Healthcare Technology Featured Article

January 11, 2013

Technology Can Help Prevent the Spread of Flu

Technology is now being seen as one of the best ways to prevent the spread of the current influenza outbreak.

Healthcare providers are treating an increasing number of patients suffering the ill-effects of the flu. The illness can require hospitalization and sometimes can even be fatal.

In addition, it leads to high rates of employee absenteeism and in total could cost the business sector in the billions of dollars, according to recent estimates.

Unfortunately, it is highly communicable – so there are ways to prevent it via the use of technology.

It is vital to keep computer keyboards clean. Employees are urged to wash their hands regularly and use anti-bacterial wipes to keep phone, keyboard and mouse all clean, according to a series of recommendations from Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. But the role of technology to stop the spread of the illness goes well beyond the use of anti-bacterial wipes.

Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., along with other human resources/public health experts, are asking whether teleconferencing and telecommuting solutions may not be one of the best ways to prevent the spread of the illness.

The firm recommends that workplaces consider the option to turn themselves into a largely a telecommuting workforce. That can be achieved by employees working from home with a computer and phone.  

For those essential employees who should report to the office, such as many retail workers and hands-on service providers, companies could put in place a three-foot minimum buffer between employees.

In addition, business meetings do not need to be face-to-face but there are numerous kinds of technology which allow for teleconferencing. Smaller meetings can be held through conference calls, and many companies may use video conferencing solutions. With inclement weather in the winter, this solution can be a real time-saver and cost reducer – beyond all of the health benefits.

There are about three months left in the flu season, and the outbreak has been called the worst flu season in a decade.

One reason why there is increased risk now is that employees are very concerned about job security and worry about staying home even if they are sick. “The economy is still on shaky ground and many workers continue to be worried about losing their jobs, despite the fact that annual layoffs are at the lowest level since the late 1990s.  In this environment, workers are reluctant to call in sick or even use vacation days.  Of course, this has significant negative consequences for the workplace, where the sick worker is not only performing at a reduced capacity but also likely to infect others,” John A. Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., said a statement from the firm.

“You want to encourage workers to stay home when they are sick so they do not spread illness to co-workers.  You also want them to stay home to care for sick children so they are not forced to go to school and spread the virus to other kids,” Challenger added.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends in a recent statement that those having flu-like illness should stay at home for at least 24 hours after a fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. The temperature should be in normal range without the use of a fever-reducing medicine. While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them, the CDC adds.

The flu typically costs U.S. employers $10.4 billion for hospitalizations and outpatient visits a year. There are other costs related to lower productivity and higher absenteeism.  

As of Dec. 29, “widespread influenza activity” was seen in 41 U.S. states. “High flu-like illness activity was reported by 29 states and New York City, with moderate activity seen in another nine states,” according to a report on HealthTechZone. Then, as of the first week of January the flu was “widespread” in 47 states, USA Today reported.

Edited by Brooke Neuman

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