Biometric screenings have increasingly become the go-to tool of employee wellness programs. The screenings are a series of tests designed to offer a snapshot of an individual’s overall health.
Biometric screenings take a number of health measurements including height, weight, body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose levels. Each measurement is part of a workplace health assessment that can serve as a wellness benchmark and to evaluate changes in employee health status over time.
For the University of Rochester Employee Wellness (UR-EW) program, biometric screenings are among the most important programs offered. In touting the importance of the screenings, Clinical Director Lisa Norsen says the tests provide a general snapshot of overall health for individuals. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, the tests provide health care professionals with information that can determine if the patient is at a particular risk for cardiovascular disease.
“[Biometric screenings] can help us figure out what kind of care to implement immediately and what other kinds of programs could be useful for an employee,” Norsen says.
Those additional programs offered through the UR-EW system can provide employees the correct information and guidance to get a handle on any health issues, particularly if it’s cardiovascular-related. Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S. and, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is responsible for one of every four deaths in the U.S.
With these increasing concerns, as well as other growing chronic illnesses like Type 2 diabetes, Norsen says the screenings are an important part of maintaining optimal wellness. However, she stresses a screening is not a diagnostic test. That should be addressed by a primary care physician.
“This is a secondary prevention measure,” Norsen says. “It helps identify early risks.”
Because the screenings are so important to help maintain health, it’s crucial that people understand what is being measured. Norsen points out there are key measurements taken during the biometric screening, and four of them are critical to provide an overall picture of health. The four keys are lipid profile, glucose screening, BMI and blood pressure.
The lipid profile provides a total cholesterol reading that includes LDL, HDL or “good cholesterol” and triglycerides. The screening includes a composite measure of all different kinds of cholesterol in blood. A total cholesterol level of less than 200 is recommended. Test results can determine if treatment is necessary to adjust cholesterol levels and if a patient is prone to illnesses including cardiovascular disease, some genetic diseases or pancreatitis.
This test determines the amount of sugar levels in the blood. Norsen says this test is essential in determining risks for diabetes.
“We want people to avoid diabetes at all costs due to its relationship with cardiovascular issues,” she says. “Type 2 diabetes is probably the most important risk factor for cardiovascular as well as chronic diseases. We want to do everything we can to take the steps necessary to avoid diabetes.”
A body mass index reading is an accurate proxy for many people to determine obesity, Norsen says. Although the measurement is not accurate for some people, for example, those with lots of muscle mass or pregnant women, it can provide information to help patients with weight management and weight loss.
A one-time blood pressure reading does not provide an accurate assessment of whether or not someone may have hypertension. Norsen says it takes multiple readings over time to determine this. People can benefit from availing themselves of over-the-counter blood pressure machines or using cuffs available in drug stores and some shopping malls. At the end of 2017, the American Heart Association released new guidelines on blood pressure that lower the definition of high blood pressure to encourage earlier preventative measures. High blood pressure can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, congestive heart failure and stroke. Under the new guidelines a normal blood pressure is 120/80.
“When we put all of these things together to gain that overall picture of health we can then focus on lifestyle changes, which are things that make people healthier and either avoid cardiovascular issues or manage them,” Norsen says.
Once the screening is done the UR-EW nurses can provide greater assistance in helping people with their wellness concerns. Key areas to now dive into include nutrition, exercise, sleep, hydration, stress control and work-life balance. Each of those are significant focuses of the lifestyle management programs offered through UR-EW.
If a patient needs to be set on a new wellness path, the UR-EW staff can provide assistance in changing behaviors and patterns. Norsen says small changes are the most meaningful. Those who make too many changes too quickly “fall off the wagon and don’t know how to get back on.”
“It can take months to really bring change to your routine,” Norsen says. “If you do things in small increments you can make lasting and effective change. We also help people recognize that there are days you won’t do things well. It’s all part of the experience.”
Collectively, the factors that contribute to cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar and obesity, are referred to as metabolic syndrome. While a diagnosis of one symptom doesn’t mean a patient has metabolic syndrome, it does indicate a higher risk for cardiovascular issues.
Genetics can play a role, as well, in whether or not one is prone to one or more of these conditions. Despite those predispositions, it’s important to take a look at these concerns together as they can each increase the likelihood of cardiovascular disease.
“There are things we can’t change,” she says. “We can’t change who our mom and dad are, but there are changes that we can make to affect our health. You can move the dial on your cholesterol numbers. You can positively affect your blood pressure. You can lose weight.”
The UR-EW programs focus on lifestyle changes that provide patients and clients with the tools to address these issues.
“We take control of those things that can be controlled,” she says. “Mindfulness, which is one of our key focuses, is about understanding your limits and taking control of those things you can. Through our coaching conversations we give patients the skills and confidence so they can manage and take control of the things that are modifiable.”