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Survey: Employer wellness programs reveal undiagnosed chronic conditions (Updated)

About 8.1 million people have undiagnosed diabetes, accounting for more than one-quarter of the diabetes population, according to the CDC.

Update A survey by HealthMine of sponsored wellness plan participants revealed that 46 percent of the people who discovered they had a previously undiagnosed chronic condition received the diagnosis through their employer wellness program.

Nearly one third of the 750 participants in the survey were diagnosed with a chronic condition.

It’s a reminder of the huge problem of people with undiagnosed chronic conditions and how screnings can catch these conditions to help people better manage them earlier.

One of the reasons why insurers are so interested in predictive analytics is so they can connect the dots between patient claims data and their risk factors to identify people with pre-diabetes or hypertension or congestive heart failure. If people with these conditions can be diagnosed sooner, the cost of treatment with preventive care and better management is much lower compared with an advanced condition and the costly complications that can accompany them.

About 8.1 million people have undiagnosed diabetes, accounting for more than one-quarter of the diabetes population, according to the CDC.

HealthMine did not specify how the participants discovered they had a chronic condition, but many wellness programs have health screenings and in some cases participants are encouraged to get tested for things like blood pressure and cholesterol.

In a survey earlier this year, the company found that three-quarters of the 1,200 participants agreed that genetic testing should be included in wellness programs so that they could find out what their predisposition to chronic conditions is. From what I could see, in an albeit cursory search, Aetna is the insurer pushing the boat out on the genetic testing front but others are likely to warm up to the idea.

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So what kind of health screenings would people like to see in their employer wellness programs? The Healthmine survey revealed vision (74 percent) at the top of the list followed by blood pressure (73 percent). Cholesterol (69 percent ), cancer ( 58 percent), and hearing (58 percent) are also priorities.

Despite the strong interest in genetic testing for employer wellness programs, according to HealthMine’s survey, it’s an area fraught with pitfalls. Laws on the books prohibit companies from discrimination, based on genetics. Yet what would companies do with this information? Just by making the information more available involves taking on board additional risks. As employer wellness programs become increasingly sophisticated with the kind of data they can generate, companies will need to make challenging decisions balancing the personal choices of their employees and the need to keep them healthy.

Photo: BigStock Photos

Update: An earlier version of the story incorrectly reported that nearly half of the 750 people surveyed had been diagnosed with a chronic condition through their wellness plan.