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It may sound a bit Big Mother, but firms say this approach is necessary to constrain runaway medical costs. Surveys show that employees consistently want higher-quality health care, and so far, unions have not objected. To safeguard privacy, assistance is offered under strict guidelines, and compliance is voluntary. Pactiv Corp., the Chicago-based manufacturer of Hefty trash bags, may add some sugar to the medicine by offering chronically ill employees incentives to get well. "What if diabetic patients were to get free health-club benefits if they were willing to see a dietitian to control weight and check for eye problems, a frequent complication of the disease?" asks Michael Aldrich, head of benefits at Pactiv, another VitalSpring customer.
Hotel chain Wyndham International uses VitalSpring to identify not only diseases but also conditions that can aggravate existing health problems even though they might not show up as complicating factors in traditional data collection. A patient identified as having heart trouble might get a call from an independent nurse to check whether he is controlling his weight and getting enough exercise. "Stopping these things early is so much better--and cheaper," says Dixie Sweeney, the company's benefits boss. And there are indirect benefits. "Healthy employees are bound to be more productive, more motivated and miss fewer days of work," she adds.
So get well soon. The company is counting on it.