The Stigma Of Overweight Healthcare Professionals
Written by Vince Han, CEO and Founder of Coach Alba
Influencing human behavior towards better health is not easy. Perhaps there is no better example of this than walking into a healthcare facility in the United States and seeing the irony of overweight healthcare staff working at the very venue that is supposed to represent health. As our collective consciousness becomes increasingly focused on the health (or lack thereof) of our citizens, it is no surprise that we are focusing more attention on this unfortunate hypocrisy.
Yet it is interesting that this hypocrisy does not seem to elicit the same public outcry when an elected public official is caught violating public trust or when a notable religious figure is guilty of immoral indiscretions. Why? Maybe it is because we can all empathize with the fact that getting healthy is really hard, even when our credibility is at stake. The statistics are telling: 95 percent of dieters gain their weight back and 9 out of 10 heart bypass surgery patients are back to old habits after just two years.
But despite our empathy, there is a cost to the way this looks. When an overweight doctor or nurse is prescribing healthy behaviors to a patient, the message is simply not received with the moral authority needed. Is it any wonder that the weight loss industry’s marketing messages of “quick fixes” and “take this pill” overwhelm the surer message of sustained behavior change?
Those that spend their time studying human behavior should not be surprised that hospitals struggle with this issue. There are several driving attributes about the hospital environment that are conducive to staff members making unhealthy choices:
When people experience stress, their bodies release hormones that encourage fat formation. Many people cope with stress by eating, which provides both physical and psychological relief.
The responsibilities that require health professionals to deal with life-threatening trauma and sick or cranky patients are naturally going to stress them out, in many cases for hours and hours at a time.
Dynamic for Lower Wage Employees
In the United States, obesity prevalence among women correlates with their level of income. As with any industry, hospitals have segments of workers who work long hours with wages that are a stone’s throw from national poverty thresholds. For example, consider a nurse aid who is a working single mother that faces tough health choices such as deciding between a convenient, inexpensive, and unhealthy fast food meal or finding the energy to cook a healthy meal for her family after working an exhausting shift.
Overweight health employees is becoming an increasing concern
Long Hours, Fatigue
Hospitals are open all day and all night. Employees who are subject to abnormal and fluctuating work schedules find it logistically challenging to maintain a reliable and healthy exercise and eating routine.
Proximity of Healthy Food Choices
Health conscious eaters may be consistently frustrated when visiting a hospital and seeing the lack of healthy food options in the cafeterias. Burgers, fries and sandwiches rich in calories are commonplace where fresh salads are more rare. Hungry staff members are limited to what is available on the premises and will eat what is most convenient.
Becoming Like One Another
A recent Harvard study concluded that if you have four obese friends, you are two times as likely to become obese yourself. Healthcare facilities with an existing obesity problem among its workforce have this extra hurdle to overcome; their population is a self-fulfilling prophecy, encouraging workers who are not obese to gain weight.
So what are hospitals doing to combat this problem? There are reports that some healthcare facilities are mandating levels of BMI as a requirement for employment. Yet not too many hospitals have the luxury or disposition for such draconian measures. However, as with any employer, the hospital is in a position of significant influence to have an impact on the health of its workforce. Most hospitals are investing in improving employee wellness programs designed to educate, motivate, and even compensate employees for achieving healthier personal outcomes. This undoubtedly will require several years of trial and error to see measurable improvement.
Any successful wellness program needs to start with a recognition and admission of these key attributes that promote unhealthy decisions. Hospital wellness directors would do well to focus on the long-term culture change that is required to create more forces that promote health than the forces that tempt staff to poor health. Popular one-off wellness activities like “Biggest Loser” weight loss competitions or pedometer-based walking contests may boost participation levels in the short-term, but these activities alone will only result in short-term results (remember that people more often gain the weight back that they lose).
Creating long-term measurable change requires that wellness become a corporate value, one that is fully recognized and supported by healthcare executives as part of the overall strategic mission and business plan. With all the recent talk of demanding better accountability from our healthcare system, the time is ideal for this important sea change to take place in our country and starting in our hospitals.
How healthcare can safeguard itself against cyberthreats
One of the most fundamental lessons from the COVID crisis is that health should always be a priority. In a similar fashion to the human body that frequently fights off viruses and foreign invaders that intend to cause it harm, the sector itself is now a prime target for another type of external threat: cyberattacks.
The figures speak for themselves: between December and January this year, hospitals in the UK were at 89% capacity, with 7,000 fewer available beds than there usually are. As the pandemic increased pressure on hospitals, clinics, and research facilities to create a treatment for patients globally, it has left the sector exposed to hackers who, like a virus, have been targeting it relentlessly and evolving their tactics.
From patient records being held ransom, to fake emails claiming to originate from the UN WHO, the NHS, or vaccine centres, through to attacks on the cold supply chain to find out the secret formula of the COVID vaccine, the healthcare industry is facing constant cyberattacks and struggling to cope. This threat is unlikely to go away anytime soon – and as such, the industry needs to take a proactive, preventative stance to stay safe in a dynamic digital world.
The responsive nature of healthcare – particularly of hospitals – means that efficiency is crucial to the industry’s standard operations. To support this, the sector has been embracing technological advancements that can improve the quality of work, enabling staff to meet pressing deadlines, and enhancing patient care. For example, the industry has been digitising records and improving its ways of working through digital means over the past few years.
This shift is critical to offer high quality patient care; yet, it also means the sector has become more dependent on IT, which can come with a risk if cybersecurity processes employed are deemed as inadequate.
Without the correct security measures in place, the desired efficiency gains realised, can be easily lost in a heartbeat. Simply put, an elementary glitch in the system can have a tremendous ripple effect on many areas, from accessing patient records and conducting scans, to maintaining physical security and protecting the intellectual property of experimental treatment development.
To prevent this, healthcare organisations need to ensure they’re considering cybersecurity as part of their overall digital transformation strategy – and setting the right foundations to create a culture where safety goes hand in hand with patient care.
Before implementing cybersecurity process, healthcare organisations need to assess the potential risks they face. Depending on how much confidential data the trust has, where it is stored, who has access to it and via which means, the cybersecurity strategy and associated solutions will change.
It’s fair to say that a medical device start-up where all employees have a corporate-sanctioned laptop and access data via a VPN will have radically different needs to a large hospital with hundreds of frontline workers connecting to the hospital’s Wi-Fi using their personal device.
These requirements will pale by comparison to a global pharmaceutical giant with offices in multiple locations, a large R&D department researching new treatments for complex diseases and a fully integrated supply chain. Considering the existing setup and what the organisations is looking to achieve with its digital transformation strategy will therefore have an immediate impact on the cybersecurity strategy.
Despite this, there are fundamentals that any organisation should implement:
Review and test your back-up policy to ensure it is thorough and sufficient – By checking that the organisation’s back-up is running smoothly, IT teams can limit any risks of disruption in the midst of an incident and of losing data permanently.
In our recent State of Email Security report, we found that six out of ten organisations have been victims of ransomware in 2020. As a result, afflicted organisations have lost an average of six days to downtime. One third of organisations even admitted that they failed to get their data back, despite paying the ransom. In the healthcare industry, this could mean losing valuable patient records or data related to new treatments – two areas the sector cannot afford to be cavalier about.
Conduct due diligence across the organisation’s supply chain – Healthcare organisations should review their ways of working with partners, providers and regulatory institutions they work with in order to prevent any weak link in their cybersecurity chain. Without this due diligence, organisations leave themselves exposed to the risks of third party-led incidents.
Roll out mandatory cybersecurity awareness training - Healthcare organisations shouldn’t neglect the training and awareness of their entire staff – including frontline workers who may not access the corporate network on a regular basis. According to our State of Email Security report, only one fifth of organisations carry out ongoing cyber awareness training.
This suggests it is not widely considered as a fundamental part of most organisations cyber-resilience strategy, despite the fact many employees rely on their organisation’s corporate network to work. By providing systematic training, healthcare organisations can help workers at all levels better understand the current cyberthreats they face, how they could impact their organisation, the role they play in defending the networks, and develop consistent, good cybersecurity hygiene habits to limit the risks of incidents.
Consider a degree of separation – Information and Operational Technology (IT and OT) networks should be separated.
Although mutually supported and reliance on each other, employees shouldn’t be accessing one via the other. This should be complemented by a considered tried and tested contingency and resiliency plan that allows crucial services to function unabated should there be a compromise. Similarly, admin terminals should not have internet access to afford a degree of hardening and protection for these critical accounts.
As the sector becomes a common target for fraudulent and malicious activity, putting cybersecurity at the core of the organisation’s operations is critical. It will help limit the risks of disruption due to cyberattacks, reduce time spent by the cybersecurity team to resolve easily avoidable errors, and ensure that institutions can deliver patient care, safe in the knowledge that their networks are safe.
Fighting future threats
With technology continuing to change the face of healthcare, the surface area and vectors available for attacks by malicious actors is constantly increasing. With the introduction of apps, networked monitoring devices, and a need for communication, the attack vector is ever expanding, a trend that needs to be monitored and secured against.
To prevent any damage to patients, staff, or the organisation they are responsible for, healthcare leaders must put security front and centre of their digital transformation strategy. Only then can the sector harness the full benefits of technology. Doing this should include implementing cybersecurity awareness training to challenge misconceptions around security, encourage conversation, and to ensure employee knowledge of the security basics and threats faced.
This ultimately allows healthcare organisations to do what they do best: provide the highest standard of patient care, safe in the knowledge that their operations, patients, and data are safe.