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AOHC: Occupational Health Dr. Predicts a Health Care 'Reformation' is Coming

Dennis Richling, M.D., believes that occupational health will lead the transformation the "reformation" of the health system.

Richling, president of the Midwest Business Group on Health in Chicago told occupational health physicians attending the Sappington Lecture at the American Occupational Health Conference in Kansas City, Mo., that a perfect storm is coming health care. He noted several factors impacting health care in this country:

  • 2004 represents the fourth year of double-digit premium increases for healthcare.
  • CEOs and CFOs demanding cost control for health care costs
  • The aging of the covered population
  • Chronic diseases, and associated costs, increase with age
  • A growing portion of the population is uninsured
  • Retiree medical costs are increasing
  • There is a managed care backlash

"U.S. business competitiveness is being harmed," said Richling, who noted that approximately $2,000 per employee is spent on waste in the healthcare system, whether it is under- or over-utilized services or administrative costs.

Richling counseled employers to take an active role in healthcare by analyzing the current quality of health care services, measuring and engaging plans and providers in improving services, educating employees and rewarding quality providers. He also said employers need to take an active role in the messages they send to employees. "How many times do you see Krispy Kreme donuts in the breakroom?" he asked. "What message does that send?"

Employers need to treat employees as well as they treat tangible assets, said Richling. "This is not about doing the right thing. This is about money. This is about managing your assets," and employees are assets.

He said that occupational health professionals are positioned to help their employers manage health care costs because they:

  • Are trained in population health management
  • Have occupational injury management expertise that is transferable to the non-work arena
  • Have the skills to analyze data to identify trends and target intervention
  • Understand the issues of the employees and management
  • Are expert in interaction of the employee and the work environment
  • Provide valuable services to employers

Richling predicts a transformation of health care in 3-5 years, led by employers who want to provide employees with quality health care at a cost that is not prohibitive. They will do this, he said, by giving employees incentives to maintain healthy lifestyles and by driving improved quality in the health care system.

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