Chronic disease management biggest missed opportunity in wellness

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Seven of every 10 deaths a year are caused by chronic diseases, and 86% of the nation’s healthcare costs are used to treat individuals with chronic diseases. These diseases – many of which are preventable – cost employers millions of dollars each year in terms of insurance claims, absenteeism, and reduced productivity. And for the employees who are dealing with these health conditions, it can be a daunting experience to manage them without the right guidance or knowledge. Employers who fail to offer disease or “chronic condition” management as part of their comprehensive wellness program are missing the biggest opportunity to help employees who need it the most.

It’s important for employers to realize that they have a current population of chronic members, as well as members trending toward chronic disease. Once an employee is diagnosed as having a chronic condition, they have to deal with that condition throughout their life, which makes it all the more important to focus on prevention.

When considering a disease management coaching program, ask yourself the following questions:

Who is facilitating the program? Typically, your options will be through a wellness vendor or a health insurance provider.

When considering a wellness provider, it’s important that specialized personnel are qualified to facilitate the process. Licensed individuals, including nurses and registered dietitians, have a wealth of experience and are qualified to help program participants more effectively manage their complex health conditions.

While insurance carriers may seem like the easiest choice, they tend to be less impactful. They oftentimes outsource the service to another specialized company, inserting another disjointed voice in the conversation. With limited information in insurance claims, carriers are typically managing sickness rather than promoting total well-being.

When does the program begin? It’s important to identify at-risk members as early as possible through the collection of biometric screening results, information from a member’s health assessment, and self-reporting conditions. The identification of risks through different means presents a unique window of opportunity in which to engage employees when they’re likely to be highly motivated to participate in health improvement programs. Once an employee’s biometric results are received and health behaviors are evaluated, it’s best to set a plan in motion to keep their wellness at the forefront of their minds and promote on-going engagement.

What conditions does the program cover? In order to make a greater impact on the management of chronic conditions, it is important to look at the major contributors to these chronic conditions. There are initial chronic conditions that people live with for quite some time before they develop a more severe chronic condition. One example is hypertension, which is a major contributor to congestive heart failure and other serious heart-related conditions. Look for a program that covers a broad range of conditions. Through this more comprehensive approach, employees with primary chronic conditions can be identified before they develop a secondary (and often more serious) chronic condition, thereby allowing for a deeper dive into the areas that are driving the most costs.

Does the program consider lifestyle and prevention? There are many lifestyle behaviors that can affect overall well-being, such as stress, tobacco use, and lack of physical activity. A disease management coaching program that addresses these additional services can prove effective at improving lifestyle behaviors and preventive care compliance. Disease management health coaching programs that address employees’ total well-being can benefit individuals at all levels of risk, even those who are relatively healthy. Regardless of where a member is on the health spectrum, those who complete an initial coaching session will benefit from the experience and are highly likely to complete more coaching sessions in the future, which will help keep them on a path to better health.

How does the program communicate with employees? Your program should have multiple communications strategies to meet the needs of a diverse population, regardless of industry or job class. Whether in an office or working remotely, it’s important that coaching is available through secure email and phone, and throughout the times of day that are most accessible to the employee. Coaches should also have access to detailed health and clinical notes from previous coaching interactions to avoid the employee having to start over on their conversations. If you have a particularly diverse demographic, disease management coaching services should be readily available to members with language barriers.

The bottom line

Positive results are staggering and especially impactful when a total employee population is activated and engaged. It is important to consider a comprehensive view of an employee’s overall health, which will more accurately identify members in need of care management. More compliant chronic disease management will lead to both reduced costs related to urgent visits and a more productive workforce.

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