OSHA Comes Out Swinging in Favor of Distracted Driving Employer Policies

One text or call could wreck it allIt’s official: distracted driving is a prominent and serious threat to employee safety, and the Department of Labor is pulling out the big guns to tackle the problem.  Last week, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis announced the DOL’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration will partner with the Department of Transportation for a new initiative combating distracted driving.  Sec. Solis specifically called out American employers, challenging them to do more to discourage employee cell phone use while driving.

On Monday, OSHA took its first step toward fulfilling its new mandate, launching an online resource aimed at reducing work-related distracted driving:http://www.osha.gov/distracted-driving.  The new website will educate employees on their rights to a safe, hazard-free work environment – and employers of their responsibility to maintain that safe workplace.

Announcing the new website, Assistant Secretary of Labor Dr. David Michaels said, “OSHA’s message to all companies whose employees drive on the job is straightforward: It is your responsibility and legal obligation to have a clear, unequivocal and enforced policy against texting while driving.”

OSHA is putting employers on notice: create an employee cell phone use policy andenforce it.  The hallmark of modern business is constant connectivity – which puts a burden on employees to be immediately responsive to client or supervisor requests.  To be compliant with federal safety regulations, however, employers will have to face distracted driving head-on.  It’s not enough to implement a paper policy prohibiting employees from texting or emailing while driving.  OSHA’s new initiative says that employers are responsible for ensuring that their workers observe those prohibitions.   Leveraging safe driving technology to ensure that compliance is one simple way employers can meet these new safety requirements.

Los Angeles Is Betting On One Crusading Doc To Turn Public Health System Around

By Sarah Varney, KQED        APR 24, 2012

Los Angeles, CA, United States (KaiserHealth) – It would be easy to confuse Dr. Mitch Katz with any other doctor at the Roybal Comprehensive Health Center in East Los Angeles. His desk in a closet-sized, windowless office is littered with patient records, x-rays and cans of Diet Coke.

photo of Dr. Mike Katz
Dr. Mitch Katz rides his bike to work, defying the commuting norm in Los Angeles. (Photo by Michael Wilson/L.A.County Health Services Dept.)

Dr. Mitch Katz rides his bike to work, defying the commuting norm in Los Angeles. (Photo by Michael Wilson/L.A.County Health Services Dept.)

His everyman demeanor belies his stature: As director of the county’s Department of Health Services, Katz oversees LA’s public hospitals and clinics, the health care of last resort for millions of low-income Angelenos. He has 22,000 employees and a $3.7-billion dollar budget.

Los Angeles, the nation’s second largest city with some 2 million uninsured residents, has long had one of the most disorganized systems. To fix it, Katz, the former director of San Francisco’s health department, insists on seeing patients at this public health clinic one afternoon a week. It’s a demand that struck many as odd, if not impossible. How would Katz have time to treat patients with a system in ruin? Katz is starting one clinic at a time.

On a recent morning, Katz sits opposite his patient, a middle-aged man who is a bundle of nerves. Katz speaks Spanish with his native Brooklyn accent and patiently explains the possible causes of his tumor and what he hopes a visit to a lung specialist will reveal.

“I wanted him to know that he would never be abandoned or alone figuring it out. My view is that this lowers people’s anxiety levels and they don’t wind up in the emergency room because now they’re very frightened about what they have. They need a plan,” he explained.

Katz’s primary aim though, and what he came to Los Angeles to do, is to steer low-income Angelenos away from the overburdened emergency rooms they’ve long relied upon and into primary care clinics where costs are lower, chronic diseases can be managed and problems, like a tumor, can be detected earlier.

He says that when he took the job, “they sent me the LA org chart, I said where’s primary care? They said, ‘Well, it’s under the hospitals.’ [I said] Well, that may explain why you have a problem with primary care!”

It didn’t take long for that to change: In the last six months, his team has assigned nearly 250,000 people to a primary care doctor at county clinics, he says, adding: “In fact, I didn’t have to hire a single additional doctor. What I did is say: ‘No, we’re not running this anymore as a drop-in, see-who-you-see-and-no-one-is-responsible’ system.”

Katz’s predecessors promised many of the same reforms, but government observers here say they were stymied by a Board of Supervisors which often governs Los Angeles like five competing fiefdoms.

Continue reading Los Angeles Is Betting On One Crusading Doc To Turn Public Health System Around

New Workplace Wellness Kit from U.S. Chamber

Employers are the bedrock of our current health care system. Nearly 55% of Americans, totaling 169 million individuals, receive health insurance through their employer. As the largest purchasers of health care, employers, both large and small, are uniquely situated to help provide leadership in finding solutions, and can exert transformative change.

Workplace wellness programs are a win-win for both the employer and employees. Employees who participate in workplace wellness programs are fitter, more productive, have better morale, and are safer than employees who do not otherwise treat their chronic conditions. Employers who offer wellness initiatives have achieved excellent returns on their investment.  Programs that follow best practice guidelines return $2 to $3 dollars for each dollar invested.

Please read this brochure
 for instructional steps on how to set up a workplace wellness program.

Instructional Video
Listen to an expert in the field, Anne Marie Ludovici-Connolly, give a brief tutorial on how to set up a workplace wellness program. Ms. Ludovici-Connolly is a subject matter expert in health, wellness and prevention, and author of Winning Health Promotions Strategies, a how-to guide on how to plan, develop, and implement successful worksite wellness programs.


Time to Play Games at Work?

Gamification Boosts Employee Health Behavior.  Blue Shield of California finds social apps and rewards engage its employees in wellness programs, sees potential for its insurance customers.

Sign that reads, Video Games why waste good technology on science and medicineBy Ken Terry  InformationWeek

April 19, 2012 12:30 PM

A major West Coast health plan has jumped on the social gaming/networking trend in fitness and wellness applications. Blue Shield of California is already offering one such program to its employees and will soon provide two more. The company is also trying to sell its employer customers on the idea that this approach can help engage workers in their own healthcare.

Blue Shield launched Wellvolution, a wellness initiative for its own employees, in 2009. This program had some impact, but the company eventually realized that it could do even better, Bryce Williams, director of Wellvolution, told InformationHealth Healthcare.

Recent research had shown the power of social connectedness in improving health outcomes, and mobile health apps were suddenly catching on among consumers. “So it made sense to take the technology that people were already using and comfortable with and migrate that to a health platform that included social media and social gaming,” Williams explained.

Blue Shield’s first move was to try an application called Shape Up Shield that focuses on increasing physical activity. “This is an eight-week-long, social-media-fueled challenge that uses an online platform to let employees form teams, post comments in forums, set team and personal fitness goals, and give virtual ‘high fives’ for encouragement,” a Blue Shield spokesman said. “In 2011, over 1,800 Shape Up Shield participants walked, hiked and ran 600 million steps,” about 300,000 miles.

[ To find out which medical apps doctors and patients are turning to, see 9 Mobile Health Apps Worth A Closer Look. ]

One of Blue Shield’s new programs, The Daily Challenge from MeYou Health, is similar to Shape Up Shield, in that it uses social media, including Facebook, to make wellness fun. But instead of confining itself to physical exercise, it gives participants a series of individually tailored Daily Challenges, Williams noted. The Daily Challenge is “a simple activity that improves your wellbeing.” That might be physical, emotional, or mental, he said. (The MeYou website says, “the Daily Challenge promotes everyday wellbeing by encouraging the small actions and fostering the social ties that drive meaningful change.”) MeYou’s program features the hallmarks of social gaming, such as points, badges, status, and progression.

Another application, Healthrageous, uses mobile devices to get patients involved in wellness and chronic disease care. Based on personal data collected on these devices, Healthrageous advises and supports patients in meeting their health goals. The program also includes a social media element: participants can compete and share their experiences online. Continue reading Time to Play Games at Work?

Paging Dr. Facebook and Nurse Twitter

U.S. consumers turn to Facebook, Twitter for healthcare answers

by Lucas MearianComputerworld   Apr 17, 2012 9:00 am

Editor’s Note: This story is excerpted from Computerworld. For more Mac coverage, visitComputerworld’s Macintosh Knowledge Center.

Photo of nurse with Twitter logo on uniformA third of U.S. consumers now use social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to seek medical information and track and share symptoms. They’re also using the sites to vent about doctors, drugs, treatments, medical devices and health plans.

The survey of 1040 U.S. consumers was put together by consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and includes data from a separate survey of healthcare and pharmaceutical executives on how social media is used in their business strategies.

Not unexpectedly, young adults rely on social networks for healthcare information far more than older Americans. The survey found that more than 80 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 24 said they’re likely to share health information through social media channels—and nearly 90 percent said they would trust information found there.

By comparison, less than half (45 percent) of those surveyed between the ages of 45 and 64 said they’re likely to share health information via social media.

The PwC report showed that four in ten consumers have used social media to find health-related consumer reviews of treatments or doctors; one in three have sought information related to other patients’ experiences with their disease; and one in four have posted comments about their health experience.

“The power of social media for health organizations is in listening and engaging with consumers on their terms,” Kelly Barnes, U.S. Health Industries leader at PwC, said in a statement. “Social media has created a new customer service access point where consumers expect an immediate response.”

And 72 percent of those surveyed said they would use social networks for scheduling doctor visits and nearly half said they would expect a response within a few hours after doing so. Continue reading Paging Dr. Facebook and Nurse Twitter

Is Sugar the Next Political Healthcare Football?

Still Sour: Sugar Politics vs. Health and the Economy

photo of of sugar cubes with skull and crossbones poison iconEvery morning I put about half a teaspoon of sugar in my coffee. And I love it. That is the single use I have for the stuff, although I’m aware it’s contained, and often hidden, in so many forms in other things I eat or drink, even though I have always been a healthy eater.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta of 60 Minutes just did a segment titled “Sugar and Kids – The Toxic Truth” Almost a year ago, the New York Times Magazine featured a cover story titled “Is Sugar Toxic?”  wherein University of California pediatrics professor Robert Lustig, featured in both these reports, basically answers with an emphatic “yes.”

I’ve been a little reluctant to apply the term “toxic” to sugar, as that often seems to imply that a substance is unhealthy, even deadly, at any level — “the dose makes the poison” is the longstanding toxicological maxim. But that maxim is being challenged on a number of fronts, particularly some industrial chemicals that can impact our health at much lower levels than previously suspected. Plus, we now have to consider the time we are exposed — kids, even embryos, can be particularly vulnerable to some substances, even sugar. But semantics should not be the issue here; if sugar, at levels it is being consumed by many kids and adults, is causing obesity, diabetes, and a host of other conditions, “toxic” might well apply. And thus, when Lustig and his colleagues recommend taxes, controlling access, and restrictions on sales of high sugar products in schools and workplaces, it increasingly makes sense.

One thing is undeniable, though — the politics of sugar can be toxic. When San Francisco considered a penny tax on sodas last year, a couple of reactions were predictable. First, an outburst of mostly anonymous online comments in a frenzy reminiscent of a group of preschool children who had consumed too much sugar. Second came denunciations by the soda industry and at least one so-called “consumer” group funded by them. Continue reading Is Sugar the Next Political Healthcare Football?

Can Vitamin Zzzzzzzzzzzz Prevent Disease?

Scientific evidence is growing that adequate sleep is critical in working safely and maintaining optimal health.
 A recent study warns that a growing number of Americans are not getting enough sleep. This trend for shorter sleep is likely linked to global competition on

illustrated effects of sleep deprivation

businesses, cost of living increases pushing workers to work longer hours, as well as personal choice to spend time on other activities besides sleep because of a lack of knowledge about the importance of sleep…

Inadequate sleep has critical negative impacts on the workplace. The risks from fatigued workers are broad reaching and extend from workers to employers and society. Risks to employers include reduced productivity and increases in worker errors and incidents ranging from medical errors to industrial disasters. Fatigue is a recognized risk factor for vehicle crashes and has been implicated in well-known disasters such as the 2009 Buffalo jet crash and the 2005 BP Texas City explosion.

In December 2010, Healthy People 2020, the US national public health goals for the next 10 years, launched a new chapter for Sleep Health. There are four objectives: 1) increase the proportion of persons with symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea who seek medical evaluation; 2) reduce the rate of vehicular crashes due to drowsy driving; 3) increase the proportion of students in grades 9 through 12 who get 8 or more hours sleep each day; and, 4) increase the proportion of adults who get 7 or more hours sleep each day. NIOSH scientists are working on training programs to improve fatigue and sleep-related issues for workplaces. These will be added to the NIOSH topic page for work schedules as they become available (http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/workschedules/). Check out the latest entry on the NIOSH Science Blog related to Sleep and Work http://blogs.cdc.gov/niosh-science-blog/2012/03/sleep-and-work/

For more tips on improving sleep and to learn what scientists are doing to improve societal well-being through sleep research, check out:

Setting Insurance Costs Via Annual Checkup?

Employee Healthcare Costs Continue to Rise
Employee Healthcare Costs Continue to Rise

Once a year, employees of the Swiss Village Retirement Community in Berne, Ind., have a checkup that will help determine how much they pay for health coverage. Those who don’t smoke, aren’t obese and whose blood pressure and cholesterol fall below specific levels get to shave as much as $2,000 off their annual health insurance deductibles.

By William Rozier, for USA TODAY

At Chicago-based Jones Lang LaSalle, a real estate firm, workers can earn up to $300 in cash for having a physical and hitting certain medical goals, or completing health coaching programs.

Gone are the days of just signing up for health insurance and hoping you don’t have to use it. Now, more employees are being asked to roll up their sleeves for medical tests — and to exercise, participate in disease-management programs and quit smoking to qualify for hundreds, even thousands of dollars’ worth of premium or deductible discounts.

Proponents say such plans offer people a financial incentive to make healthier choices and manage chronic conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes, which are driving up health care costs in the USA. Even so, studies of the effect of such policies on lifestyle changes are inconclusive. And advocates for people with chronic health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, fear that tying premium costs directly to test results could lead to discrimination.
MORE: Kaiser Health News

Continue reading Setting Insurance Costs Via Annual Checkup?