What is Medical Self-Care and Why It’s a Win-Win-Win Scenario

The term “Medical Self-Care” can be defined in a variety of fashions but our CEO, Dr. Don Powell (biosketch) put it best when he was asked to define it by the Wellness Council of America (WELCOA) as part of their expert interview series.

“Medical self-care is a series of behaviors that a person engages in when they experience physical or psychological symptoms. Medical self-care enables consumers to make a more informed decision about whether they can treat their symptoms themselves or if they should seek professional medical care. Medical self-care tends to be utilized more for everyday health problems as opposed to chronic conditions. I also distinguish medical self-care from medical consumerism. I view medical consumerism as helping people to better understand and interact with the health care system, rather than what to do for specific symptoms.”

Fundamentally, Medical self-care is a type of wellness program that encourages employees to decide what to do for themselves with or without provider assistance. These various programs are unique in that they are rather inexpensive to provide but the savings they can produce are enormous; such is evidenced by the return on investment (ROI) analysis described in the myriad of journal articles on our website. It’s not uncommon for companies to experience anywhere from a 3:1 to as much as an 11:1 return-on-investment for a medical self-care program.

Additionally, the savings associated with medical self-care tends to be rather immediate in nature. Self-care is unlike a comprehensive wellness program, where we caution employers that they may have to wait two to four years before realizing a cost savings. The cost savings from a medical self-care program begins with the very first time an employee picks up the book and makes an informed decision, such as not going to the ER when they could perhaps wait 12 hours and go to the doctor’s office the next day. So a $788 visit now becomes a $206 visit—that’s $582 saved right at that moment for the employer. Some of the benefits that go along with the implementation of a self-care program are:

  • Reduced Physician and Emergency Room Visits
  • Reduced Health Care Costs
  • Reduced Absenteeism
  • Increased Productivity
  • Increased Patient Satisfaction
  • Increased Patient Empowerment and Self Efficiency

These benefits occur because medical self-care programs teach members/employees and their dependents to become wiser health care consumers. They learn to make better decisions about when to go to the doctor or emergency room (ER) and when they can treat themselves using self-care procedures. One of the unique things about a self-care program is that you don’t have to offer a financial incentive to increase participation. That’s because an employee saving time by not having to wait in a doctor’s office or emergency room and saving money by avoiding a co-payment, are incentives in and of themselves. With no incentive at all, research shows that anywhere from 50 to 75 percent of people will use a self-care book within the first six months of receiving it. Visit our website to learn more about the self-care books and guides that we currently have to offer and how they can be beneficial for your business.

When Dr. Powell was asked – “Given the dramatic increase in health care costs and the emphasis in organizations on escalating costs, more and more people are beginning to pay attention to medical self-care initiatives. How important from your perspective is a medical self-care initiative for the business community?” he responded by stating:

“I think medical self-care should be a core component of any wellness program. There is a variety of data that supports this from a business perspective. For the coming year alone, health care costs are set to increase by eight to nine percent (to about $11,000 per employee). We also know that there’s a great deal of excessive use of the health care system. The latest statistics suggest that at least 30 percent of all doctor visits are unnecessary. According to National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, there were 956 million doctor visits in 2008. So, you’re talking about 287 million unnecessary doctor visits at an average cost of $206 per visit. You also need to take ER visits into account. According to the 2010 National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, there were 124 million ER visits, and it’s estimated that about 55 percent of those are for non-emergent care, at an average cost of $788 per visit. So, when you consider these numbers, that’s a lot of money that could be saved for both employers and employees. Medical self-care is really a win-win-win scenario. When employees avoid unnecessary health care utilization they win because they save time and money on co-pays. The company wins because they’re saving money on health care and absenteeism costs. And lastly, health promotion practitioners and benefits professionals win because they receive a great deal of credit and thanks for implementing the medical self-care program.”

These are some of the reasons why we think medical self-care should be a core component of any wellness program and there is a variety of data to support this from a business perspective. Self-care initiatives should be offered to everyone, not just the 10 to 50 percent who fill out an HRA. Think about this for a moment:  Even if half of your employees never use the book, the other half who do will still product an overall return-on-investment for your organization. Don’t be discouraged that not ever employee uses a book that you’ve spent $6 to $7 on, because the employees who do use the book are likely to save you 3-10 times that amount.