite primary care clinics are already in place and integrated with your workplace well-being program, those providers may already practice lifestyle medicine; if so, you’re miles ahead of the traditional healthcare system. If not, meet with clinic administrators to discuss the opportunity for bringing lifestyle medicine into the practice with ongoing provider training, job aids, community connections, and other tools/resources.

Enlist Support From Members and Families

As your medical plan, EAP, and onsite clinic providers gear up to bring lifestyle medicine to work, educate employees and families about the concept, emphasizing the benefits of this care:

  • For many health issues, regular exercise, good nutrition, tobacco cessation, and better stress-coping skills alleviate symptoms — helping people feel their best and enjoy life/more.
  • A healthier lifestyle could mean less need for medication, fewer office visits, and lower out-of-pocket healthcare expenses — now and later.

Encourage people to ask their providers about lifestyle medicine, letting them know they’d like to take this approach as appropriate. How could a walking program help relieve my symptoms? What kind of exercise would be most beneficial for me? Can specific foods help improve my mood?

If enough patients consistently ask about lifestyle medicine, providers will notice a growing demand; this could spur additional training and more resources to support healthy changes.

Work Together, Move the Needle

Making a dent in the prevalence of lifestyle-related conditions requires innovative thinking, cooperation, and a multi-pronged approach to prevention and treatment. Employer action is vital to this effort. When public-private partnerships, workplace well-being programs, providers, and community resources join forces to deliver consistent messages, remove barriers, and offer convenient, effective services, people stand a far better chance at achieving lasting behavior change… and a quality of life that money can’t buy.

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