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Keep Employees Safe, Keep Them on the Job

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by Chris Kilbourne

A new study finds that simple health interventions can help reduce short-term disability rates as well as worker days away from work.

According to a study of 118,000 American workers by health services company Cigna, a combination of predictive analytics and a nurse/health advocate-led intervention can produce a measurable reduction in future disabling illness or injury incidents among employees at high risk for short-term disability.

The study found that employee absence prevention health interventions are associated with a relative reduction in short-term disability of 15 percent among workers at high risk of experiencing a disability in the next 12 months.

The interventions resulted in a short-term disability incidence rate of 16.8 percent versus 19.8 percent for those not in the intervention group—overall, a 15 percent relative reduction in incidence of disability.

Absence ‘Measurably Reduced’

“By identifying customers at high risk of future short-term disability and providing individualized intervention that includes coaching, incentives, and other outreach, our study shows that the onset of disability absence can be measurably reduced, benefiting both employers and employees alike,” says Dr. Robert N. Anfield, chief medical officer for Cigna’s disability business. “Future studies should address how intervention impacts short-term disability duration, return-to-work rates, and total medical costs.”

The study defined “high risk” as greater than or equal to a 10 percent probability of short-term disability during the next 12 months. Employees eligible for the study were full-time, actively at work, and covered by Cigna-administered medical and disability plans.

Called the Absence Prediction and Prevention program, it established a nurse/health advocate-led intervention that included:

  • Early identification of employees at high risk for future short-term disability
  • Proactive outreach to these employees
  • Clinical assessment
  • A range of disability absence prevention strategies

Mark Marsters, senior vice president of operations for Cigna’s disability insurance business, says that by proactively identifying individuals who may be struggling, before their condition worsens and they need to leave work, employers can help people stay healthy and potentially prevent or lessen the impact of an injury or illness.