Chronic conditions are a true “epidemic” in the U.S. More than half of all adults have at least one chronic condition (with many patients having multiple). Experts estimate that around 70 percent of deaths each year are related to a chronic condition, accounting for 86 percent of our nation’s healthcare costs. Unfortunately, around 25 percent of doctors say they’re not well equipped to care for patients with multiple chronic illnesses.
Guess what? I am one of those 117 million Americans! I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease a couple of years ago. What a ride it has been since then. Visiting multiple doctors. Different prescriptions. Managing my pain. It’s been overwhelming. It has also helped me gain a better understanding of just how hard it must be for my doctor to help every single patient like me in a timely, effective manner.
So how can doctors support and care for patients with chronic conditions efficiently and cost-effectively?
1. Improve care coordination—With my chronic condition, I see multiple doctors—from my rheumatologist to my ophthalmologist to my general practitioner and more. I have seen firsthand just how difficult it is to create efficient coordination between the different specialists. And yet, communication and care coordination between health care providers is essential to good health outcomes. One great way to improve communication is by using a tool such as SBAR (Situation-Background-Assessment-Recommendation) to make interactions between different teams more effective. Originally developed for the Navy, SBAR is now used extensively by healthcare offices as well. It's easy to see why it is so popular - a recent study found that using SBAR reduces communication errors between care teams from 31 percent to just 11 percent. If SBAR is not for you, go ahead and pick some sort of method or tool that works for you. The key is to have a plan and not just fly by the seat of your pants every time you need to communicate with another practice.
2. Target patient education—Studies show that educating a patient on their illness can have a significant impact on their care. As you send information and tips to patients on how to manage their care, they have fewer complications. I know that when I am being good about following my doctor’s instructions that I have fewer flare ups and less pain. The best educational interventions will be targeted specifically to different illnesses. I recommend choosing the 3-4 most common conditions that are common in your practice and starting educational campaigns directed towards those specific diseases. Send regular newsletters with tips for managing the disease. For example, if you have a large number of patients with asthma, you can send information on how to use inhalers and information on prescribed corticosteroids. You can send reminders to monitor conditions from home and let them know when they should be seen. There are lots of pre-made newsletter formats that can have info already put together that you just need to send out.
3. Implement automated communication—Technology is the best friend of chronic care management. It has been proven to improve both the quality of care and health outcomes of patients. In addition, using automated technology can reduce costs for both patients and practices. For me, I feel like most of the time I am 100 percent responsible for making sure I get the care I need. I am the one to schedule appointments as needed. If I don’t get an appointment scheduled, no one is there to make sure I get in (except my husband!). Studies show that of patients admitted to the hospital with a chronic disease, nearly one in three had no contact with health care professionals after discharge. Subsequently, nearly 20 percent were readmitted within 30 days. Using an automated system to send off reminders to schedule follow-up appointments or other instructions can reduce the number of complications your patients experience.
Want some ideas for your educational efforts? Read our new checklist, "7 Ways to Create Effective Educational Drip Campaigns."