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Personalized interactions are the future of health care

Personalized interactions are the future of health care
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The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is deciding next week whether to confirm President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's debate showdown Arpaio files libel suit against New York Times IMF's Christine Lagarde delays trip to Middle East MORE’s nominee for the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Navy Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson. The confirmation vote comes amid major efforts to reform the department to better serve our nation’s veterans.

Among the many persisting problems the veteran population faces, they are largely suffering from chronic health conditions — much like America’s aging and rural populations. These conditions are increasingly common and range from arthritis to cancer to depression and beyond. And the truth is, a large portion of Americans have trouble finding the right information, motivation, and resources to get a handle on their health.

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As we look to the future and for ways to improve healthcare for all Americans, including our veterans, technology will play a significant part in bridging these gaps. But technological advances alone are not enough; we must also invest in solutions that are personalized and patient-centered to improve the health of millions.

 

About half of all adults in America, or 117 million people, suffer from at least one chronic health condition, and a worrying one in four have at least two chronic conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Unfortunately, veterans fare worse, according to one recent study that found roughly one-third of VA patients suffered from at least three chronic conditions.

Practically speaking, that means patients must endure multiple visits to different doctors, a variety of medications, and complicated guidelines. Keeping everything straight can easily become cumbersome and even discouraging. Moreover, multiple studies have found a significant portion of the population forgets much of the information and instructions they’re given during a doctor visit. And, that goes for every one of us — whether you’re a veteran, aging, rural, or any other demographic.

It is imperative the healthcare industry works together to solve this problem. We need to leverage technology, look at the data we have –— and then make a personalized approach that puts patients first.

Simple human interactions through the technology Americans use daily help encourage improved behaviors and, in turn, improved health. Texting, emailing, phone calls, and video conferencing a patient are among the ways the industry can reinforce and clarify information shared at appointments. But to ensure effective motivation, real people must be on the other end of these communication channels. Bots and artificial intelligence cannot make up for a caring person with a genuine interest in helping others better their lives.

Trained individuals can provide one-on-one support, advice on healthy food choices, encourage patients to get active, and remind them to take medication – easing the pressure of having to do it on their own. These regular interactions can inspire small lifestyle changes with long-term health benefits for millions of Americans.

And this approach does not only have positive and tangible health outcomes. It has major implications for the economy. Chronic diseases, according to the CDC, not only account for 75 percent of the nation’s health spending, but they also lead to significant losses in economic output due to ill-employees missing work. When employees are empowered to live healthier lives, health insurance costs decrease for patients, employers, the government, and taxpayers.

It is clear the healthcare status quo is not working. Fortunately, we see glimmers of hope.

Next week as policymakers consider continued reforms at the VA, let us continue moving to a data-driven, personalized approach to supporting all Americans in their health care journeys. Only then can we improve the behaviors that manage chronic conditions and put people on a healthier path forward.

That’s called putting patients first.

MaziRasulnia MBA, MPH is the founder of M Consulting and co-founder and president of PACK Health in Birmingham. M Consulting provides strategic planning to pharmaceutical companies, payers, and health systems. PACK Health is a patient engagement company that provides personalized services to patients to improve their chronic conditions. Members work one-on-one with a nonclinical Health Advisor, online and over the phone, to address social determinants of health and achieve personal health goals.