These are the two health issues employers should target now

COVID-19 is wreaking all kinds of havoc on the workplace and on healthcare, including one effect likely to have long-term repercussions: employees missing out on vital preventive care measures.

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The cost of missed screenings and preventive measures was already a pain point for employers. Not only is that dangerous, but lack of preventive care also drives up healthcare and productivity costs for employers. COVID-19 is only aggravating the situation and will likely put many employees and employers in a bad position now and years from now, Kelly McDevitt, president of Integrated Benefits Institute, said recently during a webinar.

“The complexity [COVID-19] added with canceled care and delayed care, it’s kind of mindboggling to think of where we might be [in the future],” she said.

Although there are a lot of important preventive services, there are two healthcare measures that employers should focus on getting their employees to partake in right now: mental health help and colorectal cancer screenings.

“We are going to see an ongoing increase in depression and suicide,” said Kathleen Herath, retired Nationwide associate vice president of wellbeing and safety. “And [we’ll see] people [with] much later diagnosed cancers with much poorer outcomes. If you don’t know where to start, start with those two things.”

Related: Depression risk is soaring for workers

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“If you try to go after everything right now, especially if you aren’t doing this well already, that will be a lot [to ask employees],” she continued. “That won’t do much. [Employers should] be very, very targeted right now.”

Mental health has been a big focus of employers during the pandemic and for good reason: Scores of research has found that mental health conditions like stress, depression and anxiety are skyrocketing as a result of the pandemic. Still, IBI’s own research finds that screening for depression is lagging among employees.

Meanwhile, gaps in recommended screening for colon cancer can result in lost opportunities for early treatments, longer recovery times, more time away from work on leave and an increased chance of exits from the labor force for older employees, IBI says.

Related: Workers aren’t getting screened for depression–and it’s costing employers

How can employers get employees to partake in screenings? A variety of different messaging and reminders is one way to help. For colorectal cancer, sometimes it helps if you remind employees they should get screened for their kids’ sake. Herath said Nationwide sent birthday cards to people from their older selves to remind them to take care of their body.

Additionally, finding and including guidelines and safety precautions for screening facilities and doctors for your state during COVID-19 may help employees realize that it can be safe to see doctors and get that care during the pandemic. For instance, procedures done at hospitals, like colonoscopies, require people to get COVID-19 tests and screenings tests prior.

“You should get those specific guidelines and tell your entire employee population why it’s safe and why you should do it,” Herath said. “[Workers] are at much greater risk by missing these preventive measures.”

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Kathryn Mayer
Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s former benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver.