Good employee health means good business and an integrated approach to employee risk management can achieve it, says Tim Ablett

Good employee health means good business and an integrated approach to employee risk management can achieve it, says Tim Ablett

Recent figures released by the ABI show that in 2002 over 6.7 million people had private medical insurance (PMI), either through their employer or an individual policy. As the PMI market continues to grow, insurers are wondering where the future of healthcare lies.

Integrated healthcare is a many-headed beast, with a wide variety of interpretations. As such there is no clearly defined market, leaving the insurance industry reluctant to jump in with both feet. But, by opting for an integrated approach to employee risk management, the marketplace will be able to establish a holistic offering that can cope with changing needs and ultimately offer providers a wealth of opportunity.

The industry should start by looking at the marketplace and understanding the different types of assistance services available.

Sickness absence per employee cost £522 in 2002 (£487 in 2001), a figure that highlights the need for absence management.

The market needs to look at developing more proactive intervention measures to facilitate an employee's return to work. These can include stress counselling, formal return to work programmes, work equipment changes, use of home working, access to physiotherapy services or fast referral to private medical care.

Occupational health
As businesses tighten their belts, the market for occupational health has continued to grow. Employers are beginning to realise that a healthy company is a happy and profitable one, which accounts for the increased focus on healthcare issues concerning their staff. Occupational health is the maintenance of a high level of physical, mental and social well-being of all workers and, inevitably, helps employers to reduce the costs incurred by staff absence.

Employee assistance programmes (EAP) offer professional counselling and advisory services to staff. The UK EAP market has grown dramatically over the past five years, as a result of the initiatives of some large employers.

According to the latest claims figures, the state of the UK workforce's stress levels are scaling new heights and EAPs are providing a vital means of support for employers and staff alike. In 2000, growth in the EAP market was around 20% and it shows no signs of slowing, making it a key sector in an integrated healthcare assistance model.

Various government and insurance industry sources report that in the UK there are more than 7 million disabled people of working age with only 47% of these being employed. At the end of 2001, more than 1.25 million people were awaiting surgery, with another 350,000 on waiting lists for consultant appointments.

In addition, 7.4 million working days are lost through illness and within that figure, one in seven people are off work for at least six months. Reputedly, this cost industry in excess of £12bn in 2001.

It is no secret that long-term sickness and disability is a drain on social and health service resources and has a devastating effect on individuals and families. And NHS waiting lists compound the problem.

The ABI and TUC published a joint study this year, that calls for a complete overhaul of the rehabilitation services to foster a more co-ordinated approach, with closer involvement from employers. It has been a long time coming, but employers and insurers are slowly rubbing their bleary eyes and waking up to the rehabilitation message. As more evidence is gathered, good health is good for business and that is good for all involved.

The insurance market should be combining these key, growing sectors to build upon the strong foundations already existing and create a range of products and services that focus on the well-being of individuals.

Through this integrated approach, the industry would be best serving those companies who want to improve employee productivity by managing sickness and absence and employee well-being. This can all be achieved by delivering service, protection and claims management solutions to customers in selected market segments.

Employee productivity
A holistic healthcare service creates a more customer-focused approach to marketing, proposition development and service delivery. This in turn will build upon the breadth of capabilities already offered and expand some of the more fledgling propositions such as rehabilitation.

The fact is that an apple a day does not keep the doctor away, but through integration the industry can develop new propositions around sickness and absence management, health and safety advice and employee risk management solutions, building a bright new future for the healthcare market.

Tim Ablett heads healthcare specialist firstassist