Oct. 19, 1998 Depression and high stress have the greatest impact on worker health care costs, concludes an economic study of health risk factors, reported in the October issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).
More than 46,000 employees from six nationwide organizations were followed for up to three years, resulting in a database of over 100,000 person years, to evaluate ten modifiable health risks and their associated impact on health care costs. The unusually large database of information was compiled in cooperation with sustaining members of the not-for-profit Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO), Birmingham, Ala.
Industry officials note that there are several reasons why depressed and stressed workers might have higher health care costs. Depression and stress may cause patients to seek care for vague physical complaints; psychological or social problems may lead to more serious health conditions; or depression or stress may be related to serious illness.
According to research led by Ron Z. Goetzel, Ph.D., of the MEDSTAT Group, Washington, D.C., depression and stress seem to increase health costs more than obesity, smoking, or high blood pressure. Health costs for workers reporting depression were 70 percent higher than for nondepressed workers, the researchers found. Costs were elevated 46 percent for workers who felt they were under a lot of stress.
Other health risks associated with significantly higher health care expenditures include: high blood glucose, past tobacco use, current tobacco use, high blood pressure, and lack of regular exercise.
High cholesterol, excessive alcohol consumption, and poor nutrition, had no apparent effect on health costs, even though they are known to increase the risk of illness and death. The results of the study were helpful in identifying patients likely to have extremely high health care costs. For example, patients with risk factors for heart disease had average medical costs of $3,800 per year, compared with about $1,200 for patients lacking these risk factors.
New research will form the foundation for future cost effective and cost beneficial prevention and health promotion efforts in the workplace, the study concludes.
ACOEM, an international society of 7,000 occupational physicians, provides leadership to promote optimal health and safety of workers, workplaces, and environments.
Goetzel, Ron Z, et al. The Relationship Between Modifiable Health Risks and Health Care Expenditures: An Analysis of the Multi-Employer HERO Health Risk and Cost Database Vol. 40 10 (October) pp. 843-854
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