The statistics are troubling. Chronic disease is the leading cause of death and disability in the United States, and one in two American adults has at least one chronic condition. The financial impact is significant as well. The cumulative cost of chronic disease care is projected to be $42 trillion between now and 2030.
What have we been missing when it comes to chronic illness, and how can we tackle the problem differently? It may start with the realization that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. In fact, improving patient care and reducing costs requires a multi-faceted, multi-stakeholder approach, and many efforts working in coordination. Here are three of those efforts.
Increasing Low-cost, Convenient Sites of Care
As Americans assume more financial responsibility for their care, there is heightened consumer demand for low-cost, convenient care sites. In addition to the traditional physician’s office setting, alternative sites, such as urgent care centers, retail clinics, and in-home care, help meet primary and preventive care needs and prevent unnecessary and costly visits to emergency departments. For example, services in retail clinics, such as CVS Health’s MinuteClinic, cost up to 80 percent less than sites like the emergency room.
Engaging Patients and Improving Care Delivery through Technology
For people living in rural areas, access to bricks-and-mortar sites of care will continue to be a challenge. A recent study from Inovalon showed that health outcomes are generally worse in rural areas and tend to cost more due to fewer providers in those areas.
Telehealth can play a very important role here. CVS Health is working with three telehealth companies to test different ways of using the technology. In one MinuteClinic telehealth study, 95 percent of patients were highly satisfied with the experience. One-third even said they preferred it to a doctor visit.
Reimagining the Role of the Health Care Professional
As the physician shortage grows, Americans will increasingly rely on extended care teams, including pharmacists, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants. Pharmacists play an essential role, working closely with physicians, care teams and patients to drive the use of the highest-value drugs, ensure patients understand how to take them, support patients during care transitions, and intervene when prescriptions are not filled or problems arise.
Building on these efforts, programs such as Pharmacy Advisor facilitate face-to-face and telephone counseling by pharmacists to help participating members with chronic illnesses adhere to their prescribed medications and manage their conditions. The program has resulted in significant improvements in adherence, with fewer gaps in therapy.
Working together, health care stakeholders can reduce the impact of chronic illness and help millions of Americans on their path to better health.