Promoting a Culture of Health Within Business: PT Is Key
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We face a pivotal moment in the health of America—an inflection point.
Either we will change how we function as a society or we will face a growing decline in the health and well-being of Americans. Other countries continue to grow in life expectancy, while here in the United States (US) it has begun to drop.
In 2013 the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine detailed a "strikingly consistent and pervasive pattern of higher mortality and inferior health in the US beginning at birth."1 This pattern is called the US health disadvantage and affects all socioeconomic groups. Even upper income groups are in worse health compared with similar groups in other countries. And the gap is growing wider.
In the US the obesity epidemic is fueling this disadvantage. More than 1 in 3 adults and 1 in 6 children are obese, with $150 billion in added health care costs annually. More broadly, in 2012 about half of all US adults had 1 or more chronic diseases, and 7 of the top 10 causes of death are related to these chronic diseases.2
Over 70% of all premature deaths are attributable to 3 factors: how we use our feet (physical inactivity), our forks (diet), and our fingers (tobacco use).3
In 2016 the US spent more than $3 trillion on health care, about 18% of our gross domestic product.4 We continue to lose nearly $226 billion in productivity per year because of personal and family health issues. In fact, in 2016 the US spent over $10,000 on medical care for every man, woman, and child.4 That's 50% more than the second most expensive nation.
All of this is preventable.
The impact of US health disadvantage spread well beyond the health care sector.
Businesses are hurt by poorer health as well. A less healthy workforce is more expensive to insure. Individuals are more likely to be absent from work or come to work sick and possibly infect other employees. Poorer health reduces productivity in the workplace as well. If the community in which you seek employees is less healthy with less adequate housing or schools, this will negatively affect the bottom line.
On the other hand, we have growing evidence from around the nation and the world that business leaders who care about health can turn that into a positive business strategy.
For example, research demonstrates that high sustainability companies significantly outperform their business competitors over the long-term. These companies use performance reporting to their boards as an essential element of corporate governance. We also know that the share prices of companies that prioritize health outperform the S&P average on all tests.
So moving forward, increasingly health conscious consumers will drive companies to innovate their products and services to meet these new demands.
What we are really talking about is building a culture of health in our communities.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation defines a culture of health as one where individuals and social entities, such as households and businesses, can make healthy life choices within an environment that promotes options for health and well-being for everyone, and where the healthy choice becomes the valued and easy choice.5
Building a culture of health means improving American society so that everyone has the best chance to live a healthy life.
All around us today we see growing imbalance and disparities among Americans between those with resources and those without. Health is a highly important dimension of that broader disparity. A culture of health encourages an integrated approach, where your good health and that of your family are at the center of American life. This involves much more than just medical care. In addition, a healthy life for you, your family, and your business also involves things, such as financial protection, well-being, good education, and essential public services like clean water and clean air.
We know that these kinds of gains also help businesses to thrive and grow by improving productivity and increasing capital investments. The dollars that we waste in America on fixing poor health depress wages, reduce profits, divert money from other important investments, and create a cycle that further accelerates poor health outcomes.
America's good health is a major part of our wealth. This applies to all US businesses, so they can stay vibrant and competitive.
Businesses increasingly understand that good health across our entire US population is essential. Yet businesses can do more and need to do more to address health to improve their own companies and society at large. Please remember, every business is in the health business.
Where do physical therapists fit?
Physical therapists offer tremendous value in helping businesses transition to a culture of health.
Many employers are integrating physical therapists into in-house treatment teams to provide the right care to the right people at the right time.
Triaging and treating musculoskeletal complaints quickly and effectively can decrease the cost of health care for companies and improve the productivity and health of their employees.
An even larger opportunity exists in preventing the need for health care in the workplace. Working with employers means that we have to shift our mind-set away from "I treat the person in front of me" and toward "I work to manage limited resources in the best way possible."
Creating a culture of health means not just treating individuals when problems happen, but removing the need for care in the first place. Physical therapists are well positioned to assist in preventing health care needs through optimizing activity, nutrition, recovery, and overall health in the workforce.
Collaborating with businesses moves physical therapists out of clinics and into communities—an essential step to meeting our vision of transforming society.
Zachary Rethorn, PT, DPT, is owner of Rethorn Physical Therapy and Wellness, a telehealth concierge physical therapist practice. He is a board-certified orthopaedic clinical specialist, certified health coach, PhD student in health promotion and wellness, and faculty development resident at Duke University. You can connect with Zachary on Twitter @ZacharyRethorn or by email at email@example.com.
- Woolf SH, Aron LY, eds. U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2013.
- Jones DS, Podolsky SH, Greene JA. The burden of disease and the changing task of medicine. N Engl J Med. 2012;366(25):2333–2338.
- Mokdad AH, Marks JS, Stroup DF, Gerberding JL. Actual causes of death in the United States, 2000. JAMA. 2004;291(10):1238–1245.
- Keehan SP, Poisal JA, Cuckler GA, et al. National health expenditure projections, 2015-25: economy, prices, and aging expected to shape spending and enrollment. Health Aff (Millwood). 2016;35(8):1522–1531.
- Chandra A, Acosta J, Carman KG, et al. Building a national culture of health: background, action framework, measures, and next steps. Rand Health Q. 2017;6(2):3.