Impact Health Risk With Absence Data

Posted by Shahlla Karmali on Jan 7, 2020 10:00:00 AM

Our parent company, Presagia, contributed a column to each 2019 issue of @Work Magazine, a publication by the Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC). If you haven't had a chance to check out this excellent group, we highly recommend that you do! DMEC provides best practices for our complex industry and @Work is one of many excellent resources that we always stay on top of! 

Our 2019 column, Technology and Absence Management, focuses on the technology that can help support a strong leave and accommodation management strategy. In celebration, we've created a blog series that will showcase each of the columns!

The following is the November column, which explores how the health information gathered through your absence program can help you gain a better understanding of the risks affecting your employees.

An employee whose organization prioritizes wellness calmly sits by the ocean

Company healthcare costs continue to put pressure on employers’ bottom lines. Employer-sponsored family coverage rose above $20,000 in 2019, a 5% increase from the prior year. Impacting health risks across your employee population is incredibly valuable to your organization, and data is the key.

Through a better understanding of the issues and risks affecting your employees, you can tailor your benefits plans to their needs, implement wellness programs that help where it matters, and explore other targeted interventions to create a happier, healthier, and more productive workforce.

Health information gathered through your absence program can help achieve this, but you must be aware of restrictions various laws impose on the information you can request.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) restricts the medical information that leave managers can request. Medical certifications cannot require a diagnosis and may ask only that healthcare providers certify that leave is medically necessary for a specified amount of time. Despite these limitations, you can determine if the leave is for the employee or a family member and its general purpose (e.g., non-occupational health condition, occupational health condition, pregnancy, and bonding).

Adding to this, leave managers can report on leave durations, employee groups with higher leave volumes, jobs with specific types of leave, and more. Measuring this year over year will illuminate trends that can influence benefits plans and identify where strategic interventions and wellness initiatives are useful.

For instance, if your organization sees a high volume of leave for pregnancy, you should consider introducing more pregnancy-focused benefits. If your younger employees (who should be statistically healthier) have high FMLA utilization rates, they might be using leave for personal issues that could be addressed by an employee assistance program or might benefit from a wellness program designed for the needs of younger workers.

Consider how quickly your leave volume is growing compared to your employee population. If leaves are growing at a faster rate, you may have an engagement issue and should implement engagement surveys. If this isn’t the issue, you might need to dig deeper to identify larger health risks.

You may be wondering what else you can do to gather health information to support your health and wellness strategies. The answer is simple; leverage your pay programs.

When it comes to pay programs such as short-term disability or a sick bank, employers have more flexibility to request additional health information, such as the diagnosis. Gathering data about the specific conditions affecting your employees gives you more insight into their specific health needs and which programs are likely to move the needle. This enables you to work with specific employees more effectively. With a diagnosis, you can also access return-to-work and treatment guidelines, and proactively help affected employees.

All of this comes with the caveat that you should always consult your legal counsel on how much information you can gather and determine if you need to request permission from employees. Legislation such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) impose specific limitations that can come into play.

Getting creative and combining your health and absence data to illuminate risks and trends gives you a holistic view of your employees. This in turn enables you to be more strategic in how you manage the health and wellness of your employees to create a stronger workforce.

Read The Other Blog Posts In This Series: 

A Robust Absence Management System

Using Technology to Strengthen Consistency in Absence Management

Technology & Mental Health in the Workplace

Integrated Absence Management Begins With Data

Accommodation Technology Modules

Topics: Leave Management, Absence Management, Wellness

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