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Abbott Laboratories

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Abbott Targets Depression Among Employees; Reduces Total Medical Costs

Adapted from Targeting Depression: An Employer’s Approach by C. Dainas and L. Beien, Business & Health Institute, May 15, 2003.

In 2001, Abbott Laboratories examined healthcare and disability data for its 42,000 U.S.-based employees and found that depression had the second highest incidence after cardiovascular disease. Depression was also the third highest in total treatment dollars spent and the fourth highest average cost per case. Abbott, like other employers who recognize the impact of depression on their workforce, wanted to offer additional resources to help employees identify and address their concerns.

For this reason, Abbott implemented a comprehensive Depression Disease Management program in May 2002 to provide an enhanced benefit, to increase the health and productivity of employees and their families, and to reduce overall healthcare costs. Core components of the program included the following:

  • Depression education: A comprehensive toolkit on depression and treatment options was distributed worldwide to EAP and wellness champions (human resources and employee health).

  • Screening and referral tools: Abbott launched a confidential phone and Web-based screening tool that provides immediate feedback and directs at-risk members to the EAP for appropriate treatment. The tool offers screening for depression and bipolar depression.

  • Case management services: Some employees received biweekly follow-up calls from a care manager. Care managers acted as facilitators, advocates, and educators. For example, if a member was receiving medication management from a primary care physician, the care manager might suggest a psychiatrist. Contact could continue for up to six months or until the care manager, or member, determined that support was no longer necessary.


From May 2002 through December 2003, more than 6,000 mental health screenings have been completed by Abbott employees and their family members. The majority of the screenings were completed for depression, which confirms what authors C. Dainas and L. Beien found in the early months of the screening program. The authors also found that between July 2002 and February 2003, of those screened with indications of depression, 42% accessed behavioral health treatment; of those who accessed treatment, three out of four used EAP services.

Estimated Savings

Based on previous EAP cost-benefit studies showing that the average annual outpatient costs for EAP clients were $590 lower than those for non-EAP clients, the authors calculated an outpatient cost reduction of $61,950 (105 annualized EAP cases X $590) for the first 10 months of Abbott’s Depression Screening program. Annual program costs, including first-year start-up costs were $23,000. Thus, the expected outpatient cost savings is estimated at $38,950, yielding a 1.7:1 return on investment.

Total Medical Costs Are Lower

Abbott considered the depression disease management program launch successful and is pleased that the screening programs have been well utilized. Ms. Beien pointed out in a recent interview with Mental HealthWorks that offering programs such as the depression program can reduce Abbott’s overall healthcare costs. “Getting employees to the right level of care with the right specialty provider can decrease emergency room visits, unnecessary visits to primary care physicians, and the like,” she said.

Ms. Beien also commented that the success of this program has enabled Abbott to introduce similar screening programs that address the needs of employees experiencing anxiety, post traumatic stress disorders, alcoholism, and eating disorders. She emphasized that employees have responded positively to these program offerings.

About Abbott Laboratories

Abbott is a global healthcare company that conducts innovative research and manufactures products for human health. For over 125 years, Abbott has brought new products and technologies to the world—in nutrition, diagnostics, medical devices, and branded generic pharmaceuticals—that create more possibilities for more people at all stages of life.

Last Updated: October 2003

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