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Unhealthy Workers Bloat Hospital Budgets

Philip Betbeze, for HealthLeaders Media, September 16, 2011

Who hasn't heard a story, whether apocryphal or not, about the chain-smoking doctor or the 350-lb. nurse? I've seen both with my own two eyes, but of course, those random samples obviously aren't representative of the group—are they?

Maybe they're a little closer to the truth than we realized. It seems that hospital workers are among the unhealthiest of us all. And—hold on to your stethoscopes--there's actual science to back up that claim. A new Thomson Reuters Healthcare study says that hospital workers not only are generally sicker than the general population, but that they spend about 10% more on healthcare services and consume more of those services.

The study analyzed the health risk and utilization of 1.1 million hospital workers and compared them with 17.8 million health plan members across all industries nationwide.

Among the interesting nuggets:

  • Hospital employees and their dependents saw their physicians less often than the general public, but were 22% more likely to make an ER visit and spent 18% more time in the hospital if they went there.
  • The average annual cost for healthcare for hospital workers and their dependents was $4,662, or $538 more than the general population.
  • Hospital workers, the study authors speculate, are more likely to access expensive healthcare services because they are so convenient, and they may access care more frequently because they are more in tune with their symptoms, and the disparities do not result from hospital workers' increased exposure to communicable diseases.
  • A hospital or health system with 16,000 employees would save an estimated $1.5 million annually in medical and pharmacy costs for each 1% reduction in health risk.

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1 comments on "Unhealthy Workers Bloat Hospital Budgets"


Angela Richmond (9/20/2011 at 10:04 AM)
Thank you for sharing this important article. The data at the hospitals where I have worked reiterates your points that: (1) Hospital workers are more likely to access expensive healthcare services. They are with their physician colleagues over meals or surgery and talk about the symptoms they or their family members may have. They are then more aware of the best treatment options. Is there any data that might support that this improves their overall health? (2) A large percentage of healthcare workers smoke. It is especially astounding how many respiratory professionals smoke. They certainly are the group that treats the worst smoking related illnesses. Perhaps it is a quest to defy the odds! Many hospitals have begun tobacco abstinence programs requiring all new or transferring employees to sign. I think this is great!