September 17, 2007

Survey backs preventive health care

A quarter of Indian firms lose abut 14 per cent of their annual working days due to employees’ sickness and it is not only heart ailments but also mental stress, trauma and skin problems that are causing the productivity decline among the staff.

This has been reported in a recent survey, “Impact of Preventive Health Care on Indian Industry and Economy”, conducted by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) released this past week. The study was aimed at giving policy makers a perspective on the impact of preventive health care on Indian employees and their employer’s competitiveness and profitability.

The report indicates a strong relationship between preventive health care and corporate profitability. Eighty two per cent of firm respondents surveyed by ICRIER said preventive health care measures increased a company’s productivity and profitability.

In addition, researchers examined the role of health care delivery.

Almost all of those who had undergone preventive health check-ups felt that these were beneficial, with many reporting better quality of life and happiness at work.

Ninety one per cent of the respondents’ employees felt that it was a good idea that employers provide preventive health care vouchers to them for better performance at work. This study, being the first of its kind in India, is also being seen as a landmark study to overhaul the productivity and employee welfare environment in the country.

Said ICRIER director and chief executive Rajiv Kumar: “This is in some sense a continuation of the work ICRIER has been doing in the past on health economics, but in another sense it is a path-breaking study because we haven’t done anything yet on preventive health care and its impact on the productivity levels of the corporate sector.”

The study also highlights the fact that though the corporate sector has been quick to realise the benefits of preventive health care (two thirds of the companies surveyed have incorporated preventive health care in their corporate governance strategy), policy has lagged behind, and we do not yet have fiscal or other incentives that encourage prevention.

“While public spending on health has stagnated at 0.9 per cent of the GDP since the mid-1980s, and the government per capita health expenditure is one of the lowest in the world, the government should focus its limited resources towards the health of the poor, and provide tax exemptions to sections which can take care of their own health needs, specifically the corporate world. In a highly competitive environment, the corporate sector cannot afford the absence/poor performance of their employees due to sickness, caused by a sedentary lifestyle,” notes the report.

“India’s growth potential depends substantially on preventive health care, which can emerge as a cost effective mechanism,” adds the report.

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