Employers Should Target STD Prevention, Screening and Early Treatment in the Workplace
STDs are costing U.S. employers "just as much as more socially acceptable medical conditions," but few companies are addressing the issue with their workers, the July/August issue of Business & Health reports. At a recent Washington Business Group on Health conference, panelists representing governmental and not-for-profit public health agencies and American corporations held a session on the ramifications of STDs among employees. They pointed out that direct medical costs for screening and treating the diseases (not including HIV/AIDS) total more than $8 billion a year. Targeting management of STDs is "far less common" than for other ailments, but "offers a great return on investment," Roger Merrill, Perdue Farms' corporate medical director, said. He added, "As a practical matter, women are getting Pap smears anyway. The cost of screening for other STDs is very small, early treatment is cheap and it's really expensive if you don't do it." At Perdue Farms, many female employees receive their annual Pap smear at a company wellness center, where they can be screened for other STDs as well.
'Talking Openly' to Remove Stigma
"[T]alking openly" about STDs while still recognizing and respecting workers' confidential needs is another way to help remove the stigma attached to STDs, Business & Health reports. For example, IBM's Intranet site offers workers STD information. Posting STD hotlines or informing employees that the National Committee for Quality Assurance has added chlamydia screening to its list of Health Plan Employer Data and Information Set criteria are good ways to approach the subject, the journal says. Employers can also "see what [they're] buying from [their] health plan," Cathleen Walsh of the CDC's Division of STD Prevention said, noting George Washington University's Center for Health Services Research and Policy publishes purchasing specifications that may help employers contract for STD prevention and clinical treatment. These specifications cover prevention, diagnosis, treatment, counseling and confidentiality provisions and are available online. Walsh added that an additional key provision is allowing employees immediate access to treatment. Although young women are at greatest risk for contracting STDs, Business & Health notes that firms employing older workers also need to have STD resources available to employees, as STD complications may be lifelong and more Americans are divorcing and reentering the dating scene. Further, employer campaigns focusing on education, prevention and early treatment can help protect workers' children (Lippman, Business & Health, July/Aug 2001).