Early disease detection and treatment is why more people live much longer. Each year, around 1.7 million people die of complications from chronic illnesses, like blood pressure and cancer, that doctors can successfully treat with early diagnosis. Chronic diseases account for approximately 90% of the $4.1 trillion annual healthcare costs in the United States, impacting employee healthcare coverage which is expected to increase by 6.5% in 2023. In an era of rising healthcare costs, employers and healthcare plans use health screening as a cost-saving option to reduce overall health coverage costs and lower the population health risk factors within employees and their family members.
In this article, we will answer your questions on the topic of what is a health screening, and explore why organizations need to set up health screening testing for their employees, the different types of health screenings available, and how information from a health screening can impact your lifestyle and future health decisions.
- What is Health Screening?
- What is the Purpose of a Health Screening?
- What are Some Common Types of Health Screenings?
- Why are Health Screenings So Important?
- How Often Should You Do a Health Screening?
- How Do You Prepare for a Health Screening?
- How Do Health Screenings Help Inform Your Health Decisions?
What is a Health Screening?
Health screenings help assess an employee’s medical history to identify and prevent health conditions or diseases before symptoms appear. This matters, as over four in ten adults, or approximately 133 million Americans, will develop at least one chronic illness during their lifetime.
Employer-sponsored health screenings began after the U.S. government passed the 1942 Stabilization Act encouraging businesses to offer employee health benefits. Early corporate health screenings consisted of simple blood tests for diabetes or measuring cholesterol levels. However, modern health screening methods like biometric screenings gather employees’ health data to reveal and provide information on their personal health. Screenings provide doctors with sufficient information to conduct additional testing and develop appropriate medical interventions.
Employee participation in health screenings is mainly voluntary, but research indicates that workplace medical screenings significantly benefit at-risk employees (including high-risk demographics and ethnicities) and facilitates effective tracking and evaluation of clinical or social treatments.
What is the Purpose of a Health Screening?
Employers perform health screenings to check for signs of chronic illness, even if the employee does not display any symptoms. The aim is to:
- Prevent disease, disability, or death.
- Detect disease early enough for successful medical intervention and treatments.
- Reduce the risk of severe complications during treatment.
- Effectively manage clinical interventions to ensure better outcomes.
- Allow individuals to monitor and receive regular health status updates.
- Influence lifestyle changes in high-risk individuals.
A health screening is not a medical diagnosis procedure, and organizations must educate their employees not to confuse screenings with physical exams (whose purpose is to diagnose). Ensure employees have adequate information about the screening and allow them to make informed decisions on its intended benefits or potential harm.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), critical points of any effective health screening program include:
- Screenings for common diseases causing considerable morbidity/mortality in a large population group.
- Screenings that are high quality, cost-effective, and reliable enough to detect the medical condition for which it is being tested.
- Screenings that are highly accurate, i.e., a perfect confirmation rate with zero false results.
- An acceptable, effective, and affordable treatment for the medical condition, or the screening does not impact the individual’s health outcome.
What are Some Common Types of Health Screenings?
Organizations perform health screening for their staff for different reasons. Common health screening types depend on age, gender, lifestyle, risk factors for certain diseases, personal medical history, and family history. Organizations can also categorize screening programs according to predefined objectives.
The main types of screening tests include:
- Selective or targeted screening – these types are commonly used when testing for medical conditions in staff with high risk or prevalence of the disease, e.g., certain occupations, ethnicity, or social groups.
- Mass screening – is similar to selective or targeted screening. However, mass screening is used for an entire population or sub-group regardless of individual-level risk factors.
- Multiphasic screening (multiple screening) – involves performing two or more screening tests simultaneously on a large population group instead of conducting separate tests for a particular disease.
- Pre-employment examination – is a way of determining new employees’ health status and ensuring they are healthy enough to discharge their roles.
- Executive health tests – are designed to help determine, prevent, or manage the physical and mental well-being of higher-level employees with demanding responsibilities that may cause stress-related health problems.
In addition to these main health screening tests, health providers often perform routine biometric screenings on individuals to identify specific medical conditions. Examples of those common health screening types include:
- Blood pressure measurement
- Body mass index (BMI) calculation
- Cholesterol level measurement
- Pap test (pap smear) to detect cervical cancer
- Colonoscopy or fecal occult blood test to detect colon cancer
- Mammograms to detect breast cancer
- Diabetes screening
- Screening for sexually transmitted diseases
- Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) screening to detect prostate cancer
Why are Health Screenings So Important?
Health screenings increase your chances of surviving chronic diseases when they are easier to treat in their early stages. Almost 100% of women who detect cervical and breast cancer early and undergo treatment survive those diseases. Organizations and staff benefit from implementing health screening programs for their team in the following ways.
Below are several reasons highlighting the importance of health screenings.
- Employee health screenings increase productivity because early disease detection and treatment reduces absenteeism and boosts morale.
- Performing regular screenings reduces your organization’s healthcare costs.
- Providing screenings improves employees’ mental state by easing anxiety and stress about their health status, especially in individuals with a family history of hereditary illnesses.
- It facilitates early disease detection, medical intervention, and improves an individual’s health outcome.
- It creates organization-wide awareness of the benefits of preventive medicine to avoid chronic diseases typically associated with aging.
How Often Should You Do a Health Screening?
Generally, companies prefer to screen employees annually to prevent disease risk. However, sources including the American Medical Association and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel of voluntary doctors studying the effectiveness of screening tests, recommend periodic health assessments based on individual age, gender, risk factors, and health status, as shown in these examples below:
How Do You Prepare for a Health Screening?
There are important instructions on foods or drinks to avoid ahead of health screenings. Some screenings require a sample of your urine, stool, or blood for testing. HR teams should communicate a list of pre-screening preparations with staff members and offer advice to employees experiencing their first screening test. Below are some recommendations for pre-screening dos and don’ts.
- Food and drinks – avoid eating for at least eight hours before blood tests and ultrasounds. You may drink water on the morning of the screening, but avoid consuming alcoholic beverages 24 hours before your health screening.
- Rest – it is vital to be relaxed and well-rested before your appointment. At least six hours of sleep is needed to prevent abnormal body activities like high body temperature or blood pressure, which may affect your test results.
- Medication – It is a good idea for individuals on prescription medications to delay taking their morning pills until their blood sample is taken. Individuals on hypertension medication may seek additional advice from their physician.
- Sample collection – you must submit a blood/urine/stool specimen to the clinic within 24 after collecting the sample bottle. Follow the storage instructions provided to ensure non-contaminated samples after submission.
- Instructions for women include:
- Perform a pap smear, urine, and stool tests within a week of your last menstrual cycle.
- You may need to drink significant amounts of water before a pelvic ultrasound.
- Pregnant women must inform medical staff of their condition to avoid any X-ray screenings.
- Miscellaneous – Wear light, loose-fitting, and comfortable clothing. Take all necessary documentation with you to the screening center. Take along a change of clothes if you are taking a treadmill test.
How Do Health Screenings Help Inform Your Health Decisions?
Health screenings can serve as a wake-up call for individuals with unhealthy or high-risk lifestyles or validate lifelong habits prioritizing good diet and exercise. Although screenings may not be 100% accurate, their consistency in identifying potentially life-ending diseases helps to develop life-saving treatments or make informed life-changing decisions regarding personal diet and exercise.
For instance, identifying high cholesterol levels or signs of lung lesions can enable enough changes in an individual’s diet and personal habits to promote a healthier and more active lifestyle, ultimately resulting in better health outcomes.
Health screenings offer healthcare providers the means to detect early-stage chronic illnesses and deploy suitable interventions to save lives. Regular health screenings are a vital part of preventive medicine that allows employees to make informed health decisions, take control of their well-being, and enjoy better health outcomes. Your company can benefit from health screening through reduced healthcare costs, low absenteeism rates, and increased productivity. Schedule a call with one of our benefits experts to learn more, and visit our resource center for answers to some of your questions about health screening.