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cylinder how health plans can tackle gi symptoms in the workplace

The new Cylinder 2024 State of Gut Health in the Workplace survey report highlights the toll gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms can take on employee job performance. Of note: 71% of Americans experience GI issues at least a few times a month. Among those employed, 72% reported being less productive at work when they experience GI issues.

In addition, 59% of those employed who experience GI issues at least a few times a month or who are diagnosed with a GI condition said they had missed a day of work, left early, or come in late due to GI issues.

Despite the prevalence of disruptive GI symptoms, many employees don’t feel comfortable discussing GI issues with their managers. At the same time, 67% of employees who experience GI issues at least a few times a month or are diagnosed with a GI condition wish their employer offered benefits and resources to manage their GI symptoms.

What can employers do to manage the costly but often invisible problems associated with GI symptoms, conditions, and diseases in the workplace?

This blog post highlights three best practices:

  • Culture: Employers can work with HR leaders to normalize conversations around GI issues so employees can address symptoms as they arise.
  • Education: Health plans can offer more access to the information workers need to understand their GI symptoms and seek treatment. Employers can focus on employee education about these resources (where, when, and how to use GI resources).
  • Benefits: Health plans and employers can seek GI-specific benefits designed to diagnose and treat GI issues while minimizing ER visits and maximizing medication adherence.

Here’s how each of these best practices might manifest across an organization.

Normalize GI Conversations

“It’s uncomfortable for people to talk about GI symptoms,” said Dr. Hau Liu, Cylinder’s Chief Medical Officer. “Because of that, many people don’t realize how common these symptoms are.”

One problem, he notes, is that GI symptoms can be disruptive. Nearly 60% of American employees who experience GI issues at least a few times a month or who are diagnosed with a GI condition said they had missed a day of work, left early, or came in late due to GI issues (1).

Yet, as our study found, 67% of employees who experience GI issues at least a few times a month or are diagnosed with a GI condition said they don’t feel comfortable discussing their GI issues with their manager at work (1).

One of the easiest ways employers can acknowledge this stigma and start to reverse it is by talking about GI issues more often.

This doesn’t mean that employees need to share detailed symptom updates. Sharing educational resources (including the Cylinder 2024 State of Gut Health in the Workplace survey report) about the prevalence of GI issues and how they can impact workplace performance is a great place to start.

If we don’t often talk about GI symptoms, experiencing them can isolate employees. But when employees with regular GI discomfort know their experience is shared by many of their peers, it can be a relief – and a gateway to tackling the underlying issues.

Educate Employees About GI Symptoms and Treatment

GI symptoms are often stressful because even when an employee might have a good idea about what’s wrong, there’s often no clear path to finding a solution to manage the discomfort or pain.

For example, many people who experience digestive issues have food intolerances but don’t know which specific foods cause problems for them. When Cylinder members receive a food intolerance analysis, most are surprised to discover their trigger food culprit. Also, many members have incorrectly assumed they cannot tolerate certain foods but find those ‘suspected’ foods are tolerable once they work through the elimination diet process with their Cylinder care team.

While many people start their diagnosis and treatment journey with a primary care provider (PCP), digestive health issues can be complex and nebulous, causing employees to feel frustrated when they don’t get the care they need. For example, a study showed it takes an average of 6+ years of physician visits and medical tests to reach a diagnosis of IBS after the onset of symptoms.

This can also make the cost of managing GI symptoms much higher than necessary.

Many health plans include educational resources that employers can highlight for employees. Adding GI-specific resources empowers employees to find the care they need without going on a high-cost, high-utilization health care journey.

Lunch-and-learns, internal communications platforms, and webinars from brokers or HR teams can also provide employees with the information they need to seek appropriate care and relieve symptoms.

Provide Access to GI-Specific Benefits

GI issues often go undetected in health care claims data. The hidden costs are significant: GI issues cost $136 billion annually, which is more than heart disease ($113 billion), trauma ($103 billion), and mental health ($99 billion).

Addressing GI symptoms head-on is key to managing these costs. Ideally, this includes access to benefits that give employees a team of providers who work collaboratively to tackle GI issues.

For example, Cylinder members receiving GI-focused benefits have dedicated access to a coordinated team of care professionals, including Registered Dietitians, Health Coaches, and physicians who help employees manage digestive health. This comprehensive approach helps Cylinder members get the right care at the right time, often faster than possible compared to traditional health care settings.

While coordinated care can benefit anyone experiencing GI symptoms, the right treatments vary widely from person to person. Therefore, GI-focused benefits must include evidence-based clinical pathways personalized to each patient’s needs.

These benefits should also include self-service tools and resources so employees can access information and guidance on demand, regardless of provider availability.

There’s evidence that offering such benefits also improves employee satisfaction. The Cylinder 2024 State of Gut Health in the Workplace report found that 67% of American employees who experience GI issues at least a few times a month or are diagnosed with a GI condition wish their employer offered benefits and resources to help manage GI symptoms.

Improve Productivity by Supporting Gut Health

No one does their best work when in pain, anxious, or concerned about medical bills. Providing resources to address GI issues can help employees reduce the discomfort those issues cause while minimizing the anxiety and cost associated with seeking solutions.

Given the right information, tools, and resources, the 71% of Americans who experience digestive issues at least a few times a month can resolve their symptoms, perform better at work, and – most importantly – enjoy a better quality of life. Employers and health plans can play a key role in providing that information.

Find out how or schedule a demo to learn how Cylinder can support your organization and employees.

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