KANSAS CITY, Mo., April 21, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- A group of nine Kansas City employers, their broker consultant Lockton Companies, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Centers for Disease and Prevention Control, and Thomson Reuters are looking for ways to reduce high blood pressure or hypertension in the workplace.
The Mid-America Coalition on Health Care (MACHC) has responded to this concern with the Gateway Project, which is designed to assess and combat the growing burden of high blood pressure that is driving up health costs and reducing productivity.
The Gateway Project confirmed that high blood pressure was a prevalent condition and cost driver for Kansas City employers. High blood pressure is a major cause of other chronic conditions, such as heart disease and stroke, and contributes to absenteeism, reduced productivity, and disability. Yet, evidence shows it is easily detectable and controllable by lifestyle changes and medication.
The project team used InfoLock®, Lockton's proprietary data mining warehouse, to collect health and cost data associated with hypertension; data provided by health risk assessments; and biometric screenings, to determine the health profile of each employer. A draft CDC tool was used to evaluate health promotion programs, policies and environmental supports adopted and currently used by Gateway employers. The combined data examined prevalence rates, related conditions and health risks, and how Gateway employers compared when it came to promoting healthy activities, creating policies and changing the workplace environment to reduce risks.
"Employers aren't doing anything about hypertension because it's not as visible as other diseases like cancer," said Gateway Project participant Frankie Hagen of KU Hospital, "That is why the Gateway Hypertension Project is important."
According to the American Heart Association, high blood pressure was expected to cost the United States more than $76 billion in health care services, medications, and missed days of work in 2010.
Melissa Campbell of American Century Investments, one of the participating companies, said, "Employers are generally aware of the burden of hypertension but we're not taking actions. That is what this project can do: move us to action." She added, "During the next year, it is our hope to see better workforce hypertension management by using the support from project staff and health care experts to invest time and resources in the heart healthy solutions afforded to us."
Early data from the Gateway Project employers showed just how difficult the problem is: while only 19.4 percent of employees reported that they had high blood pressure, more than 63 percent of those were found to have pre- or hypertension. The prevalence of pre- or hypertension is higher than any of the health risks examined, yet it is the health risk that the fewest employees (32 percent) report planning to work on in the next six months. Perhaps even more striking was that 52 percent of the employees stated lowering their blood pressure was "not needed" in the next six months. The inconsistency between the self-report, the actual results and the perceived need for no action indicated an education opportunity to help employees understand their risk and what they can do about it.
Employers also recognized that in order to lower hypertension rates in their workforce, they must address other risk factors such as obesity, cholesterol and diabetes. Thirty percent of Gateway Project participants were considered to be obese or morbidly obese, with an additional 38.9 percent considered "at risk" for obesity. And, 38 percent of hypertensive employees within the participating population also have high cholesterol. The national average reported by the American Diabetes Association for prevalence of diabetics with hypertension is 75 percent; however medical and pharmacy data for Gateway employers found that 16 percent of their employees with hypertension also had diabetes, a figure significantly below the national average.
The draft CDC tool was used to evaluate how the nine employers scored their current workplace activities against evidence-based interventions stated in the tool. Each employer received a score based on the interventions they were already conducting, weighted by evidence base for that intervention and the impact it could have on health risks. How did they stack up? Gateway employers scored 93.9 percent for their obesity and overweight interventions; 68.9 percent for diabetes; and 54.9 percent for high cholesterol. Employers' baseline results for high blood pressure were 51.6 percent of the possible total – lending emphasis to the Gateway Project's focus on hypertension.
The remainder of the project will be focused on supporting employer efforts to adopt worksite interventions to combat hypertension and other chronic conditions. This fall, Gateway employers will be resurveyed to assess the impact of their actions.
Funding for this research was provided by Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation, East Hanover, New Jersey.