By staff writer

July 2019

As home to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Atlanta has healthcare written into its DNA. But until now, the city has focused more on control than prevention. After years of lackluster patient outcomes, Atlanta is beginning to recognize that prevention is healthier approach.

In 1990, Georgia ranked 43 among all 50 states in the America’s Health Rankings annual report. Over the years, the state has slowly climbed and in 2018 it held 39th place.

Although there is a way to go for Georgia as a whole, Atlanta is somewhat ahead of the curve. When compared to the rest of the state, metro Atlanta has some of the lowest Years of Potential Life Lost (YPLL) rates – the measure of premature death – even though the metro area has the fifth-largest population in the U.S. with 5.9 million residents.

In the same rankings, although metro Atlanta ranks moderately for “Outcomes” (how healthy people feel), it is has one of the lowest rankings for “Factors” (behaviors such as smoking, drinking alcohol and sedentary lifestyles). Although major cardiovascular diseases are the main cause of death in the state and region, Atlanta’s rates have been on the decline over the last 10 years.

“We have to get back to prevention,” said Dr. Otis Brawley, who previously served as chief medical and scientific officer for the American Cancer Society, at the Health Journalism 2019 conference in Baltimore.

According to the Integrated Benefits Institute, a health research group that works with U.S. employers, poor worker-health costs amount to “60 cents for every dollar employers spend on healthcare benefits.”

Earlier this month, CVS announced an ambitious plan to open 1,500 HealthHUB stores by the end of 2021, with Atlanta named as one of its strategic locations. HealthHUBs combine a traditional CVS store layout with health services; in particular, focusing on preventive care, wellness activities and education and management of chronic conditions like asthma and diabetes.

And employers are starting to see wellness costs as another business essential. The global wellness industry is now valued at $4.2 trillion – more than half of total health expenditure[CN1] , which comes in at $7.3 trillion.

The Atlanta Business Chronicle has even launched an award recognizing the Healthiest Employer. Atlanta-based Catalyst Fitness won the award in 2017 and says the key to improving a balance sheet lies in guaranteeing that staff are healthy, and that doesn’t always just mean providing an insurance plan.

“Regular exercise can significantly improve workplace health. Instances of absenteeism and staff turnover, low staff morale and reduced productivity can be alleviated with a corporate wellness program in Atlanta that energizes and motivates tired employees,” says the company on its website. “Boredom, repetitive motion injuries and workplace fatigue can only be combated with physical and mental stimulation.”

Another company founded in Atlanta is AMP Recover, which provides data that allows better outpatient care. “We have been pleasantly surprised by the burgeoning injury prevention and wellness market and love seeing providers and patients take a more proactive and preventative stance,” said CEO David Nichols in an interview with Hit Consultant magazine.

Ann Mond Johnson, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association, told the Value-Based Care Summit hosted in Atlanta that the next step is tracking results. “We (now) have an opportunity to start documenting and cataloguing these cost savings,” Johnson said. “There are plenty of instances where we are saving a lot of money.”