Back Button
Menu Button

Volunteering = Positive Health Outcomes

The resolutions we make to change undesired personal traits or behaviors usually begin at the dawn of the new calendar year – an attempt to ‘start over’ and refresh our hopes and desires to make us more productive, perhaps improve our health (and appearance), and move us to a happier state.

Perhaps you have joined a fitness club, initiated a new dietary program, developed a budget to save more and spend less, or carved out more time to read rather than watch television shows. There are a host of other new beginnings that may meet your personal goals.

So, after just a few days into 2017, how are you doing?

Have you thought about volunteering your time within your community to benefit another person, group or organization? Perhaps serve on a committee at your church, spend time assisting an individual to shop for groceries or attend a doctor or dentist appointment, or participate with a non-profit organization to take care of our underserved vulnerable populations (e.g. homeless, disabled, elderly, etc). This isn’t necessarily about altruism, though having an unselfish regard for helping others is certainly important and admirable for the health of any community.

Volunteering actually invites a new sense of purpose to our lives that consequently impacts our OWN mental well-being. Sounds somewhat self-serving doesn’t it? But promulgating our own well-being by volunteering our time and resources to help others actually makes a great deal of sense. Such activities positively impact the social determinants of health for our communities.

Recent studies indicate a positive relationship between volunteering and healthy outcomes, such as  self-rated health, and risk factors for cardiovascular disease, disability, mental well-being and life satisfaction. Some studies report that volunteering activities can reduce the risk of mortality. A person who volunteers will have a larger social network of connections and a personal sense of accomplishment that comes from helping others.

Listen up to those age 40-plus

A 2016 study in The BMJ suggests that there is “no clear evidence that volunteering was positively associated with mental health during early adulthood to mid-adulthood.” However, a positive association with mental health became more apparent after around 40 years of age and “continued up to old age.” This same study reveals that even for those of us who participate minimally in volunteering activities appear to have better mental well-being compared to those who don’t volunteer at all. Those who never volunteered had “lower levels of mental well-being starting around midlife and continuing in old age compared to those involved in volunteering.”

As with any life-changing resolution we embark in this new year, taking small, incremental steps to achieve our personal objectives is often underestimated. Yes, making massive changes sounds great for many of us, but this can also cause most of us to give up before we ever start.

It’s never too late to amend your 2017 resolutions. Volunteering your time will have a positive impact on your neighbors, community – and yes, even your own health!

To learn more, we invite you to subscribe to our blog.

Employers Role in Patient Safety

Uncomfortable-ShoesHealth premiums paid by employers and their employees are profoundly impacted by health costs, especially when the care was inappropriately delivered.

Since the release of Heartland Health Research Institute’s Silently Harmed white papers, a number of employers have inquired about how they can influence patient safety practices in the hospitals that serve their communities.

To be clear, there are no easy answers. Employers are deservedly frustrated with the perceived leverage they have to influence necessary progress on this issue that dually impacts costs, and most importantly, lives. When it comes to patient safety, there appears to be just enough self-interest group regulation that precludes the public from igniting a patient revolution.

It has been said that revolutions never happen in comfortable shoes – and so it goes with healthcare.

Healthy organizations require healthy employees. From the employer perspective, ‘patient safety’ should be equally balanced with two other initiatives: affordability and high-quality outcomes. This ‘holy trinity’ of value – cost, quality and safety – serve as the cohesive bond for all payers – government, carriers and employers. Armed with the right information, employers can play a proactive role in changing the healthcare delivery landscape that is currently going through a seismic evolution (if not a revolution). In fact, now is the time for employers to inject their influence to a mammoth industry that requires major disruption.

Employers, assisted by carriers, can begin to craft health plans that reward safety practices and discourage (or penalize) non-compliance, urging hospital boards to make patient safety a priority. This can be done by insisting that providers implement safety measures that demonstrate adherence to patient safety cultures. By leveraging this new role, employers can educate their employees on how they can engage more effectively with their healthcare partners to receive better care. Distributing patient safety literature to employees and family members can serve as important reminders for patients to proactively seek care from providers who have proven to give the right care at the right time. Visiting the National Patient Safety Foundation website can be a great first step to increase awareness about patient safety issues. There are many other organizations promoting quality and safety measures, such as The Leapfrog Group, which cleverly includes a ‘hidden surcharge calculator‘ for Leapfrog members to calculate their average annual hidden hospital surcharge resulting from medical errors.

Iowa is served by very capable and well-intentioned providers. But the question is not as much about the people who care for us, rather, the ‘systems’ in which they operate. Due largely to self-interest concerns, medicine is unable to regulate itself voluntarily – it needs a push from those who have much at stake – employers and other purchasers.

Employers can and must promote patient safety measures when purchasing health coverage. There is no better time than now for this to happen.

To stay abreast of employee benefits and other tangential issues, we invite you to subscribe to this blog.

‘Silently Harmed’ in Iowa – Bare Essentials

Silently-Harmed-IowaThe Silently Harmed white papers recently published by nonprofit, Heartland Health Research Institute, reveal a largely unknown problem in Iowa and nationwide. It is the number of patients seriously- and fatally-harmed in hospitals due to medical errors, also known as preventable adverse events (PAEs).

In addition to the state of Iowa, Silently Harmed provides estimated ranges of PAEs for a number of critical metrics in each of Iowa’s six neighboring states: Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wisconsin. The difference between patients seriously- or fatally-harmed in each of the seven ‘Heartland’ states – as estimated in Silently Harmed – is a reflection of the number of inpatient admissions reported for each state – a metric primarily driven by state population.

Let’s review the highlights from Silently Harmed in Iowa.

Digging in-slide 1 (2)In 2012, hospitals in the United States had 34.8 million admissions, while during that same year, Iowa hospitals had about one percent of that number, or 340,000 admissions. It is important to note that Silently Harmed did not provide estimates for outpatient settings, such as doctors’ offices, nursing homes, outpatient surgeries, etc.

The annual estimated number of patients seriously- and fatally-harmed in U.S. hospitals due to PAEs is nothing short of staggering. Because PAEs go largely underreported or unreported, the national estimations vary wildly – primarily because the referenced national studies use a variety of research assumptions and methods that reach disparate conclusions that may or may not relate to each individual state. The slide below provides low- and high-end estimates for patients seriously- and fatally-harmed within U.S. hospitals.

Digging Deep Down

Seriously Harmed
From national estimates, HHRI extrapolated that as few as 64,500 patients are harmed in Iowa hospitals due to PAEs, with a high-end of 112,200 patients. The mid-range estimate of 85,000 patients are harmed in Iowa hospitals due to medical errors – enough to fill BOTH Kinnick Stadium and the Hilton Coliseum. Assuming the mid-range estimate is true, one patient is harmed every six minutes, or one in every four hospital admissions. In just one week, over 1,630 patients are harmed.

Seriously Harmed in Iowa

Fatally Harmed
Extrapolating from national estimated fatalities, annual Iowa fatalities from PAEs are 960 at the low-end, with 4,300 fatalities at the high-end. The mid-range estimate of 2,440 fatalities would mean that one fatality occurs every four hours, or one in every 139 admissions. Put another way, almost seven patients die from PAEs for every vehicle death in Iowa. For every murder in Iowa, 57 die from medical errors.

Fatally Harmed in Iowa

Social Cost of Mistakes
According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, poor quality of care costs employers between $1,900 – $2,250 per employee per year, or about one-third of the single-employer premium in Iowa. The social cost of medical mistakes is massive. Social cost is determined by the “value of a statistical life,” a term used by economists. The estimated social cost for injuries due to medical mistakes can range from $909 million to $1.6 billion annually – just in Iowa. For fatally-harmed patients, the social cost ranges from $5.3 billion to almost $24 billion annually.

Social Cost of Mistakes

The estimated numbers provided in this particular post, in addition to the specifics on how these numbers were determined, are found in our free white paper, Silently Harmed: Hospital Medical Errors in Iowa.

Since the release of the Silently Harmed white papers, a number of employers have inquired about how their role must evolve to influence patient safety practices in the hospitals that serve their communities. We will address the employer role regarding patient safety issues in an upcoming blog.

To stay abreast of employee benefits and other tangential issues, we invite you to subscribe to this blog.