More than healthy habits: Addressing Chronic Disease

by Anne Nicoll

Welcome to the first of our three-part series exploring the growing burden of chronic diseases and the impact they have on the health care system, employers, employees and their families. As a health benefits provider, Medavie Blue Cross is taking a stance to drive the discussion toward healthier and more thoughtful solutions. Let’s start the conversation – and talk about how we can help our clients and members tackle chronic disease and support public partners in this journey.

Where we are now

It should be no surprise that health and wellness is one of the most talked about topics in the benefits industry. There are a lot of tools, opinions, technology, and focus on how to help people stay well and prevent disease- but is this really working? Are these programs focussed on the right resources and data? Are these initiatives truly helping the people who need it, or are we simply reinforcing attitudes in healthy people while high-risk patients feel lost, on their own and frustrated?

A rising tide

Current estimates from the Public Health Agency of Canada say that 67% of all direct health costs are attributed to treating chronic diseases. The costs directly associated with this treatment are very high ­– both direct costs ($68 billion) and lost productivity ($122 billion) combine to an astounding $190 billion per year. That’s quite an incentive for all of us to work together and invest in approaches that reverse this trend – not only to control costs, but to improve the lives of thousands of Canadians. This is real and very personal for each and every individual who is living with chronic disease.

Finding smart solutions

When it comes to helping employees, we see a sincere desire among employers to offer solutions that create healthier outcomes. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy or that employees want the employer to be directive. Just like reinforcing a habit, changing human behaviour is never simple. Wellness programs don’t always address the needs for chronic disease management or specific individual health needs. For someone facing personal struggles like coping with diabetes together with heart disease, it can be tough to find the right approach to manage these often complex conditions.

New ways of thinking

That raises the question: how can we affect real change and encourage people to embrace managing their health, giving themselves the best chance to avoid or manage chronic disease? Creative thinking and collaboration will be critical to making positive changes. In a way, it is an exercise in forward thinking – to imagine different approaches, resources and/or services that will have real impact. It’s all about bringing choice and expert supports to each person. It’s then up to that individual to determine what would work best for them.

What if we thought about chronic disease management in a way that creates a supportive and cooperative environment, with options that are flexible and personalized? What if we helped our members access a professional network that was compensated for their expertise and gave access and reimbursement to that expertise in the same way we do for other para-practitioners?

Here at Medavie Blue Cross, we started to explore this approach with the launch of our managing chronic disease program in 2015. The foundation of the program is to offer a benefit for both group and individual members that provides reimbursement for support and disease management education provided by a specialized and accredited network of health professionals. Currently, the benefit includes diabetes, asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Since this is a new approach, it will take time to demonstrate real health benefits and costs savings, but as a benefits provider we feel this will help provide our members with the flexibility to personalize their care and manage their health.

A healthy organization is made up of healthy people, and each person’s path to better health is different. So if we’re going to make a real difference, all of us – employees, employers, benefit providers, and health professionals – are going to need to find new ways to work together and remember to allow the patient to guide this process and assess what they need and what will work best for them in their circumstance. After all, health is personal.

Coming next: We’ll explore proactive ways to help manage chronic disease. In the meantime, we want to hear from you!

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