February 2013


Health and Wellness Programs – How to Start or Support Yours Right Now

Most people have heard about those “dream” companies that offer on-site fitness facilities with premier equipment, flat screen televisions and basketball courts, or an office café with a gourmet chef at the helm. But for most organizations, these high-end perks are out of reach because they simply don’t have the resources to invest.

The good news is that wellness efforts don’t need to be fancy or expensive to make an impact at work. With a little commitment, creativity and effort, your organization can start up a workplace wellness initiative, or support the success of one already in place, right here and right now.

Who has time for health and wellness initiatives?

As a leader, you probably already have a lot on your plate. From meeting deadlines and motivating your staff to managing employee performance issues, leading a team can be incredibly satisfying and equally challenging. You might think, “Who’s got time to pitch in with health and wellness initiatives?”


Numbers You Should Know

Before you close the book on helping out with health and wellness in your organization, consider:

      • Employees who are sedentary, overweight, smoke and have a high alcohol intake miss work 50% more often than those who don’t have these four risk factors. They also use up two to three times more in health costs.
      • Chronic conditions related to obesity cost Canada $4.6 billion in 2008, which included lost work time due to employee absences.
      • In 2007 – 2009 24.1% of Canadians were obese. In the US that number hit 34.4%.
      • According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 83.1% of workers in Canada think stress in their organization is a big concern.
      • High levels of job stress can double the risk for heart attack.

What happens when I encourage and support health and wellness?

It may take a little time, but organizations that support and promote health and wellness report:

  • Fewer absences
  • Better productivity
  • Lower health costs (disability, worker’s compensation, benefits costs, etc.)
  • Improved morale and loyalty

What can I do to create a healthier workplace now?

Everyone, especially leaders, can play a role in organizational health. If you’re lucky enough to have a workplace health and wellness committee, join it or encourage members of your team to sign on. Don’t have one? Maybe it’s time to lead the way and start one.

In fact, the more diverse your team is, the more ideas and insights will be brought to the table. Whether you’re a large organization with a moderate budget or a smaller company with limited resources, these five quick tips can help get the ball rolling.

Look at the issues. Gather up whatever data you can and figure out if there are any specific health-related concerns or patterns. Have you noticed productivity slipping? Are people getting sick more often? Has the vending machine become most employees’ lunch of choice?

Ask around. Whether you send out a formal survey, get feedback from a “healthy workplace focus group” or simply talk to people on their lunch break, find out what’s important to your employees. After all, building a high-end gym is meaningless if what people really want is simply the availability of healthy snacks.

Enlist others. A healthier path can sometimes feel like a lonely road. Get support from other members on your team. If you don’t ask, you may never discover that your quiet and collected colleague is actually a yoga guru or that your assistant is a healthy chef extraordinaire.

Start small and stick to it. The little things can make a huge difference. Set goals that are realistic for your time and resources and are consistent and ongoing. Some “small” healthy ideas include:

  • Forming a work team – be it bowling, soccer or baseball that plays every week.
  • Launching a “Fresh Friday” potluck event that focuses on healthy food.
  • Putting up a bulletin board in the lunchroom and asking employees to contribute “healthy hints” and recipes.
  • Negotiating corporate discounts with local gyms.
  • Handing out pedometers and honouring a weekly or monthly “Best Step Star”.

Celebrate the victories. Did the work soccer team win the championships? Or did that walking program result in some serious weight loss? Don’t forget to celebrate these wins! They not only make those participating feel connected, but also encourage others still on the sidelines to get involved.

What can I do to support ongoing initiatives?

If you already have a health and wellness program in place you can still do your part to lead the way by:

Walking the talk. As a leader, you help to set the vibe for your team. If you eat chips for lunch every day while buried under paperwork in your office, you’re not so subtly letting your employees know health is low on your priority list. Instead, try embracing healthy initiatives and chances are at least some of your team will follow.

Helping to sell. You likely have a lot more influence on workplace health than you realize. A personal invite from their boss to join the work soccer team or contribute to the monthly healthy potluck event can help team members feel included and motivated.

Flexing for success. It’s one thing to wax poetic about the benefits of good health and quite another to actually support it. For the most part, employees need you to provide a little time and flexibility – whether it’s time to attend a wellness event, a committee meeting, or doling out a balanced enough workload so they have time to hit the gym after work.

Your support of employee health – no matter how big or how small – can go a long way in creating a healthier and more productive group that’s committed to supporting the team and you as a leader

Drug plan substitutions: Handle with care

Drug plan cost increases have leveled in recent years due to a large number of high-volume medications becoming available in a generic form and provincial drug reform driving down the price of generic drugs. At the same time, some insurance carriers have automatically implemented mandatory generic substitution policies on the majority of their plans (giving plan sponsors the option to opt out if they choose).

Generic substitution can help to control drug plan costs, but at the Drug Plan Substitutions Forum (held February 8 in Toronto), presenters explored situations where drug substitution might not result in therapeutic equivalence in individual patients and could lead to decreased efficacy or increased safety concerns.

Approval and authority

“Brand name medications are required to complete clinical trials to demonstrate safety and efficacy to Health Canada to gain approval,” explained George Dranitsaris, independent consultant in health economics and biostatistics. “Whereas generic medications are only required to demonstrate bioequivalence to the brand drug.”

Bioequivalence is determined by comparing bioavailability, which measures how much and how fast the active ingredient of the drug becomes available in the bloodstream. Once Health Canada confirms that the generic drug is within an acceptable range to the brand drug, it approves the generic based on this bioequivalence.

Pharmacists are given the authority to interchange a generic for a brand name drug without consulting the physician by provincial regulatory bodies and based on Health Canada’s declaration of bioequivalence.

In certain cases, generic drugs can achieve the same health outcome as the brand name drug. In other cases, patients may not receive the same therapeutic effects. When people aren’t receiving the best treatment for them, it can hinder their day-to-day activities, including how quickly they return to work if they are off or how they function at work.

Here are a few examples that are cause for concern among some medical professionals.

Concerta for ADHD

In the treatment of ADHD, Dr. Kenny Handelman, child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist with the Oakville Trafalgar Hospital, cautioned substituting Concerta—a popular drug used for treating ADHD—with a generic alternative. “[This] may result in therapeutic challenges and changes in patient outcomes,” he said. “This may be due to the fact that current Canadian bioequivalence measures do not necessarily imply therapeutic equivalence for more complex delivery systems, such as Concerta.”

Transplant medications

“Medical professionals in the transplant community are concerned about uncontrolled switching between multiple interchangeable generics,” explained Jennifer Harrison, pharmacy clinical site leader with the Toronto General Hospital, University Health Network. The body sees the transplanted organ as foreign, and the immune system will attack or reject it without immunosuppressive drugs.

“While many other diseases have clinical tests to monitor patient health, in transplantation, there is no test to tell how immunosuppressed the patient is,” said Harrison. “Blood level and clinical monitoring are essential with a change in medication.” Although Health Canada requires generic drugs to be bioequivalent to the brand name drug, there are no requirements for interchangeable generic drugs to be bioequivalent to each other. If a transplant patient is switched from one generic to another generic, there can be a wide variability in blood levels and poor outcomes, which are difficult to manage if the prescriber is not aware of the switch

Biosimilar drugs

Biologic drugs are derived from living cells, and the manufacturing process is complex. Even small changes in the process can affect the final product, how it reacts in the human body and how it impacts patients. Health Canada approval for biologics differs from traditional drugs because biologics must provide more detailed chemistry and manufacturing information.

“When approving subsequent entry biologics, Health Canada states that they are not considered ‘generic’ biologics and should not be interchangeable with the reference brand product,” explained John Holland, director, government affairs, with Amgen Canada.

“We anticipate that provinces will follow this guidance, and, as a result, pharmacists will likely not be able to make substitution decisions without the consent of the prescribing physician,” Holland continued.

Plan sponsors need to keep in mind what’s best for their plan and for their plan members. When implementing these cost-containing strategies, sponsors should ensure that their mandatory generic substitution plans have processes in place to make sure appropriate treatments are maintained when automatic substitution is required..


excerpts provided by: Shepell fgi 2013

excerpts provided by: Benefits Canada February 2013/Suzanne Lepage


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