How a ‘nudge’ can aid health of employees

A radiology technician works inside a mobile mammogram clinic in Abu Dhabi (Silvia Razgova / The National)
A radiology technician works inside a mobile mammogram clinic in Abu Dhabi (Silvia Razgova / The National)

This newspaper’s report yesterday on how few women heed warnings to have regular breast screenings is deeply concerning, for a number of reasons. Chief among them is how high the success rate for a full recovery is, as long as the cancer is caught in its early stages. Unfortunately, as a leading doctor noted in our report, the overwhelming majority of breast cancer patients – 85 per cent – only visited doctors when the disease was in its later stages.

That tendency is, unfortunately, not confined to breast cancer. There is a more general issue of prevention versus cure – the mindset of people in the UAE appears to be of seeking medical assistance only after a problem has become too serious to ignore. There is a lack of a “pro active” mentality in seeking to be healthy.

One way is to seek policy levers that can be used to affect wider behaviour – slight “nudges” that can persuade people to be more aware of their health, or to increase the costs of not doing so.

Insurance premiums are one powerful lever. In the United States, for example, insurance companies will reduce premiums for those who sign up for a gym. In the UAE, insurance premiums are usually borne by companies, not individuals. But there, too, there are options.

Since it is in the interest of companies to make sure their workforce is healthy, companies could put on smoking cessation campaigns, or group fitness outings. For larger companies, subsidised healthy meals or subsidised gym memberships could be an option. Some companies could find even simply providing space for bike storage would help – others may want to push a cycle-to-work campaign.

On a more mundane level, simply reminding employees to get regular health screenings, and specifically breast, colon and prostate screenings after particular ages, would be helpful.

All of this would only be possible if insurance companies responded by providing different corporate premium prices depending on companies’ health initiatives. But with government bearing such a large cost through Daman and Thiqa, it is certainly something that could be explored. Health is, of course, an individual responsibility, but companies can be involved in helping their employees help themselves.

Published: September 18, 2016 04:00 AM