How to implement a health screening program

Half an hour after I check in at recep­tion, I’ve already been siphoned of blood, weighed and measured.

This is the beginning of my health screening at Medcan’s office in downtown Toronto, which will also include tests for my heart, fitness, blood pressure and body fat composition, among a host of others. When it’s over, I have a much better overview of my health and some tangible targets to chase in my quest to improve it. After all, health screenings are designed to be the first step in a broader focus on well-being.

“Having the assessment as the starting point to a journey, we’re seeing more and more employers going that way irrespective of industry, irrespective of rank within a company,” says Shaun Francis, chief executive officer at Medcan.

Read: The debate over corporate health screenings: Do they lead to over-diagnosis?

Indeed, a health screening can help highlight a workforce’s areas of concern, and kick off a more targeted wellness program.

Health numbers

In October, Ericsson Canada introduced biomet­ric screenings for all of its Canadian employees. Susanne Gensch, manager of Ericsson’s wellness and recognition programs across North America, says the screenings provide employees with easier access to their health data and allows them to follow up with their doctor. “The screenings obviously don’t replace the visit to the doctor, but it gives them the opportunity to see any kind of flags that may go up.”

The screening includes a full panel of tests, says Gensch. “We will certainly follow up after the screen­ings to explain to employees what the findings were.”

Read: Rising diabetes cases signal need for more workplace screening

Following the biometric screening initiative, Ericsson will use aggregate data from its provider to determine how it will tweak its wellness program going forward, says Gensch.

Location, location

55% of plan sponsors are interested in providing onsite screenings, but just 2% do so.

66% of plan sponsors with wellness programs are interested in onsite screenings.

Among staff, 67% would prefer health screenings to occur outside of work and working hours, while 42% would prefer health screenings at work.

Source: 2018 Sanofi Canada health-care survey

In the beginning

For employers considering introducing health screenings for the first time, the process begins by determining the company’s goals, its anticipated results and the funding available, says Bill Shapiro, president and chief executive officer at Workplace Medical Corp. in Hamilton, Ont.

“There should be a whole consultative approach to this, to start,” he says. “And then ideally the program is customized to employee base, to work environ­ment, even to corporate culture.”

Read: Successful wellness programs involve leadership, stress management: report

Like any benefit, another important consideration for employers is engaging employees, such as enlist­ing staff to push the message out to their colleagues, notes Shapiro. “Do you see other key employees participating and hearing great success stories and seeing results? Then word of mouth spreads. We’ve had a lot of great success simply by penetrating an employer and getting the word of mouth out.”

However, engaging employees through a health screening can be a tough task, says Andrea Shandro, a principal at Calgary-based consulting firm Vital Benefits Inc. The main criticism she hears about screenings is that they preach to the choir, so people who are taking part are already interested in their health and wellness.

Employers have to figure out ways to engage those people who aren’t involved and aren’t listening. “That’s the trickiest part about it,” says Shandro.

Read: How to conquer employee resistance to your wellness program

One way is to explain to employees the reasons for introducing the health screening program, including describing it as a first step on a wellness journey, says Francis.

“The assessment is a starting point to better health, so if you don’t know where you’re at, it’s hard to know where you need to go,” he says.

Ryan Murphy is an associate editor at Benefits Canada.