The Hartford Study: Workers Delaying Routine Health Care Could See Higher Injury Rates
Recent research finding released from The Hartford, a provider of group disability and absence management, indicates that 43% of U.S. workers have delayed routine health care appointments since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is higher among those with children in the household (50%) and among workers ages 18-34 (54%).
According to Dr. Adam Seidner, The Hartford’s chief medical officer, The Hartford’s annual Future of Benefits study and smaller pulse surveys, like this one, are conducted throughout the year to deliver new insights into employee benefit trends and the evolving needs of the U.S. workforce.
On such study, January 2022 Future of Benefits Pulse Survey revealed why employers should be alramed by delays to routine health care appointments.
The survey was conducted January 5-7, 2022 and included approximately 2,000 aged 18+, including 1,001 full-time and part-time employed respondents.
“We believe this data can help companies design benefit programs that support their employees and help create an inclusive culture,” Seidner said.
Findings from the Survey
Not surprising, the fear of contracting COVID-19 was the top reason U.S. workers cited for putting off routine health care appointments. The top five reasons cited in The Hartford’s survey were:
- Fear of contracting COVID-19 (47%);
- Difficulty getting an appointment (29%);
- The need to cancel appointments due to COVID-19 restrictions/requirements (25%);
- Fear of other illnesses (24%); and
- Not a current priority (21%)
“It is difficult to overcome the fear and fatigue we’re all experiencing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it is important that people prioritize routine health visits and screenings to stay physically and mentally healthy,” Seidner said.
As Seidner explains, the delays in care are alarming because many U.S. workers also report declines in their mental health (42%), social well-being (41%), financial security (32%) and physical health (29%) – and workplace burnout remains high at 61%.
“Mental health and physical health are closely connected, and it is concerning many workers report a decline in both,” Seidner said.
“As a leader in disability insurance and absence management, we help thousands of U.S. workers each year return to active, productive lives after an injury or illness. We know from our decades of experience that mental health conditions can prolong a person’s recovery from a physical injury or disease.”
A person diagnosed with a primary injury or illness, along with the presence of psychological factors, such as anxiety or depression, takes two to three times longer to recover than someone with similar injuries or illness and no additional psychological factors, according to The Hartford’s claims data.
The fact that so many U.S. workers are delaying health care is concerning. If undetected, many health conditions can continue to develop or worsen, leading to more serious health problems that prevent people from working or enjoying an active life.
“High blood pressure or diabetes, for example, may not be noticeable or detected without routine screenings. High blood pressure and high cholesterol are leading risk factors for heart disease, which can become critical and lead to a workplace absence,” Seidner said.
Another area of concern regarding delayed routine health care is cancer. “Cancer affects one in three people in the United States,” Seidner said. “A delay in routine screenings could also mean a delay in a new cancer diagnosis – or a later stage diagnosis – impacting quality of life and longevity long-term.”
Neglecting Current Medical Conditions
In addition to delayed routine health care, existing medical conditions are also neglected when people don’t see a health care practitioner for proper maintenance.
Conditions that were being managed well with a treatment plan could worsen or relapse if medical care does not continue. It’s also important that people with chronic illnesses continue taking their prescriptions and continue to adhere to their doctor’s medical guidance.
Of course, lack of proper medical care and ongoing maintenance of chronic condition can have adversely effects on workers.
According to the survey, 63% of respondents indicated that their overall health/wellness impacts their productivity at work, with 30 percent stating that they’re less engaged with their work and 25% said they have trouble focusing or concentrating.
How Employers Can Help
Employers play a key role in helping to remove some of the barriers to health care. That’s why Seidner encourages employers to offer the flexibility needed to ensure their employees can take key steps to improve their mental and physical health – and avoid the dangers of delayed care.
To help promote overall wellness among their workforce, Seidner suggested employers offer benefits and resources that address the overall well-being of their workforce – encompassing physical health, mental health, as well as financial resilience.
“While offering these types of benefits is important, it is also essential to communicate to employees regularly to remind them about the benefits and services that are available to them,” he said.
Managers can lead by example by making their own appointments a priority. Employers also need provide their employees with the flexibility they need to make their appointments a priority. This is especially important as 29% of the U.S. workers in The Hartford’s survey said they had difficulty getting an appointment.
While employers can advise workers to keep trying to schedule the appointment, they should also consider a telehealth visit if that is available. Another option is to consider seeing a different provider in their doctor’s office if their regular doctor is booked.
“People can also ask to be placed on a call-back list to be made aware of openings due to cancellations if appointments aren’t readily available and take advantage of the online health portals available to communicate directly with their doctor,” Seidner said.
And while delayed routine health care visits can have an impact on people’s health, there were a variety of other factors that have impacted the health and well-being of many people during the pandemic. For example, many people exercised less and there was an increase in the use of alcohol and opioids, which all impact an individual’s overall wellness.
“The key is treating these medical conditions before they become a disabling condition that prevents people from working or can be managed well following a claim by keeping up with routine care,” Seidner said.
“It is difficult to overcome the fear and fatigue we’re all experiencing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it is important that people prioritize routine health visits and screenings to stay physically and mentally healthy.” &