The information age and health
Prior to the internet, if we wanted information on health there weren’t many options – consult a medical encyclopaedia or make an appointment at the doctor’s surgery. These days, of course, we’re spoiled for choice, with an array of websites, apps, and a constant stream of health news being updated every minute of the day via web search engines.
Of course, not all the information out there is reliable so in order to get the best information the best places to look are those provided by trusted health care agencies, providers and publishers. (And it goes without saying that if you need medical advice, your laptop or tablet isn’t the place to get it – only a qualified medical doctor can provide diagnosis and advice on health concerns.)
But the fact remains that a revolution is underway. And it’s not just about where we access information – it’s about how data is processed too. The scale of number-crunching that can potentially be done with patient data could bring big rewards in terms of understanding many illnesses. Patient data is used in various different ways, including the selection of individuals to take part in medical studies, as well as identifying factors that could help predict various diseases.
Health and the workplace in the computer age
As a country’s population ages, so does its workforce – and this brings with it a number of challenges for business. One of these is the differing sickness absence patterns that exist between younger and older workers. In the UK, younger workers tend to have more instances of time off work due to sickness, but while older workers have fewer absences, absences are on average for a longer period of time.
People who adopt and maintain a healthy lifestyle – avoiding obesity, not smoking, and so on – are more likely to remain healthy into older age, and less likely to develop conditions such as type 2 diabetes.
As more and more workplaces adopt employee engagement and wellness strategies, there’s increasing scope for encouraging healthy lifestyles as well as providing the workforce with healthy options. Some of the things workplaces can provide include:
- Employee assistance programmes designed to offer people help with difficulties they may be facing such as bereavement or mental health issues such as depression
- Business healthcare
- Cycle to work schemes. These encourage people to get more physical activity by cycling to work. And one recent study by Imperial College London in conjunction with University College London indicated that people who cycled to work were nearly half as likely to have diabetes as those who drove to work
- Web based employee health services (such as the Employee Gateway) allowing people to make changes to lifestyle. Measure progress and so on.
- Subsidised gym contracts, serving healthy food onsite, and other employee benefits
The future of occupational health
Whereas once occupational health (or OH as it’s shortened to) was once about addressing the specifics of health in a work context, the continuing need for focus on wellbeing for employees means that in some respects it’s now also holistic – providing a healthy environment (and placing a premium on prevention) in order to minimise sickness absence and maximise physical and mental wellbeing.
Demographic shifts in terms of age are likely to continue to provide challenges, as will any continuing trend towards homeworking. It could be that, if working from home becomes the norm, there would be greater risk of social isolation.
One thing is for certain, though – the possibility of humans being replaced by machines as a workforce remains a far off science fiction fantasy.
Sam C writes on worklplace wellbeing - please visit https://www.axappphealthcare.co.uk/business-health-insurance/ for more info on business health cover.