MaryheadshotDid you know that nearly nine out of ten adults may lack the skills needed to manage their health and prevent disease?

When it comes to health, ignorance isn’t bliss. Health education helps your employees understand their health and act on information to make good health decisions. Through education and awareness, your employees can connect the dots between their lifestyle choices and their health. Health education can positively affect employee behavior, improve health decisions, and ultimately lead to improved health outcomes.

Why your employees make unhealthy choices

It starts by accepting what we can, and cannot, control. External health factors like housing, transportation, employment, and education influence our overall health. My earlier blog, “Why your employees make unhealthy choices” digs into how your business can address these social determinants of health, but today we’ll focus on one piece of that puzzle: health education.

Recent studies showpersons with limited health literacy skills are more likely to skip important preventive measures such as mammograms, Pap smears, and flu shots. Studies have shown that patients with limited health literacy skills enter the healthcare system when they are sicker.” Plus, the Journal of General Internal Medicine shares that “ER patients with inadequate health education are twice as likely to be hospitalized as those with adequate health information.”

Read more: Social determinants are the root cause of health

Health education improves employee health

Here’s the good news: health education is one of the single most modifiable social determinants of health. As discussed in our recent white paper, helping people improve their health education can lead to lower stress levels, healthier learned behaviors, larger supportive social networks, and healthier neighborhoods. Knowledge is power, and when your workforce is informed about their health, they are empowered to improve it.

Health coaching engages employees in their health

One of our Healthy Like Me patients, Holly from Chesapeake Public Schools, says health information can be a wake-up call, but it can also feel overwhelming. To help your employees understand and act on their health information, worksite health coaches guide, support, and provide care by building trust with their patients.

Learn more: What is worksite health coaching?

Just last week I had a powerful experience with a patient that reinforces the need for health education.

I was health coaching a gentleman newly diagnosed with diabetes. As we reviewed guidelines around counting his carbohydrates, I asked some open-ended questions and learned he did not know the difference between a fruit and vegetable. When I asked him about the kinds of vegetables he prefers, he said strawberries and bananas.

I connect with my patients by listening to them with an empathetic ear. This helps me understand where they’re coming from and where they’d like to go. I begin to understand my patient’s health literacy, home life, routine, and goals. Only then can we take steps toward real, lasting behavioral change.

At the end of his appointment, my patient said to me, “How is it that I felt stupid walking in but I feel like this is doable when we talk?” By providing basic health education to help him identify which foods he could decrease or increase to better manage his diabetic nutrition, he felt empowered to improve his own health. It’s a simple approach that yields powerful results.

To learn more about how worksite healthcare can address your employees’ hurdles to health, read our latest white paper Moving Beyond Medicine

Download "Social Determinants Impact Employee Health"