Influenza places a heavy burden on employers, who are highly likely to use the program for workers with specialized, hard-to-replace skills. Although it's less clear whether the scheme will catch on for more replaceable employees, companies may well view benefits that both save them money and please their employees as highly attractive.
US biotech ZymeTX will present its Flu Management Program to an audience of Fortune 500 companies next Monday at an Occupational Health Association meeting. The program, which includes vaccination, surveillance, rapid diagnosis and treatment, is backed by Edwards Medical Supply, the US' largest distributor of medical equipment to the occupational health market.
Seasonal influenza epidemics cause not only illness and death, but also a massive drain on the economy estimated at $12 billion for the US alone. Millions of workers are taken ill with flu each year, leading to absence from work and consequently a loss of productivity. It is therefore beneficial for companies to ensure the risk of their workers catching flu is minimized - representing an opportunity for ZymeTx's program.
ZymeTx is in a strong position to implement the program. It already markets a rapid diagnostic kit (ZstatFlu) for the detection of influenza infection, allowing treatment to be administered early enough for flu drugs to be effective. The firm also manages the National Flu Surveillance Network, which uses ZstatFlue to track influenza outbreaks across the US.
The Fortune 500 companies ZymeTX is targeting have the capital and desire to maintain employee health and satisfaction. Implementing ZymeTX's program will prove particularly helpful where employee caliber and specialized skills are irreplaceable. This does though highlight a potential problem in expanding this program beyond premium and blue chip occupational settings, where employee numbers are more important than individual skills and replacements are more easily brought in.
Nevertheless, amid growing awareness of the financial tolls of influenza, firms are expected to consider the scheme carefully as a potentially cost-saving device. Obviously healthcare benefits that are not only enticing for employees, but also work to save the company money, will be viewed as extremely attractive.