Work-from-home culture slows progress in prostate cancer fight

Over the past two decades, corporate wellness programs have become an effective and efficient solution to help millions of employees. Benefits managers at thousands of companies across the country have been instrumental in promoting healthy behaviors in their organizations, improving access to preventative health services, and increasing the use of appropriate health screenings. In-person screenings at the office — before and after work, during lunchtime or during employee breaks — have become commonplace.

That changed when the Covid-19 pandemic shifted work from the office to employees’ homes. The same preventative screenings that were once offered in the workplace now required a visit 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 health care services than women and do not seek immediate treatment for many of their unique health conditions.

Reducing workplace testing has a practical consequence. For employers-managers of self-funded insurance plans, a new worry has arisen: Male employees who work from home haven’t had an in-person prostate screening in over a year. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the earlier prostate cancer is detected, the more likely a man will get effective treatment and remain disease-free. Losing a year in the fight against the disease is a potentially significant setback.

Prostate cancer screenings are not the only secondary precautions to take in the face of Covid-19. According to the American Cancer Society, the pandemic has caused the suspension of many elective procedures, including a substantial drop in all cancer screenings. Healthcare facilities 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 poses a particular threat to men. It mainly affects men over the age of 40. Overall, it is the second leading cause of cancer death among American men, behind lung cancer. The ACS predicts about 268,490 new cases of prostate cancer and 34,500 deaths in 2022.

Fortunately, prostate cancer is completely treatable, with a 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 place of the traditional rectal exam with a doctor. According to the ACS, PSA and rectal exams can be used as screening tools for prostate cancer.

But there are other aggravating factors that keep men from getting tested. In addition to the growing trend of working from home, 1 in 4 men do not have a primary care physician. Without this essential line of communication, men who need a prostate exam might not know they can get a PSA test from the comfort of their own home.

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

Employers have implemented a variety of digital health and telehealth solutions to help their employees manage and reverse chronic conditions. Subscriptions to smartphone apps that promote healthy behavior (Calm, Noom, and others) are often included in today’s perk packages. These offer a way around the doctor’s office barrier and are a great way to promote the health of employees working from home.

When it comes to prostate health, new solutions are also needed. It is important that men have easy access to discreet care. Combined with a telehealth appointment, a PSA exam can re-engage men with their prostate health without leaving their home office. Men are unlikely to take the initiative to schedule them themselves, so it is wise for employers to take advantage of technology to facilitate home screenings.

For men with undiagnosed prostate cancer, waiting for next year’s physical can be dangerous. Prostate cancers detected at stage IV have an average five-year survival rate of 28%. This is why it is essential to promote preventive solutions that meet the needs of an entire workforce.

Photo: Mainsail, Getty Images

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