The work-from-home culture is slowing progress in the fight against prostate cancer

The work-from-home culture is slowing progress in the fight against prostate cancer

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Corporate wellness programs over the past two decades have grown to be an effective and efficient solution to help millions of employees. Benefits leaders at thousands of companies nationwide have been instrumental in promoting healthy behaviors across their organizations, improving access to preventive health services, and increasing utilization of appropriate health screenings. In-person screenings at the office—before and after work, during lunchtime or during employee breaks—became commonplace.

That changed when the Covid-19 pandemic shifted work out of the office and into employees’ homes. The same preventive screenings that were once offered in the workplace now required a trip to the doctor. This had specific consequences for men, a subtle but significant effect of the new work-from-home culture. Studies have shown that men are less likely to use preventive healthcare services than women, and do not seek immediate treatment for many of their unique health problems.

With a reduction in workplace screenings comes a practical consequence. For the employer-managers of self-paid insurance plans, a new worry has emerged: Male employees who are working from home haven’t had an in-person prostate screening in more than a year. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the earlier prostate cancer is caught, the more likely it is for a man to get successful treatment and remain disease-free. Losing a year in the fight against the disease is a potentially significant setback.

Prostate cancer screenings aren’t the only precautions taking a back seat to Covid-19. According to the American Cancer Society, the pandemic resulted in many elective procedures being put on hold, including a substantial decline in all cancer screenings. Healthcare facilities have provided cancer screenings during the pandemic with many safety precautions in place, but men were reluctant to schedule such exams even before the pandemic began.

Prostate cancer presents a particular threat to men. It primarily afflicts men over the age of 40. Overall it’s the second-leading cause of cancer death among American men, behind only lung cancer. The ACS projects about 268,490 new cases of prostate cancer and 34,500 deaths in 2022.

Fortunately, prostate cancer is eminently treatable, with an expected five-year survival rate of 98%, according to the ACS. The prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test∞a take-home blood test—is commonly available in lieu of the traditional rectal examination with a doctor. According to the ACS, both the PSA and rectal exams can be used as prostate cancer screening tools.

But there are other compounding factors preventing men from getting screening. In addition to the growing work-from-home trend, 1 in 4 men do not have primary care doctors. Without this essential line of communication, men who need a prostate exam might not learn that they can take a PSA test from the comfort of their home.

This conundrum puts well-meaning executives in a similar place to where they began, when workplace screenings were first introduced. It is widely known that employee health directly affects performance. Think of the many wellness-focused solutions that exist to help an employee in his home office.

Employers have implemented a variety of digital health and telehealth solutions to help their employees manage and reverse chronic diseases. Subscriptions to smartphone apps that promote healthy behavior—Calm, Noom, and others—are often tucked into today’s benefit packages. These offer a way around the barrier of the doctor’s office, and are an excellent way to promote the health of work-from-home employees.

When it comes to prostate health, new solutions are needed as well. It’s important for men to have easy access to discrete care. Combined with a telehealth appointment, a PSA exam can reengage men with their prostate health without leaving their home office. Men are unlikely to take initiative to schedule these on their own, so it is wise for employers to take advantage of technology to facilitate at-home screenings.

For men who have undiagnosed prostate cancer, waiting until next year’s physical exam can be dangerous. Prostate cancers detected at Stage IV have an average five-year survival rate of 28%. That’s why it is essential to promote preventative solutions that meet an entire workforce’s needs.

Photo: Main_sail, Getty Images

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